Lime Kiln and Cattle Point Lighthouses (San Juan Island)

  • By Daryl C. McClary
  • Posted 3/25/2006
  • Essay 7704
See Additional Media

There are two lighthouses located on San Juan Island, the second-largest island in the San Juan archipelago. The Lime Kiln Light Station, built in 1919, is located in Lime Kiln State Park, on the west side of the island at Deadman Bay, overlooking Haro Strait. Cattle Point Lighthouse, built in 1935, is located in the Cattle Point Interpretive Area next to American Camp, a section of the San Juan Island National Historical Park, on the southeastern tip of the island. The lights are positioned to guide vessels entering the Haro Strait and San Juan Islands from the Strait of Juan de Fuca and continue to be important aids to navigation.

San Juan Island

San Juan Island and the archipelago it is part of were named by the Spanish explorer Francisco de Eliza, who charted and explored the islands in 1791. Eliza, realizing there were several islands in the group, wrote on his chart "Isla y Archiepelago de San Juan." Other British and American explorers renamed the island over the years, but eventually the original Spanish name was restored on the charts.

The San Juan Islands make up San Juan County, a 172-square-mile county located in the Salish Sea at the northwest corner of Washington. The county is bounded on the west by Haro Strait, on the east by the Strait of Georgia and Rosario Strait, and on the south by the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In the mid-nineteenth century both British and American settlers occupied the islands, which led to the armed dispute beginning in 1859 that became known as the Pig War (1859-1872). Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany decided the ownership of the San Juan Islands on October 21, 1872, awarding the archipelago to the United States. San Juan County, named for the islands, was formed by the Washington Territorial Legislature on October 31, 1873.

After the boundary dispute was settled, the Secretary of the Interior asked the U.S. Lighthouse Board to identify suitable locations in the San Juan Islands for lights. In 1875, the board, working from charts, identified 23 potential sites "to provide for all probable events." The four sites chosen for major lighthouses were Cattle Point and Lime Kiln Point on San Juan Island, Turn Point on Stuart Island, and Patos Island. To assist in the complex navigation through the islands, other locations would be provided with lesser lights, buoys, and fog signals, marking the waterways.

Cattle Point Lighthouse

Cattle Point, located on Cape San Juan on the southeastern tip of the San Juan Island, overlooks the Strait of Juan De Fuca. The name was first used on the British Admiralty charts in 1858. The Hudson's Bay Company, which had established the Belle Vue Farm in 1853, unloaded cattle and other livestock at a dock there prior to the San Juan Islands boundary dispute. Cattle Point was part of American Camp, the U.S. Army's encampment, during the Pig War.  A Lummi Indian name for the point was recorded as Who-shung-ing.

The first light on Cattle Point, a simple brass lens lantern on a post, was established in 1888. The light was maintained by George Jakle, a soldier who had been stationed at American Camp. Jakle stayed on the island after his enlistment, raising sheep on a farm nearby. He was supplied at regular intervals by a lighthouse tender that came into Griffin Bay near the point, dropping off on the beach supplies and five-gallon containers of kerosene. The lens required daily maintenance and the lantern's reservoir needed to be filled once a week.

In 1921, the U.S. Navy built a radio compass station near the light. This new aid to navigation broadcast radio signals from Cattle Point, Smith Island, and New Dungeness to enable navigation through the worst weather using triangulation. The navy built a radio tower, transmitting station, concrete power house, and living quarters for the sailors assigned to operate the radio compass, and took over responsibility for maintaining the light.

The Lighthouse Service replaced the lens lantern with a 34-foot octagonal concrete tower and fog-signal building in 1935, when the navy closed the radio compass station. Sitting on a bluff at a height of 94 feet, the new optic, a non-rotating, 375-mm drum lens inside the lantern, used an electric lightbulb to produce a 1,500-candlepower light visible for seven miles. The new foghorn, activated by an electric air compressor, was mounted outside the fog signal building. Unlike most lighthouses at the time, the new Cattle Point Lighthouse had no fulltime lighthouse keeper appointed. Instead, the Lighthouse Service used a contract light keeper to care for the tower and activate the beacon and fog signal.

The Cattle Point Lighthouse was automated in the late 1950s, one of the first in the state so upgraded. The white tower has had its lantern removed, replaced with a small 250-mm drum lens displayed from a short mast on top of the capped tower. The exposed optic, flashing white every four seconds, uses photoelectric cells to turn the light on at night and off in the morning. The electric foghorn, mounted on a cement pad in front of the lighthouse, is activated by an automatic sensor that detects moisture in the air, sounding a two-second blast once every 15 seconds. Today (2006), both the light and foghorn are powered by solar-cell batteries and maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard's Aids to Navigation Branch in Seattle.

The Cattle Point Lighthouse and restored Navy radio compass station, still owned by the Coast Guard, are located in the Cattle Point Interpretive Area next to American Camp, a section of the San Juan Island National Historical Park, established on September 9, 1966. The National Park Service listed the park, which includes English Camp at Garrison Bay, on the National Register as a Historic Site on October 15, 1966 (listing No. 66000360). Although the lighthouse is closed to the public, it can be viewed by taking a short walk up a trail from the parking area near the end of Cattle Point Road.

Lime Kiln Lighthouse

The Lime Kiln light, a name derived from the lime kilns built nearby in the 1860s, was first established in 1914 on the west side of the island at Deadman Bay overlooking Haro Strait. The present lighthouse, a duplicate of Seattle's Alki Point Lighthouse, began operation on June 30, 1919, with a fourth-order Fresnel lens installed in the 38-foot octagonal concrete-and-masonry tower with an attached fog-signal building. Two lighthouse keepers were required to keep constant vigils in alternate 12-hour shifts, seven days a week. For this, they each received a salary of $800 per year plus housing. Two large houses for the lighthouse keepers and their families were built on the bluff, well behind the lighthouse. It was the last major lighthouse established in Washington.

Lime Kiln was also the last lighthouse in Washington to receive electricity. Until the early 1950s, an incandescent oil-vapor lamp was used as the light source in the lens. Since the location was so remote, the Orcas Power and Light Company had trouble providing sufficient electrical current and the cost of stringing power lines to the area was prohibitive, since many of the poles had to be set in solid rock. Finally, in 1951, the Bonneville Power Administration laid a submarine power cable from Anacortes to the San Juan Islands and Lime Kiln Lighthouse was converted to electricity. The Fresnel lens was replaced with a non-rotating, 375-mm drum lens that utilized an electric lightbulb. Two electric foghorns were installed in the fog-signal building.

The Coast Guard automated the Lime Kiln Lighthouse in August 1962, using photoelectric cells to turn the light on at dusk and off during daylight hours. In 1998, the drum lens was replaced with a modern optic, a VRB-25 aerobeacon, flashing a white light once every 10 seconds. Sitting on the rocky shoreline at a height of 55 feet, the beacon is visible for 17 miles. When visibility drops below three miles, photoelectric cells activate the electric foghorns powered by a 12-volt battery system, emitting one three-second blast every 30 seconds. Should there be a power failure, there is an emergency light located on the outside of the tower, also operated by 12-volt batteries.

On December 15, 1978, Lime Kiln Light Station was officially designated as a Historic Site by the Washington State Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and listed on the Washington Heritage Register (listing No. SJ00435). On this same date, the National Park Service listed Lime Kiln Light Station on the National Register as a Historic Site (listing No. 78002771).

In 1983, the Moclips Cetological Society (later renamed the Whale Museum) acquired the lease for the Lime Kiln Lighthouse from the Coast Guard for use as a research center. In 1984, the Coast Guard turned the rest of the property over to Washington State Parks and Recreation for use as public park and interpretative center, but maintains the light and fog signals as active aids to navigation. Today, the exterior of the Lime Kiln Light Station remains essentially the same as when it was built in 1919. The lighthouse and keepers' quarters are painted the traditional white with red roofs and sea-green trim. The lighthouse keepers' quarters have been remodeled and are used to house park rangers.

The Lime Kiln Lighthouse is managed by the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor and has been set up as a shore-based research laboratory for acoustic and behavioral studies on orca and minke whales and porpoises that travel through Haro Strait. Three webcams and a hydrophone are located at the lighthouse to facilitate remote tracking. When dedicated in 1985, Lime Kiln State Park, also known as "Whale Watch Park," was the first park in the country dedicated to whale watching. Currently, the 36-acre day-use park, considered one of the best places in the world to view whales from a land-based facility, hosts more than 200,000 visitors per year.


Jim Gibbs, Twilight on the Lighthouses (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1996); Robert Hitchman, Place Names of Washington (Seattle: Washington State Historical Society, 1985); Ray Jones, American Lighthouses: A Definitive Guide (Guilford, CT: The Globe Piquet Press, [1998] 2002); Ruth Kirk and Carmela Alexander, Exploring Washington's Past: A Road Guide to History (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1990); Edmond S. Meany, Origin of Washington Geographic Names (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1923); Marge and Ted Mueller, Washington State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide (Seattle: The Mountaineers, 1999); Sharlene P. and Ted W. Nelson, Umbrella Guide to Washington Lighthouses (Kenmore: Epicenter Publishing, [1990] 1998); "Inventory of Historic Light Stations, Washington, Lime Kiln Light," National Park Service website accessed October 2005 (; "Historic Places in Washington," State of Washington Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation website accessed February 2004 (; "National Register of Historical Places, Washington, San Juan County," National Register of Historical Places website accessed October 2005 (
Note: This entry was corrected on December 17, 2019.

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You