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In 1848 a lighthouse was recommended to be located at Cape Disappointment in what was then the Oregon Territory. $53,000 was appropriated in 1852. After the lighthouse was designed, a first-order Fresnel lens was ordered. When the lens arrived it was found to be too large for the tower. Rebuilding the tower took an additional two years. The first lighthouse in the Pacific Northwest was finally lit in 1856. In addition to the light, the station was equipped with a 1600-pound bell powered by a striking mechanism. The keeper's residence was about a quarter mile away.
The lighthouse had several shortcomings. The fog bell was sometimes inaudible due to the roar of ocean waves. It was discontinued in 1881 and moved to West Point Light in Seattle, and eventually to Warrior Rock Light near Portland. Also, the light was not visible to ships approaching from the north. This problem was corrected by building a lighthouse at North Head, two miles from Cape Disappointment. The first-order lens was moved to North Head and a fourth-order lens installed at Cape Disappointment.
The lighthouse was electrified in 1937. In 1956, the Coast Guard intended to close the station, but retained the light when the Columbia River bar pilots protested. The light was automated in 1973. The red and white flashing light was deactivated in 2008. An observation deck has been built for the Coast Guard to monitor traffic and bar conditions. The grounds are open to the public through Cape Disappointment State Park.
In dense fog, the lighthouse originally rang out the deep, resonant tones of a 1,600-pound bronze bell as warning. It was later learned that the configuration of Cape Disappointment was such that there were �dead spots� where the bell could not be heard, and use of the bell was discontinued. The 53-foot masonry lighthouse was completed in 1856.
A smaller fourth order Fresnel lens replaced the first order lens in 1937. Rotated with electricity, the smaller lens generated a more powerful light and alternately flashed a one-second bright white light every 6.5 and 21.5 seconds. This rotation is a unique characteristic that identifies the lighthouse to passing ships. A revolving Crouse-Hinds searchlight replaced the Fresnel lens in 1950 and, in 1998, the present marine rotating beacon light was installed. The existing light can be seen 17 miles out to sea. The original, first-order Fresnel lens is on display at the nearby Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.
March 6th, 2013
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