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Pigeon Point was originally known as Punta de las Balenas (Whale Point) due to groups of gray whales which passed offshore during their migration periods. On June 6, 1853, the clipper ship Carrier Pigeon was shipwrecked on the rocks of a point just south of Half Moon Bay. The site was renamed Pigeon Point in memory of the disaster. When the Coast Guard surveyed the area shortly afterward, they recommended a light at either Pigeon Point or nearby Aņo Nuevo.
However, nothing was done until the early 1870's. In the meantime, three major wrecks occurred in the area - the American clipper Sir John Franklin in 1865, the British bark Coya in 1866, and the Hellespont in 1868. Forty-nine lives were lost in these three wrecks. The San Mateo County Gazette wrote following the wreck of the Hellespont, "No other one place on the Pacific Coast has proved so fatal to navigators as this locality...all of the vessels that have been lost in the vicinity of Pigeon Point have been wrecked in consequence of dense fogs which prevented the land from being sighted until the vessels were among the breakers." (Perry, p. 24)
In 1870, the government purchased the Pigeon Point and Aņo Nuevo sites for $10,000. The owner, Loren Coburn, was a "shrewd, unscrupulous businessman whom many people disliked." (Perry, p. 26) He and his brother-in-law, Jeremiah Clarke, tried to sell the land for $40,000, but settled for $10,000 when the government threatened to condemn the land.
Funds were appropriated for the lighthouse at the end of 1870, and construction began in 1871. The tower, over 100 feet high, was built with "separate inner and outer walls with an airspace between which insulates the interior ironworks against corrosion." (Pigeon Point tour pamphlet) The walls were 4.5 feet thick. 500,000 bricks were used to build the tower. In fact, it took over a million, since the builders rejected the first batch of 500,000 as being of unacceptable quality. A fog-signal and Victorian dwelling for four families were also built at the point.
The first-order Fresnel lens was first lit on November 15, 1872. The lens consists of 1008 separate lenses and prisms, and weighs over 8000 pounds. There is some intrigue regarding the origin of the Fresnel lens. Some stories placed the light at Fort Sumter, and others at Cape Hatteras. There are stories that the lantern was captured by the Confederates, and subsequently recaptured by Federal forces.
The most likely history of the lens is provided by Commissioner of Lighthouses George Putnam, who wrote in 1924 to district superintendent Harry Rhodes, "You are advised that the lens now at Pigeon Point appears the be the second lens placed in commission at Cape Hatteras light...(the second lens) was discontinued in 1870 when the new (present) tower at Cape Hatteras was established...it was placed in storage at the General Lighthouse Depot on January 17, 1871, and on August 11, 1871, was shipped to Pigeon Point." Curtains were (and are still) drawn during much of the day to protect the lens from sunlight, which can yellow the prisms. The lamp ran on oil until about 1926, when it received electricity.
The original fog signal was a steam whistle, which operated an average of 900 hours per year. The whistle required large quantities of water, collected in nearby rainsheds, to maintain pressure. In 1911, the signal was replaced by an compressed air siren. In 1935, a diaphone replaced the air siren. The diaphone was operational until 1976, when it was superceded by silent directional devices, such as radar.
Ships were still sometimes lost near the point even after construction of the light. The liner Columbia ran aground in 1896. Residents salvaged materials from the lost ship, including copper wire and white paint. "Soon, every house in the area had copper clothes lines and a fresh coat of paint." (Perry, p. 61) The German schooner Triton was lost in 1911, and the Point Arena was dashed on the rocks in 1913.
During prohibition, the isolated coast south of San Francisco became a popular area for bootleggers. They often used Pigeon Point's derrick at night for hoisting crates. A chain was flung over the telephone wires to short the lines and cut off the station - making the keeper's powerless to stop them. Keeper Jesse Mygrants was once forced at gunpoint to drive a rumrunner to town.
In 1939, the Coast Guard assumed control of the station. A radio beacon was installed in 1943. The beautiful old Victorian dwelling was demolished in 1960 and replaced by four cottages. By the 1970's the signal was automated. An aerobeacon was installed outside the lantern room in 1972. Seaman Albert Tucker served as the station's caretaker during the late 1970's. He and his wife kept an 800 pound pig named Lester, which proved sufficient to ward off would-be vandals.
The station suffered minimal damage from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. In 1992-1993, the lighthouse underwent a major restoration project. Today, the buildings are leased to the Hostelling International USA.
The lighthouse was open for tours until December 2001, when two large sections of brick and cast-iron fell from the tower. An investigation of the tower revealed that the tower required major structural restoration. Estimated cost of the restoration project is $5 million. The lighthouse was transferred to the California Parks Department on May 25, 2005 as part of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. The fog signal building now houses an intepretive center. As of 2008, the tower remains closed pending renovation.
November 30th, 2012
Viewed 76 Times - Last Visitor from Paradise, CA on 11/30/2013 at 2:18 AM