Newport’s two lighthouses shine through the darkest, stormiest nights
Lighthouse lovers rejoice: Newport is lucky enough to have two picturesque lighthouses that were historically used to guide and warn ships at sea. These historic treasures are now landmarks and tourist destinations as well as icons of our beautiful city. Make sure to visit both while you’re here.
A piece of Oregon history sits atop a bluff at the mouth of the Yaquina River: the historic Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, built in 1871 and decommissioned in 1874, having been made obsolete by the new Yaquina Head Lighthouse just up the coast a few miles. It was officially restored as a privately maintained aid to navigation on December 7, 1996.
This old girl, believed to be the oldest structure in Newport, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is also the only existing Oregon lighthouse with the living quarters attached, and the only historic wooden Oregon lighthouse still standing. It is also rumored to be haunted, although the haunting story seems to have originated with a fiction short story written in 1899.
The Yaquina Bay Lighthouse has been restored to its original condition by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD), with the help of many people and agencies, including Friends of Yaquina Lighthouses. Friends of Yaquina Lighthouses is a private 501(c)3 nonprofit organization formed by local citizens to provide and support the restoration, education and interpretive services of the park. This organization relies heavily on volunteer support in all areas of operation.
The official relighting ceremony with the US Coast Guard took place on December 7, 1996. The light, 161 feet above sea level, shines with a steady white light from dusk to dawn (and sometimes on dark days, because it is controlled by a photocell).
The Lighthouse is open to the public every day except for holidays such as Christmas, New Years, and Thanksgiving. Entrance is free by donation. The lighthouse is accessible via paved trails and a walkway leading to the top of the hill within Yaquina Bay State Park, at the north end of the Yaquina Bay Bridge. Access-compromised visitor groups are encouraged to use the large parking lot at the back of the lighthouse (entrance at SW Government and 9th Streets).
Inside the lighthouse, two flights of stairs lead to the watch room. The lantern room is not open to the public. The basement is open to the public and features a video about the lighthouse. The interpretive store offers many educational items about lighthouses and the surrounding coastal habitat.
The lighthouse is now surrounded by beautiful Yaquina Bay State Park, which includes walking trails through forested lands, a fishermen’s memorial, a scenic overlook that provides great views of the entrance to Yaquina Bay and the Yaquina Bay Bridge, and beach access.
At 93 feet, the historic Yaquina Head Lighthouse is Oregon’s tallest in a string of strategically placed lighthouses along the Pacific Coastline. The lighthouse is situated on a narrow basalt peninsula that spills into the Pacific, and is visible from land to the north and to the south and from miles out into the ocean. Originally called the Cape Foulweather Light at Yaquina Point, construction of the Yaquina Bay lighthouse began in 1871 and was finished in 1873.
The Fresnel Lens is the oldest part of the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, and celebrates it’s 150th birthday this year! The lens was designed and manufactured in Paris, France by Barbier & Fenestre in 1868. It was carefully packaged and then shipped from France to Panama, where it crossed the isthmus, and was then shipped north to Oregon. The original Fresnel lens was designed in the early 1800s, and was first used in a French lighthouse in 1823. The multi-part lens is thinner and lighter than conventional lenses, and can be seen from more than 20 miles out to sea.
When construction of the lighthouse began, there was no real road into Yaquina Head, so building materials were brought into a small cove just south of the headland by steamship, and workers laboriously hauled them up to the headland. More than 370,000 bricks were used in the lighthouse construction, and the wall at the base of the conical structure was built to be five feet thick. Once construction was completed, Lighthouse Keeper Fayette Crosby lit the four-wick lard-fueled lamp on August 20, 1873.
The oil-burning fixed light was lit every day from sunrise to sunset until the 1930s, when it was replaced with an electric 1,000 watt theatrical lamp producing 130,000 candlepower. The light arrangement was also changed to a flashing pattern called a “signature,” with two seconds on, two seconds off, two on, fourteen off, and is then repeated all day, every day. In 1966 a computer system was installed to control the light, and the last resident keeper left the lighthouse. If the light is not working, the computer system automatically notifies the U.S. Coast Guard, and a team is quickly dispatched to fix it.
Today, the Bureau of Land Management is responsible for the lighthouse and the 100 acre Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area that was established around it. In May 1997, an interpretive center was added to present information and exhibits about the lighthouse and the surrounding area. In addition, the interpretive center has a gift shop, where proceeds directly benefit lighthouse restoration, maintenance, and education administered by Friends of Yaquina Lighthouses. Guides lead historical tours through the lighthouse year round. The Yaquina Head Outstanding Area is also home to many kinds of wildlife, and trails will take you to view seals, whales, seabirds and tide pools teeming with life.
A $7 per car entrance fee is required to get into the Yaquina Head National Outstanding Area, and tours run from 11:00 am – 5:00 pm from July to September; reservations can be made up to 90 days in advance of your visit for a small fee by calling 1-877-6777 or visiting www.recreation.gov. From February to June, tours are offered depending on weather conditions and staffing levels; call 541-574-3100 for the current winter and spring schedule.