Monday, November 23, 2009

Umpqua River Lighthouse, OR

During the summer of 1849, the Coast Survey, headed by Alexander D. Bache, set out along the unmarked West Coast to determine the most beneficial locations for lighthouses. The Umpqua River mouth was selected as one of only six sites in the Oregon territory, which included the modern day states of Oregon and Washington.

Many thought the Umpqua River area would become a major shipping center due to its abundance of "green gold," the pristine timber rapidly being harvested. The turbulent force with which the river collided with the ocean created a great hazard for ships, and a beacon marking the spot was greatly needed. In 1888, $50,000 was appropriated for the construction of the second Umpqua River lighthouse. This time, with lesson learned, it was built further inland on a headland above the mouth of the river. The site is the furthest away from a river or ocean of all the lighthouses along the Oregon coast. Construction lasted from 1891 to 1894. The new lighthouse, a sibling to Heceta Head, is a 65-foot tower which stands 165 feet above sea level. The tower, brick overlaid with cement plaster, is five feet thick at the base and tapers to 21 inches thick at the parapet.

Today the Fresnel light is still shining. The lighthouse is part of the Umpqua River State Park and is managed by Douglas County Parks, who host a museum in a nearby historic Coast Guard building and conduct tours of the tower during the summer months. In 2007, Senator Gordon Smith introduced a provision as part of the Coast Guard Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 that would facilitate alternative housing arrangements for Coast Guard personnel allowing the area surrounding the Umpqua River Lighthouse to be converted into a county park.

The following was submitted by Ryan J. Cunningham:

It was the beginning of a prosperous time,
On the Umpqua River in 1849.
Long ago in days of old,
The timber industry began, known as “Green Gold.”
A lighthouse was needed to light the way,
Along the river, into the bay.
In the year of 1856, construction began.
But it was being built on the Indians hunting land.
So they stole the workers tools each day,
Causing their progress to be delayed.
A blast of dynamite scared the Indians away,
And soon all the tools were found.
Finally finishing the Cape Cod style duplex,
a task which proved to be complex.
The Lighthouse Keeper’s family moved into the place,
And the Keeper climbed the spiral staircase.
With its brilliant, red glow shining bright,
Leading ships out of the darkness, into the light.

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