Point No Point Light Station

  • By Daryl C. McClary
  • Posted 1/15/2004
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5636

The Point No Point Lighthouse, built in 1879 by the U. S. Lighthouse Service, is considered to be the oldest lighthouse on Puget Sound. It marks the hazardous Point No Point shoal and north entrance to Puget Sound. The Point No Point Light Station, located in Kitsap County’s Point No Point County Park near Hansville, is on the Washington State Heritage Register and the National Register of Historic Places. The beacon and fog-signal continue to be key navigational aids and the light station, with its 90-foot radar tower, is vital to the Coast Guard’s Vessel Traffic Service that monitors and guides vessel traffic in Puget Sound.

A Low, Sandy Spit

Point No Point is situated on the northeastern most point of Kitsap County, one and a half miles east of Hansville. This low sandy spit, which extends over a quarter of a mile into the water, marks the entrance to Puget Sound from Admiralty Inlet. Point No Point was named in May 1841 by Lieutenant Charles Wilkes (1798-1877), commander of the U. S. Exploring Expedition, for a similarly named landmark in New York’s Hudson River. Mariners thought the name highly appropriate because the point was hard to see from the deck of a ship and was too shallow and muddy for anchorage.

The local Indians referred to this point as Hahd-skus, meaning ‘long nose.” This was the site of the Point No Point Treaty between Washington Territorial Governor Isaac Ingalls Stevens (1818-1862) and the S’Klallum, Chimacum and Skokomish tribes on January 26, 1855. The meeting was attended by 1,200 Indians. In exchange for ceding “the land lying from the crest of the Olympic Mountains to Puget Sound” to the U. S. Government, the Indians were paid $60,000 in annuities, plus $6,000 for moving expenses, and assigned to a 4,987-acre reservation on the Skokomish River at the head of Hood Canal in Mason County. In 1955, the Kitsap Historical Society affixed a bronze plaque to a large boulder near the lighthouse, commemorating the Point No Point Treaty centennial

A Shoal Known for Shipwrecks

In 1872, the Lighthouse Board, expecting vessel traffic to increase around Puget sound when the Northern Pacific Railroad reached Tacoma, recommended that Point No Point be marked with a light and fog signal. The bark Iconium had run aground in the fog in 1868 and the bark Windward, trying to avoid the shoal, was wrecked on Whidby Island in December 1875. A beacon and fog signal were considered essential to maritime safety. 

In 1877 Congress finally appropriated $25,000 for the project, but construction was delayed by a disagreement over the best location for the facility. The Lighthouse Service believed that Foulweather Bluff, 3.5 miles northwest of Point No Point was the best location. The Lighthouse Board thought that the Point No Point spit was more appropriate for a lighthouse; the board won. A further delay occurred because the point’s owners were asking an exorbitant price for the land.

Francis James of Port Townsend owned Point No Point. James, a town councilman and store owner, had been a lighthouse keeper at Cape Flattery but was removed in 1859 for not keeping a “proper light.” Perhaps because of animosity toward the Lighthouse Board, James was reluctant to sell the property. But in April 1879, he finally gave in, and sold 40 acres of land to the Lighthouse Service for $1,800. The side-wheeler S. S. Shubrick, a 140-foot lighthouse tender, delivered building materials to the point and construction of the light station began immediately. 

First Keepers

The first lighthouse keepers, Dr. John S. Maggs, a Seattle dentist, and his assistant, Henry H. Edwards, arrived at the Point No Point Light Station in mid-December 1879. But construction of the buildings had not been completed, and neither the glass storm panes for the lantern room nor the Fresnel lens for the beacon had been delivered. In the interim, Maggs marked the point with a “post lantern,” used at many locations until a permanent lighthouse could be built. The lighthouse was supposed to be commissioned on January 1, 1880, and Maggs was determined there would be a light burning in the 30-foot tower.

Hanging canvas over the south window frames to keep out the wind, Maggs placed a common kerosene lantern on the lens pedestal in the lantern room. Maggs and Edwards battled the wind and cold to maintain the light until the storm panes and the fifth-order Fresnel lens arrived. Meanwhile, the carpenters, with the assistance of Maggs and Edwards, hurried to finish the incomplete buildings in anticipation of the arrival of Maggs’s pregnant wife Caroline.

On January 10, 1880, the fifth-order Fresnel lens arrived and was installed in the Point No Point Lighthouse. Fresnel lenses capture and direct light by prismatic rings to a central bull’s-eye where it emerges as a single concentrated beam of light. A fifth-order Fresnel lens, used mainly for shoals, reefs, and harbor entrance lights, is one foot, eight inches high, has an inside diameter of one foot, three inches, and weighs approximately 300 pounds. The light at Point No Point, illuminated by a kerosene lamp and 27 feet above grade, was visible for about 10 miles. 

On February 1, 1880, storm panes for the lantern room finally arrived and were installed, making the lighthouse fully operational. Shortly thereafter, the keeper’s house, a duplex, was completed, and Mrs. Caroline Maggs arrived at the station. By April, a fog bell, previously used at the New Dungeness Lighthouse, was also in place. The 1,200-pound bronze bell, cast in 1855 at the J. Bernhard Foundry in Philadelphia, used a large clockwork mechanism with descending weights, called a Gamewell Fog Bell Striking Apparatus, to activate the striker. During fog, the mechanism had to be rewound every 45 minutes and when the machinery broke down, as it often did, the lighthouse keepers had to strike the bell manually with a large hammer.

On April 1, 1880, the lighthouse tender Shubrick arrived at the new Point No Point Light Station with inspectors Captain George Reiter and H. S. Wheeler aboard to make the Lighthouse Service’s final inspection. The station consisted of the square 30-foot light tower and attached office constructed of brick and stucco, a metal oil house, a wooden structure housing the fog bell’s clockwork mechanism, and a large, two-story station keeper’s house.

Access by Sea

There were no roads to the Point No Point Light Station for the first 40 years. Virtually everyone and everything arrived and departed by boat. A trip to Port Ludlow to pick up mail was nine miles by rowboat over water that was sometimes dangerous to cross. The light station had to be as self-sufficient as possible. Additional outbuildings at the isolated station included a barn, a poultry shed, and a boathouse with a landing for visitors and supplies. 

Maggs purchased a cow so that his family could have milk. It was delivered in mid-April 1880 by the schooner Granger. The cow was lowered over the side of the vessel in a sling and had to swim ashore. On July 21, 1880, Mrs. Maggs gave birth to the first baby at the light station, a girl.

In 1884, W. H. Jankins replaced John Maggs as the Point No Point station keeper. Jankins left Point No Point in 1888, replaced by Irish-born Edward Scannell who stayed at the station for the next 26 years. Scannell was paid an annual salary of $800 to run the light station with one assistant lighthouse keeper. 

Hansville

Several years after the Point No Point Light Station had been established, loggers and fishermen began to settle in the area. One of the first was a Norwegian herring fisherman who settled nearby in 1893. Other Norwegians soon followed, including Hans Zachariasen, for whom the nearby town of Hansville was named.

The Point No Point Light Station was important to the new Hansville community. The first schoolhouse was built nearby, and the station opened a post office in 1893. Mary Scannell, the lightkeeper’s wife, became the first postmistress, a position she held for 21 years. 

Improvements

In 1898, the Point No Point light was upgraded to a larger fourth-order Fresnel lens, for greater visibility. This lens was slightly damaged in 1931, and many sources claim that this was caused by a lightning strike. If fact, contemporary records indicate that the damage occurred when a faulty oil vaporizer tube allowed explosive vapors to build up in the light chamber. These eventually exploded, and the resulting heat cracked the lens.  Despite the cracked prism, the lens is still in use today. 

In 1900, the Lighthouse Service decided to replace the old mechanical fog bell with foghorns. They built a new fog signal house, attached to the light tower, and equipped it with a Daboll three-trumpet fog signal invented and manufactured by Celadon L. Daboll of New London, Connecticut. The fog-signal was operated by compressed air, produced by a kerosene engine, which passed across a vibrating reed. The brass trumpets extended through the walls, enabling the keeper to project a distinct signal in three directions -- north, east, and south. The fog bell and the Gamewell Fog Bell Striking Apparatus were taken to Browns Point on Commencement Bay near Tacoma in 1903 and installed in the light tower.

The first road in the area, other than logging roads, was built in 1908. It extended one mile, from Hansville toward Point No Point, but didn’t reach that extra half-mile to the light station until 1919. One enterprising resident brought an automobile over to Hansville on a fishing boat, just so he and his friends could have the pleasure of driving up and down the empty road.

When Edward Scannell left Point No Point in 1914, his assistant William H. Cary became the lighthouse keeper. The post office was moved from the light station to Hansville where William's wife Cora Cary owned and operated the general store. In 1922, she sold the store to the Hansville Grange.

Tragedy at Point No Point

On August 26, 1914, Point No Point was the scene of a tragic accident when the passenger liner S. S. Admiral Sampson, owned by the Alaska Pacific Company and the passenger liner Princess Victoria, owned by the Canadian Pacific Railroad Company, collided in dense fog. Although both ships had been moving at crawl speed of 3 knots, the Admiral Sampson was almost sliced in two amidships by the sharp bow of the Princess Victoria.

Most of the 160 passengers scrambled over the railings from the mortally wounded Admiral Sampson onto the Princess Victoria’s decks. She limped to Seattle with a 14-foot rip through her bow. The Admiral Sampson sank quickly, stern first, taking with her 11 passengers, 4 crew members, and her Captain, Zimro Moore

Weather Service Added

In the 1930s, Point No Point became an observation station for the National Weather Service. Weather instruments were installed at the station keeper's house and monitored by Cora Cary. She took readings from the instruments three times a day, phoning the information to the weather service at Boeing Field in Seattle. The Cary's left Point No Point in 1937, after William had served 27 years as lighthouse keeper.

In 1939, the Coast Guard merged with the Lighthouse Service, and assumed responsibility the Point No Point Light Station. During World War II (1941-1945), Point No Point was staffed with extra Coast Guard personnel to help protect vital war industries around Puget Sound by keeping watch for submarines and patrolling 236 miles of shoreline on the Kitsap Peninsula.

In 1975, the Coast Guard constructed two modular auxiliary buildings and a 90-foot radar/radio signal tower on Point No Point, enabling the Puget Sound Vessel Traffic Service to monitor and guide ships in north Puget Sound and Admiralty Inlet. In August 1977, the Coast Guard automated the lighthouse and fog signal and a radio-beacon, transmitting a radio signal used in locating a mariner’s position, installed. Now only one person was required for the station’s general maintenance, while Coast Guard personnel from Seattle maintained the optic and navigational aids.

On August 10, 1978, the Point No Point Light Station was officially designated by the Washington State Advisory Council on Historic Preservation as an historic place and listed on the Washington Heritage Register (listing No. EO 01) This same year, the light station was also placed on the National Register of Historic Places (listing No. 78002758) maintained by the National Parks Service.

In 1997, the last Coast Guardsman assigned to maintain the Point No Point Light Station, was reassigned to the icebreaker Polar Sea (WAGB11) and the station stood vacant.

A Working Lighthouse, Museum, and Park

Kitsap County Parks and Recreation Department first showed interest in acquiring the Point No Point Light Station for a park in 1992. Their goal was to open the beaches to public access. But it wasn’t until 1998 that the Coast Guard declared the property as surplus, and offered Kitsap County a free long-term lease of the buildings and grounds for the recreation and enjoyment of the public. In return for assuming responsibility for the general maintenance of the three-acre light station, the Coast Guard gave permission to use the lighthouse as a museum.

Today (2004), the Point No Point Lighthouse, using the fourth-order Fresnel lens installed in 1898, operates 24 hours a day. The lens, 27 feet above grade, is illuminated by a 1000-watt quartz lamp that produces a 200,000 candle power beam visible for 17 miles. The beacon’s signal is characterized by three white flashes every 10 seconds. Burnt out bulbs are replaced automatically, and in the event of a power failure, there is an emergency light located on the outside of the tower, powered by 12-volt batteries.

The fog signal, installed in 1900, has been replaced by electric foghorns that are activated by automatic sensors which detects moisture in the air, sounding two two-second blasts every 30 seconds. A radio-beacon, transmitting a radio signal used in locating a mariner’s position, has also been installed. The light, foghorn, and all of the specialized navigation equipment is maintained by the Coast Guard’s Aids to Navigation Branch located at Pier 36 in Seattle.

The exterior of the Point No Point Light Station remains essentially the same as when it was first built in 1879. The lighthouse is painted the traditional white with green trim and has a red roof. Kitsap County Parks and Recreation has refurbished the lighthouse keeper's quarters and it serves as a private dwelling. The proceeds from the rental go toward the restoration and maintenance of the buildings.

In February 2007, the prestigious U.S. Lighthouse Society began negotiations with Kitsap County Parks and Recreation to relocate its headquarters and research library from San Francisco into the Point No Point Lighthouse keeper’s residence. The final details were worked out with Kitsap County in February 2008. The Lighthouse Society agreed to renovate the building, occupy the south half of the duplex and manage the north half for Kitsap County as a vacation rental. A ceremony was held at the lighthouse on Thursday, April 3, 2008, to officially commemorate the signing of the lease. In addition to lodging, the society plans to open an interpretive center on the grounds, including a mini-museum and gift shop, to draw tourists.
 
Through land acquisitions over the past several years, Kitsap County has been able to consolidate and expand Point No Point County Park from 35 acres to over 60 acres, which included indirect access to the lighthouse over one mile of beach front. The Point No Point Lighthouse is one of eight lighthouses on or near Puget Sound open to visitors and the fifth where guests can stay overnight. Free tours are conducted on the weekends, April through September, by volunteer members of Friends of Point No Point Lighthouse. The tour, however, does not include access to the lantern room where the Fresnel lens sits, but no longer working. The Coast Guard replaced the light in 2006 with a low-maintenance, post-mounted, rotating beacon.


Sources: Jim Gibbs, Twilight on the Lighthouses (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1996); The Indians of Puget Sound: the Notebooks of Myron Eells ed. by George P. Castile (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1985); Robert Hitchman, Place Names of Washington (Seattle: Washington State Historical Society, 1985); Ruth Kirk and Carmella Alexander, Exploring Washington’s Past: A Road Guide to History (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995); Edmond S. Meany, Origin of Washington Geographic Names (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1923); Sharlene P. and Ted W. Nelson, Umbrella Guide to Washington Lighthouses (Kenmore, WA: Epicenter Publishing, 1998); Bruce Roberts and Ray Jones, Pacific Northwest Lighthouses (Guilford, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 2000); Tim Christie, “Point No Point: Beach Lands in Public Hands,” The Sun (Bremerton), December 8, 1999; Tim Christie, “Hansville: County Buys More Open Space,” Ibid., March 28, 2000; Bruce Ramsey, “Point No Point: Lighthouse to Mark Its 100th Birthday,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 24, 1979, p. C-10; Lucile McDonald, “Point No Point Light Station,” The Seattle Times Magazine, May 5, 1957, p. 10; Preston Sandbo, “Lighting the Way for a Century,” Ibid., November 25, 1979, Pictorial, p. 39; Ron C. Judd, “Kitsap County -- Keep Out,” Ibid., May 28, 1998, p. C-8; “Project: S. S. Admiral Sampson,” Submerged Cultural Resources Exploration Team Website accessed November 2003 (www.scret.org/admiralmay/admiralmay00.htm); “Inventory of Historic Light Stations; Washington; Point No Point,” National Park Service Website accessed November 2003 (www.cr.nps/maritime/light/ptnopt.htm); “Historic Places in Washington,” State of Washington, Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation Website accessed November 2003 (www.oahp.wa.gov); “Point No Point Lighthouse and Point No Point County Park,” Kitsap County Parks and Recreation Website accessed November 2003, (www.kitsapgov.com/parkcatalog/pnpl.htm); “Point No Point Lighthouse,” Keep The Lights Shining Website accessed November 2003 (www.angelfire.com/va3/ keepthelightsshining/Washington/PointNoPoint.html); Elenore DeWire, "The U.S. Lighthouse Society Relocates to Point No Point Lighthouse," The Focal Point, Vol. 4, No.  2, April 2008, p. 3; Stuart Eskenazi, "Pointing the Way," The Seattle Times, NW Weekend, July 17, 2008, p. 16; "The Truth Behind Point No Point's Cracked Lens," The Point No Point Compass, Vol. 3, No. 2, April 2009, available at (http://pointnopointlighthouse.com/Documents/The%20Compass.pdf).
Note: This essay was updated on August 9, 2008. It was further amended on April 16, 2011 to incorporate new information regarding the cause of the cracked lens and to supplement the sources used.

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