Dofflemyer Point Lighthouse

  • By Daryl C. McClary
  • Posted 3/18/2004
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5669

The Dofflemyer Point Lighthouse, the southernmost light in Puget Sound, marks an important turning point for ships entering Budd Inlet. Located seven miles north of Olympia in Boston Harbor, it was Puget Sound’s only unmanned lighthouse. Built in 1934, the 30-foot pyramidal, concrete tower replaced a pole lantern placed on the shoal in 1887 to guide vessels to and from Olympia. The Dofflemyer Point Lighthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and Washington State’s Heritage Register.

In the spring of 1841, the United States Exploring Expedition under the command of Navy Lieutenant Charles T. Wilkes (1798-1877) entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca and sailed south into Puget Sound, making charts and naming many of the prominent features.

In May 1841, Lieutenant Wilkes named a point of land, marking the northeastern entrance to Budd Inlet, Brown’s Point, in honor of James Brown, a carpenter’s mate on one of the expedition’s ships. Early fur trappers and mariners plying the area called the landmark Pap’s Point.

On March 2, 1853, President Millard Fillmore (1800-1874), two days before leaving office, signed the bill creating the new Territory of Washington. Shortly thereafter, newly elected President Franklin Pierce (1804-1869) appointed Isaac Stevens (1818-1862) as first governor of the Washington Territory. On November 28, 1853, Governor Stevens proclaimed Olympia, the oldest and largest town on Puget Sound, the territorial capital.

On September 27, 1865, Isaac Dofflemyer and his wife Susan filed a donation land grant claim for 316 acres extending from Pap’s point southward. The shoal, positioned along the maritime route to Olympia on Budd Inlet, soon became known as Dofflemyer’s Point, later shortened to Dofflemyer Point.

The main industry in Olympia, and most of Puget Sound’s towns, was the lumber trade, with most lumber sent by ship to San Francisco. For travelers, the fastest way between Olympia, Tacoma, and Seattle was by water, and as Puget Sound’s population grew, so did vessel traffic. In 1873, the Northern Pacific Railroad finally reached the West Coast, bringing more people and industry.

The Lighthouse Board, aware that vessel traffic had increased substantially around Puget Sound, recommended that Dofflemyer Point, an important turning point for ships entering Budd Inlet, be marked with a light. In 1887, a “post lantern,” displaying a white light at a height of 12 feet, was erected on a hillock surrounded by tideflats, several yards off shore. At high tide, the light could only reached by rowboat. Eventually, the hillock was connected to the shore with riprap and dirt, allowing the keeper easier access to the light.

Post lanterns were usually used until a more permanent structure could be built. However the Lighthouse Service didn’t get around to replacing the Dofflemyer Point light for 47 years. Mounted high on scaffolds, post lanterns had a drum-type lens, which produced a bright fixed light. The lantern had a large tank encircling the top of the lens that held enough fuel for eight days.

The post lantern on Dofflemyer Point and two others in the area were maintained by a contract light keeper who visited once a week by rowboat to clean the glass, replenish the fuel tanks, and trim the wicks. The first recorded light keeper was Leonard Sperring. He was replaced in 1912 by local resident Edward R. Robinson, who tended the light until its replacement in 1934.

In 1934, the Lighthouse Service replaced the post lantern with a 30-foot, pyramidal, concrete tower designed by architect Rufus Kindle. The new optic, a small, non-rotating, drum-lens, used an electric bulb to produce a 1,500 candlepower light. The drum-lens, perched on the tower’s flat roof, was protected by a small square glassed-in enclosure referred to as the lantern. The Lighthouse Service also had an electric fog signal installed on the tower.

Unlike most lighthouses, the new Dofflemyer Point Lighthouse had no full-time lighthouse keeper appointed. Instead, the Lighthouse Service hired Edward Robinson to care for the tower and activate the beacon and fog signal. Robinson continued as the Dofflemyer Point contract light keeper until 1942, passing the responsibility to his son Robert.

In the early 1960s, the U. S. Coast Guard automated the Dofflemyer Point Lighthouse, using photoelectric cells to turn the light on and off. However, a contract keeper was still required to maintain the light and tower, and to activate the fog signal when needed. In 1965, Madeline Campbell, who lived in the old Robinson house, was registered with the Coast Guard as the official “Lamplighter,” a position she held for more than 20 years. Her duties included maintaining a log of lighthouse activities and the number of hours the fog signal was used. When the family left home for any extended period, it was Mrs. Campbell’s responsibility to find another local resident to serve as “fog horn sitter."

In 1987, the Dofflemyer Point Lighthouse was fully automated and a radio-beacon, which transmitted a radio signal used in locating a mariner’s position, was installed. Mrs. Campbell retired as “Lamplighter,” and the Coast Guard assumed total responsibility for maintaining the facility.

On May 1, 1995, the Dofflemyer Point Lighthouse 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. 054). Also, the lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places (listing No. 93001339) maintained by the National Park Service.

The Dofflemyer Point Lighthouse was one of the first to be automated in Washington state. The lantern of the white-painted octagonal tower has been replaced with a small 250 mm drum lens displayed from a short mast on top of the capped tower. Sitting at a height of 30 feet, the exposed optic uses photoelectric cells to turn the light on at night, and off in the morning.

The beacon's characteristic white signal, flashing six seconds on and six seconds off, is visible for nine miles. The electric foghorn, mounted high on the tower, is activated by an automatic sensor which detects moisture in the air, sounding one two-second blast every 15 seconds. The light and fog signal is maintained by the Coast Guard’s Aids-to-Navigation Branch located at Pier 36 in Seattle.

Dofflemyer Point Lighthouse, located in Boston Harbor seven miles north of Olympia, sits on a private beach, off Lighthouse Lane near the marina. Although the site is not open to the public, the tower can be seen from the marina docks and from Jeal Point, north of Boston Harbor.


Sources: Jim Gibbs,Lighthouses of the Pacific (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1986); Jim Gibbs, Twilight on the Lighthouses (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1996); Robert Hitchman, Place Names of Washington (Seattle: Washington State Historical Society, 1985); 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, 1990, 1998); Shanna Stevenson, Olympiana: Historical Vignettes of Olympia (Olympia, Washington State Capitol Museum, 1982); “National Register of Historical Places; Washington; Thurston County,” National Register of Historical Places Website accessed January 2004 (www.nationalregisterofhistoricplaces.com); “Historic Places in Washington,” State of Washington, Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation Website accessed January 2004 (www.oahp.wa.gov); “National Register of Historical Places-Dofflemyer Point Light,” National Park Service Website accessed February 2004 (www.nr.nps.gov).

Related Topics:   Maritime

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