Mukilteo Light Station

  • By Daryl C. McClary
  • Posted 6/10/2004
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5705
The Mukilteo Light Station, located in the small waterfront community of Mukilteo, is situated on Point Elliott, a Puget Sound headland in southwest Snohomish County, approximately three miles south of Everett. At a height of 33 feet, the beacon marks the turning point for ships entering Possession Sound and is an important navigational aid for Washington State Ferries operating between Mukilteo and Clinton on Whidbey Island. Built in 1905, the unique Victorian Style lighthouse is Mukilteo’s main attraction and the centerpiece of the city’s new Mukilteo Lighthouse Park. The Mukilteo Light Station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and on Washington State’s Heritage Register.

First Inhabitants

The Indians called this point Muckl-te-oh meaning “good camping ground.” It was an important gathering place and trading center for the local tribes. On May 31, 1792, Captain George Vancouver (1758-1798) of the British Navy named the promontory Rose Point for all the pink wild roses he found covering the area. In May 1841, Lieutenant Charles Wilkes (1798-1877), commander of the U. S. Exploring Expedition, renamed it Point Elliott in honor of Samuel Elliott, a midshipman of his command. On January 22, 1855, this was the site of the Point Elliott Treaty between Washington Territorial Governor Isaac Ingalls Stevens (1818-1862) and 22 Puget Sound Indian Tribes. In exchange for ceding the lands between Point Pully (now Three Tree Point) south of Seattle, and the Canadian Border, the tribes were compensated with money, granted access, in perpetuity, to their ancestral hunting and fishing grounds, and assigned to various reservations. A monument erected in Mukilteo at Third Street and Lincoln Avenue commemorates the treaty.

The first white settlers arrived in 1858, three years after the treaty was signed. The settlement, originally called Point Elliott, was founded by Jacob D. Fowler (1837-1892) and Morris H. Frost (1806-1882), partners in a trading post. When the government established a U. S. Post Office there in 1862, Fowler became its first postmaster, and changed the town’s name to Mukilteo. He also became Snohomish County’s first judge, auditor and notary public. In 1870, Fowler and Frost each claimed 160 acres of land under the Homestead Act of 1862, which became Mukilteo’s original town site. Lumber and the salmon canning industry soon turned the town into a busy seaport.

Building the Light

In 1901, the Lighthouse Board determined that a light and fog signal should be built on Point Elliott to help guide vessels headed for Possession Sound, and acquired a 2.6 acre site. The Lighthouse Service began construction of the Mukilteo Light Station in 1905 and it took eight months to complete. The station consisted of the combination lighthouse and fog signal building, two large two-story houses for the station keepers and their families, an oil house, and a windmill built over a well, which pumped fresh water to the town of Mukilteo. The entire light station cost $27,000 to build. The lamp in the Mukilteo Lighthouse was lit for the first time on the evening of March 1, 1906. “The light is considered without exception the most up-to-date and thoroughly equipped station on the Sound” (The Seattle Times).

The Victorian style light tower with attached fog signal building, designed by the renowned Lighthouse Service architect Carl W. Leick (1854-1939), was made of wood, a unique feature as most lighthouses of this period were built of brick and concrete. The lantern on top of the 30-foot tower was equipped with a fourth-order Fresnel lens, illuminated by a kerosene lamp. The fog signal building was equipped with a Daboll trumpet fog signal, invented and manufactured by Celadon L. Daboll of New London, Connecticut. The fog signal was activated by compressed air, produced by an engine, which passed across a vibrating reed. The brass trumpet extended through the wall, enabling the keeper to project a distinct signal west, into Possession Sound.

Keeping the Light

The first keeper of the Mukilteo Light Station was Peter N. Christiansen (1858-1925), who arrived there from the Turn Point Light Station on Stuart Island with his wife, Theodine (1862-1937), and four children. He was given the assignment partially as a reward for his heroic efforts in saving the crew of the tugboat Enterprise that had run aground on Stuart Island in a severe winter storm in February 1897. Christiansen, a Norwegian immigrant, had been a sailor for 21 years -- 10 years with the U. S. Navy -- before joining the Lighthouse Service in 1893. He died on October 5, 1925, shortly after helping unload a large shipment of coal for the light station, probably of a heart attack. He had served with the Lighthouse Service for 31 years.

Peter Christiansen was replaced by Edward A. Brooks (1872-1941), who came from the New Dungeness Light Station near Sequim, with his wife Anna, and four children. In 1927, electricity was installed at the Mukilteo Light Station. An attempt to adapt the lens from a kerosene lamp to an electric bulb proved unsuccessful. As a result, the Lighthouse Service decided to exchange lenses with the lighthouse at New Dungeness. This lens, a fixed, fourth-order Fresnel lens made in 1852 by L. Sautter & Cie, Paris, France, is still in use at the Mukilteo Lighthouse today.

Edward Brooks served at the Mukilteo Light Station until his retirement in 1937. He was replaced by Ray E. Dunson, who came from an assignment at the Smith Island Light Station near the east end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, with his wife, Katherine, and four children. Dunson was the station keeper at Mukilteo until 1939 when the U. S. Coast Guard was merged with the Lighthouse Service, and assigned responsibility for all the aids-to-navigation in the United States.

A Parking Lot Park

In 1954, the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission acquired 17 acres of land on Possession Sound, adjacent to the Mukilteo Light Station, to develop into a state park. The Coast Guard donated an additional acre of unusable, swampy land from the station’s southwest corner to the new park, reducing the size of the station to 1.6 acres. Mukilteo State Park was opened to the public in 1957. Unfortunately, the park was primarily a huge asphalt parking lot, built to service its four-lane boat-launching ramp. The park’s main attraction was its 1,495-foot-long strip of sandy, windswept beach, a nice place to fly kites, sunbathe, or have a picnic, weather permitting.

In the 1960s, the Coast Guard had plans to replace the Fresnel lens in the Mukilteo Lighthouse with a modern, rotating, aero-beacon, but the Mukilteo community protested vehemently, and the lens stayed in the tower. Ironically, the Mukilteo Historical Society later acquired another Fresnel lens to put on display in the lighthouse museum, a fourth-order bulls-eye lens, salvaged from the former Desdemona Sands Lighthouse near Astoria at the mouth of the Colombia River.

Historical and Historic

On October 21, 1977, the Mukilteo Light Station was officially designated as an historic place by the Washington State Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and listed on the Washington Heritage Register (listing No. EO 01). This same year, the lighthouse was also placed on the National Register of Historic Places (listing No. 77001360), maintained by the National Park Service.

Between 1939 and 1979, the Coast Guard had at least three men stationed at the Mukilteo Light Station, who stood 24-hour watches to aid mariners in distress and keep the lighthouse operating. The station’s compliment was reduced to a single caretaker when the lighthouse was automated.

Automating Light and Sound

In July 1979, the Coast Guard automated the lighthouse and fog signal.  Charles Milene, who served from 1979 to 1982,  was the first caretaker of the automated lighthouse. The hand-ground Fresnel lens uses photoelectric cells to turn the light on in the morning and off at night. The lens, known as a beehive or barrel design, is a fixed light. There are no flash panels installed on the lens and it doesn’t turn, instead the light flashes on and off. A 1000-watt Halogen bulb is used in the Fresnel lens to produce a 27,000 candlepower beam. Sitting at a height of 33 feet, the beacon’s characteristic is a two-second white flash every five seconds, and is visible for 14 miles. In the event of a power failure, a battery-powered light, located on the outside of the tower, flashes white every 6 seconds. An electric Coast Guard 1000 fog horn, constructed on the waterside near the tower, is activated by an automatic sensor which detects moisture in the air, sounding one three-second blast every 30 seconds. The light and fog signal are maintained by the Coast Guard’s Aid-to-Navigation Branch located at Pier 36 in Seattle.

The exterior of the Mukilteo Light Station remains almost the same as when it was built in 1905. The Coast Guard renovated all the buildings in 1972 and the lighthouse was restored to its original appearance in 1987. The lighthouse, fog signal building, and station keeper’s houses are painted the traditional white with green trim and red roofs, providing visual daytime landmarks to mariners.

The last Coast Guard caretaker was Boatswain Mate Kurtis Bentz, who was stationed at the Mukilteo Light Station from 1986 to 1990, when the station was closed. The Coast Guard offered the City of Mukilteo a free long-term lease of the lighthouse for the recreation and enjoyment of the public and gave permission to use it as a museum. In October 1991, the lease agreement was finalized and the City of Mukilteo gained possession of the lighthouse until May 31, 1996. The Mukilteo Historical Society, a nonprofit organization, volunteered to conduct tours, and become the informal caretakers of the facility. The Coast Guard retained possession of the two keepers dwellings to house personnel until 1996, at which time the lighthouse and entire station was leased to the city for another five years.

In October 1998, Representative Jack Metcalf (1927-2007), R-Washington, introduced a bill in Congress that permanently transferred ownership of the entire Mukilteo Light Station from the Coast Guard to the City of Mukilteo. The transfer was officially completed in the spring of 2001.

Mukilteo's Lighthouse Park

In early 2002, the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, faced with a budget shortfall of $2.9 million, offered to give the 18-acre Mukilteo State Park, adjacent to the light station property, to the City of Mukilteo. On November 4, 2002, the City Council passed a resolution to accept transfer of the popular beach front park, which included $449,000 the state had appropriated for maintenance and renovations.

In January 2003, after some debate, the City Council voted unanimously to rename it “Mukilteo Lighthouse Park.” On February 4, 2003, Governor Gary Locke deeded the park to Mukilteo and sent the title to the Snohomish County Auditor for filing. Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission officially transferred ownership and management of the park to the City of Mukilteo on March 26, 2003.

On February 17, 2004, the Mukilteo City Council approved plans to spend approximately $6 million redeveloping the new Mukilteo Lighthouse Park, which is almost entirely covered by an asphalt parking lot. The plans include building a visitors center, playground and pedestrian pier, restoring over a quarter mile of beach front, creating a system of walking paths, installing shelters, rest rooms, picnic tables and fire pits, and replacing most of the asphalt with grass. But the park’s centerpiece and main attraction will always be its unique Victorian style lighthouse.


Sources: 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); Marge and Ted Mueller, Washington State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide (Seattle: The Mountaineers, 1999); Sharlene P. and Ted W. Nelson, Umbrella Guide to Washington Lighthouses (Kenmore, WA: Epicenter Publishing, 1990-1998); William Whitfield, History of Snohomish County, Vol. 1 (Seattle: Pioneer Historical Publishing Co., 1926); Darrell Glover, “Historical Society: A Beacon In Move to Restore Lighthouse,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 15, 1994, p. B-1; Janice Podsada, “Mukilteo Lighthouse Prepares For Changes Under New Ownership; City Takes Over From Coast Guard,” Ibid., March 1, 1999, p. B-2; “Mukilteo Light Station Depicted,” The Seattle Sunday Times Magazine, July 7, 1957, p. 6; “New Lighthouse Is Now In Commission,” The Seattle Times, March 2, 1906, p. 14; Glen Carter, “Straight-Diesel Vanship, First of Dozens, Christened,” Ibid., August 1, 1979, p. C-13; Ignacio Lobos, “Mukilteo Will Get Lease On Historic Lighthouse,” Ibid., September 27, 1991, p. C-1; Steven Spencer, “Mukilteo Lighthouse Illuminates the Past, and It’s a Nice Place for a Wedding, Too,” Ibid., November 5, 1992, p. F-2; Catherine Tarpley, “Enhancing a Sound View,” Ibid., July 11, 2001, p. B-4; Pam Sitt, “Mukilteo State Park Transfer Will Lead To 18 Acres’ Makeover,” Ibid., November 6, 2002, p. I-30; Rachel Tuinstra, “New Name In Town: Mukilteo Lighthouse Park,” Ibid., January 29, 2003, p. H-16; Rachel Tuinstra, “ Mukilteo Plans to Improve Its Newest Park,” The Times of Snohomish County, March 12, 2003, p. 18; “National Register of Historical Places; Mukilteo Light Station,” National Park Service Website accessed March 2004 (www.nr.nps.gov); “Inventory of Historic Light Stations; Washington; Mukilteo Light,” National Park Service Website accessed March 2004 (www.cr.nps.gov/maritime/light/mukilteo.htm) “Historic Places in Washington,” State of Washington, Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation Website accessed March 2004 (www.oahp.wa.gov); “Mukilteo Lighthouse History” Mukilteo Historical Website accessed March 2004 (www.mukilteohistorical.org); Bruce Brown and Glen Pickus, “Mukilteo Landmark: The Lighthouse Story,” The Mukilteo Beacon Website accessed March 2004 (www.mukilteobeacon.com/mukilteolighthouse.shtml); “Mukilteo Lighthouse,” Keep the Lights Shining Website accessed March 2003 (www.angelfire.com/va3/keepthelightsshining).
Note: This essay was updated on March 16, 2007, and was expanded slightly on April 26, 2008.

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