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Admiralty Head Lighthouse

HistoryLink.org Essay 5710 : Printer-Friendly Format

The Admiralty Head Lighthouse, built in 1903 by the Army Corps of Engineers, is located in Fort Casey State Park near Coupeville on Whidbey Island. The beacon, high on a bluff, 127 feet above sea level, was an important navigational aid, especially for sailing ships entering Admiralty Inlet from the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It replaced the Red Bluff Lighthouse, a wooden Cape Cod style structure built in 1861. Although decommissioned in 1922, the Admiralty Head Lighthouse received national recognition in 1990 when the U. S. Postal Service selected it for a collection of five commemorative lighthouse stamps honoring the U.S. Coast Guard’s bicentennial.

Red Cliffs and Shallow Waters

Admiralty Head is a 90-foot high promontory that projects into Admiralty Inlet on the west coast of Whidbey Island in Island County four miles south of Coupeville. It acquired the name from Admiralty Inlet, the waterway between the Olympic Peninsula and Whidbey Island, connecting the Strait of Juan de Fuca with Puget Sound. Captain George Vancouver (1758-1798) named Admiralty Inlet on June 2, 1792, in honor of the British Navy’s Board of Admiralty. In 1841, Lieutenant Charles Wilkes (1798-1877), commander of the U. S. Exploring Expedition, named it Red Bluff from the reddish color of the cliffs. A local name for the headland was Kellogg Point for Dr. John Coe Kellogg (1820-1902), and his wife Caroline T. (1821-1891), who had claimed a homestead on this site in 1853 under the Oregon Land Donation Act of 1850.

Marine surveys of Washington’s inland waterways, commissioned by the Lighthouse Board in the 1850s, recommended that the entrance to Admiralty Inlet be marked with two lights: on Whidbey Island to the east, and on Point Wilson (on Quimper Peninsula near Port Townsend) to the west. In 1856, Congress appropriated only enough money to build one lighthouse. The Lighthouse Board decided Red Bluff on Whidbey Island was best suited for a navigational aid to help sailing vessels clear the shallow waters around Point Wilson for the tack south into the narrow entrance of Admiralty Inlet.

In 1858, The U. S. Lighthouse Board purchased 10 acres of land on Red Bluff from Dr. Kellogg for $400. Completed in January 1861, the Cape Cod style lighthouse was a square wooden tower built on the roof of the two-story keeper’s quarters. The white tower, 40-feet high and 108 feet above sea level, was outfitted with a fixed fourth-order Fresnel lens, known as a beehive or barrel. This lens captures and directs light by prismatic rings to a central prism where it emerges through the convex lens as a concentrated beam of light. The light on Red Bluff, first exhibite