Category Archives: Lighthouses

Cape Disappointment: A Pleasing Experience

Description of Cape Disappointment

Contrary to the name, Cape Disappointment does not disappoint. The name came from Lieutenant John Meares of the British Royal Navy. In 1788 he was searching for the mouth of the Columbia River and when he saw it, it appeared to only be an entrance to a bay. So he named the shallow water area where he landed, Cape Disappointment.

Fast forward to 1805 when Clark’s (of Lewis and Clark fame) ship became trapped by a fierce storm in the same location for six days. Clark called this spot Dismal Nitch. These days, the nearby Nitch offers one of the best panoramic views of the Columbia River.

Outside the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, located at Cape Disappointment, the Pacific Ocean stretches out of sight. A very sensual adventure is created by the fresh smell of the sea permeating the air, cormorants gathering on a rock and a ship’s horn blasting in the distance.

Below the surface of the sea lies a graveyard of as many as 2,000 sunken ships. Before the two lighthouses were built – Cape Disappointment and North Head – more than 700 lives were claimed by these treacherous waters. Sailors often experienced trouble crossing the Columbia River bar, the area where the tumultuous flow of the river rushes into the ocean waves.

Lighthouse at Cape Disappointment

You can tour the North Head Lighthouse, take a hike guided by a park ranger or picnic and swim on Washington’s own Waikiki Beach. Exhibits in the Interpretive Center highlight Lewis and Clark’s time exploring the Lower Columbia River and their arrival at the Pacific Ocean. Cape Disappointment State Park anchors the area with miles of trails, another interpretive display and camping sites.

The largest nearby town, Long Beach, also has a bounty of activities to pursue and some of the best restaurants in the country. Long Beach is probably best known for its annual Kite Festival.

Tour or Stay at Brown’s Point Lighthouse

Stove in the museum at the Brown's Point Lighthouse Keepers Cottage.

On a recent Saturday I took a tour of the Brown’s Point Lighthouse and Cottage in Brown’s Point, led by Barbara Heimers. She was visiting from the east coast for her niece’s wedding, which was set to take place in a few hours in front of the lighthouse with an up-close view of the beach. To keep herself busy, she deeply researched the lighthouse so she could voluntarily lead the free tours that afternoon and she gladly shared that knowledge with visitors.

The Brown's Point art deco Lighthouse.

Open Saturdays, between 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. from March through November, these tours cost nothing. Although by now Barbara has returned home, many other knowledgeable guides also lead the tours.

History

In 1887, a lantern hung from a post at Brown’s Point warning ships that they were approaching the entrance to Commencement Bay. Then in 1903 a wooden light house was built, also to warn ships and it needed a lighthouse keeper.

Oscar Brown and his wife, Annie, became the first lighthouse keepers at Brown’s Point that same year. They arrived with a cow and a piano. Their daily tasks included keeping the kerosene light burning and the fog bell ringing (Brown’s Point is one of the foggiest places in Washington, so this was very important), and Oscar kept a journal of daily activities plus gave music lessons to the neighborhood children. In 1939 Oscar retired and the United States Coast Guard took over the Lighthouse Service. At this time almost everything in the lighthouse became automated.

A kind of living museum has been established in the basement of the cottage showcasing many of the furnishings of life in the early 20’s times like an ice box, iron, treadle sewing machine and so much more.

The three-bedroom Brown’s Point Lighthouse Cottage rents for $800 a week, but guests must take over some of the Light Keeper’s duties – daily maintenance, conducting tours, raising and lowering the U.S. flag and making daily entries into the light keeper’s log book.

Barbara thought the appeal of lighthouses had to do with a reminiscence of simpler times

When people had to help others and everything wasn’t done by computers.

Whether you choose to stay in the cottage (available from May – October) or not, a tour is well worth your while. For information or reservations, visit www.pointsnortheast.org.

And it’s right on the beach.