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Cape Blanco Lighthouse

Cape Blanco Lighthouse
Circa: 1870

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places
Oregon's Most Westerly, Oldest and Highest above the Sea

Located about 9 Miles NW of Port Orford on Cape Blanco Road

Cape Blanco Light Station was built on 47.7 acres of land. A two-family dwelling was built for keepers' quarters, with fireplaces in each room for heat. Several small buildings were constructed to house oil and other necessities. Most materials used for construction were shipped in, however, the bricks were made locally. Lt. Col. R.S. Williamson was the engineer of record; he rejected nearly 20,000 of the 200,000 bricks as inferior. Finally, the light station was completed and H. Burnap was hired as the first Keeper. On the eve of December 20, 1870, the Fresnel lens was lit for the first time.

This isolated lighthouse holds at least four Oregon records: it is the oldest continuously operating light, the most westerly, it has the highest focal plane above the sea, (256 feet), and Oregon’s first woman keeper, Mabel E. Bretherton signed on in March 1903.

Cape Blanco’s history is full of shipwrecks and lives saved. One notable shipwreck was the "J.A. Chanslor" (an oil tanker) in 1919. Of the 39 passengers, only 3 survived the collision with an offshore rock.

James Langlois and James Hughes were Cape Blanco’s most distinguished keepers. (Hughes was the second son of Patrick and Jane Hughes, whose 2,000-acre ranch bordered the Light Station property.) They both served their entire careers at Cape Blanco, Langlois 42 years and Hughes 33 years. The keeper job included keeping the light working from sunset to sunrise.

Langlois, Hughes and many other keepers for the Light-House Service diligently kept the lamps burning, and the huge Fresnel lens polished until the U.S. Coast Guard took over in 1939. The station was later automated and abandon in 1979. The last known "keeper," stationed at Cape Blanco for grounds keeping and security purposes, left in December of 1987.

The original lens was a first order, fixed, Fresnel lens (non-rotating). The lens probably had drum shaped panels to provide the steady beam of light that was Cape Blanco’s original signal.

Light lists were published so mariners could identify the lights and their signals. Sometime after the 1911 Light List was published, Cape Blanco’s signal changed. The new signal provided flashes of light, instead of a steady beam. The change was accomplished by using a clockwork system that lowered a shield around the light source at intervals to provide the flash (possibly the shield revolved around). This change added "winding clockworks" to the keepers' list of duties.

In early 1936, the lighthouse was electrified and the actual lens was replaced with an eight side, rotating lens, built in France by Henry-LePaute. The new lens coupled with the speed as it turned, provided a flash of light every 20 seconds.

The second lens is listed on various light lists as both a first and a second order lens, "orders" being a size classification. Cape Blanco’s lens measures 4’8" in diameter and 6’8" in height. It is larger than a second order (4’7" by 6’1") lens, but smaller than a first order (6’1" by 7’10") lens. We do not know what happened to the original lens after it was shipped to the Tongue Point (Astoria) depot by way of the steamer "Manzanita."

A 1,000-watt incandescent bulb replaces Cape Blanco’s soot producing oil lamps of old. Gone are the keepers who spent hours polishing the magnificent lens and winding the clockworks. Today, it rotates with the help of a 120-volt, 75-rpm electric motor, specially manufactured for lighthouse duty. The electrified light flashes it's 320,000 candlepower beam, 1.8 seconds bright (flash) every 18.2 seconds.


Augustin Jean Fresnel (Freh-nel) made the greatest stride in lighthouse technology when he invented his optic system. Fresnel’s system used prisms to focus the light lost above and below the light source, back into a single beam of light. The light is focused through the center of the lens (drum panel or bullseye) creating a highly visible beam of light.


Between 1886 and 1916, over 4,000 people made the arduous journey to visit the lighthouse. Today thousands of visitors make this trip to view the lighthouse. Through a series of "Chapters" the lighthouse story is shared with visitors from all over the world. Visit Cape Blanco and learn what makes it special.

Tours begin at the Greeting Center, where groups are gathered for the first chapter of life on the cape. Those who wish to climb the tower pay a small fee, other are welcome to wander the mowed areas and visit the gift shop sponsored by Cape Blanco Heritage Society. Profits from sales fund interpretive displays and preservation and restoration.

The climb to the lantern room is via three flights of stairs, and one ladder, with a total of 63 steps to the top. Children who climb the tower must be able to climb unaided. Visitors are asked to watch their step and keep their hands on the railing at all times. Visitors should stand away from the rotating lens and are requested not to touch the lens.

Visitor Hours: April 1 through October 31 -  10:00 AM to 3:30 PM

General Fees are: Adults $2 & Children $1
Some exceptions apply
Closed Tuesday's
Grounds are closed to visitors except during regular visiting hours.

Cape Blanco Lighthouse is open to the public through a cooperating agreement between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department, Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, the Coquille Indian Tribe, Curry County and the Cape Blanco Heritage Society. 

Private Public Service Site Copyrights to all Photos & Text 2003 - 2008 - 2013 T. Hewitt- All Rights Reserved

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