Alaska Lighthouses
Lightship Umatilla WLV-196
Ketchikan, Alaska

Location:  Anchored just offshore from Ketchikan, near Lewis Reef north of the Ketchikan Airport.
Latitude: N 55.33337
Longitude:  W 131.65918

Lightship Specifications:

Builder: Devoe Shipbuilding, Bay City, MI (1946)
Length: 128' 0"  Beam: 30' 0"  Draft: 11' 0"
Displacement: 630 Tons
Illumination Apparatus: Duplex 500mm electric lens lantern on foremast only; 15,000cp each light, 57 feet above water
Propulsion: Diesel Engine - GM 6-278A 6 cylinder
Fog Signal: Twin F2T diaphones aft of pilot house; hand operated bell
In February 1884 the steamer Umatilla was sailing along the Washington coast in high seas and blinding snow, when it ran aground on a reef four miles off Cape Avala. Although the Umatilla was worked free and towed away following the storm, its name has remained attached to the reef ever since.

Fourteen years after the Umatilla grounded, the first Lightship Umatilla (LV 67) was anchored near the reef to prevent other vessels from experiencing the same misfortune as the Umatilla. The original lightship was propelled by a steam engine, and alerted nearby mariners with a steam-powered whistle and oil lamps. LV 67 served at the reef until 1930, when it was retired and replaced by LV 93. The second Umatilla Reef Lightship marked the area until it was relocated to the Columbia River in 1939.

LV 88 lowered its anchor near Umatilla Reef for the first time in 1939, and was associated with the station until 1959. During World War II, LV 88 was commandeered for the war effort, outfitted with guns and radar, and used as an examination vessel near Seattle until returning to Umatilla Reef in 1945 at the conclusion of the war. During LV 88’s absence, a lighted buoy marked the reef.

The final lightship to mark Umatilla Reef was LV 196, which in 1961 replaced a lighted buoy that had been positioned near the reef since 1959. LV 196, which was built in Bay City, Michigan in 1946, is the only Umatilla Lightship whose current whereabouts is known.  When work on LV 196 was completed at Bay City, the ship sailed through Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence Seaway on its way to its first assignment at Pollack Rip, MA.

LV 196 served at Pollack Rip from 1947 to 1958, before moving to nearby Nantucket Shoals, where it served two years as a relief ship for LV 112.

Guard Island, AK

Location: Located twelve miles northwest of Ketchikan on Guard Island, marking the northern entrance to the Tongass Narrows from Clarence Strait.
Latitude:  N 55.44596
Longitude:  W 131.88143

Year Constructed:  1924 (station established 1904). Active
Tower Height: 30 feet    Focal Plane:  74 feet

Square cylindrical reinforced concrete tower with lantern and gallery, centered on the roof of a square concrete oil house; . Lighthouse is white concrete; lantern painted black.
Guard Island Lighthouse
Guard Islands, a pair of small, rocky islets, stand sentinel over the northern entrance to Tongass Narrows, which leads south to Ketchikan. Atop the larger of the two islands sits Guard Island Lighthouse.  In November of 1903, construction began on Guard Island.  Illuminated for the first time on September 15, 1904, the 34-foot wooden tower housed a minor optic lens lantern that produced a fixed white light. Mounted on the north face of the tower was a fog bell, mechanized to strike every twenty seconds. Also on the island were a 1 ½ story frame keeper’s cottage, a boat house, and an oil storage house. 

However, the wood used for Guard Island Light Station, as well as for several other contemporary Alaskan lighthouses, soon deteriorated in the harsh conditions.  In 1924, the dilapidated light tower was replaced with a new single-story rectangular tower of reinforced concrete. The antiquated bell signal was replaced with a diaphone air signal that gave a five-second blast every 25 seconds. Additionally, another keeper’s house was built to provide quarters for two keepers and their families.

The final entry in the station’s Register of Visitors, made on July 31, 1960, reads “Disestablished Guard Island Light at 14:45 this date.” Thus ended the reign of keepers on the island.
Point Retreat Lighthouse
Admiralty Island, AK

Location:  Located on the northern tip of Admiralty Island, twenty-one miles northwest of Juneau.
Latitude:  N 58.41151
Longitude:  W 134.9551

Year Constructed: 1923 (station established 1904). Active
Tower Height:  25 feet    Focal Plane:  63 feet

Square cylindrical reinforced concrete tower with lantern and gallery, mounted on the roof of a square concrete fog signal building.  Lighthouse is white concrete; lantern painted black.
Point Retreat Lighthouse is situated at the northern tip of ninety-mile-long Admiralty Island, which is bordered by Stephens Passage on the east and Chatham Strait on the west.

The first Point Retreat Lighthouse was a six-foot-tall hexagonal wooden tower, topped by a hexagonal lantern room was lit on September 15, 1904. Two one-and-one-half-story frame dwellings were constructed fifty feet south of the light, but one of them apparently burned down not long after it was completed. The station’s boat, stored in a rectangular boathouse just east of the dwellings, allowed the keepers to make an occasional trip to Juneau.

A new combination lighthouse and fog signal was built in 1923-24. A one-story, rectangular (30’ x 40’) building housed the fog signal equipment, and from the center of this cement structure a spiral staircase led up to a square tower, which was topped by a circular lantern room.

As the station moved towards automation, one of the two keeper’s dwellings was torn down in 1966 to make room for a helicopter landing pad. Then, in 1973, the station was downgraded to a minor light, and the remaining personnel were removed.
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Eldred Rock Lighthouse
Eldred Rock, AK

Location:  Located on Eldred Rock in the Lynn Canal, twenty miles southeast of Haines.
Latitude:  N 58.97091
Longitude:  W 135.22092

Year Constructed:  1905. Active
Tower Height: 56 feet    Focal Plane:  91 feet

Octagonal cylindrical wood tower with lantern and gallery, centered on the roof of 2-story octagonal wood keeper's house.  Lighthouse painted white, lantern and gallery black; the keeper's house roof is a conspicuous red.
The Lighthouse Board approved plans for the lighthouse in May 1905 and the lighthouse was activated on June 1, 1906, making it the last of the ten lighthouses constructed in Alaska between 1902 and 1906.  A fourth-order Fresnel lens was placed in the lantern room.

Like many of the early northern lights, the Eldred Rock Lighthouse consisted of an octagonal tower protruding from the center of an octagonal building with a sloping roof. The building at Eldred Rock, however, was markedly larger than the others and had two stories instead of one. The bottom story was built of concrete, while the second story and tower were wood. Perhaps it was this solid foundation that has allowed the Eldred Rock Lighthouse to survive for over a hundred years, while all of its Alaskan contemporaries were replaced with stouter structures after just a few decades of service. 

The station’s power was provided by three Caterpillar generators, only one of which was used each day on a rotating basis. Every hour, a hand crank was used to pump fuel from the outside diesel tanks to the generator’s small day tanks. The station’s water supply was provided primarily by snow and rain.

Personnel were removed from Eldred Rock Lighthouse in 1973, at which time the fog signal and radio beacon were discontinued.   After being replaced by an automatic beacon, the original Fresnel lens from the Eldred Rock Lighthouse was acquired from the Coast Guard by the Alaska State Museum in 1976. The lens was then loaned to the Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center where it was placed on display in 1981. A handsome wooden case, resembling the lantern room atop the Eldred Rock Lighthouse, was crafted for the lens in 1992.
Click here for historical USCG Photo
LV 196 was then overhauled in Curtis Bay, MD, before embarking to its new assignment at Umatilla Reef.  LV 196 served at Umatilla Reef from 1961 to 1971, when it was decommissioned. The vessel was reportedly near Seattle in 1980, but then it disappeared from the lightship community until it was spotted in Ketchikan, Alaska in 2000. The ship no longer bears the name Umatilla, but rather Marine Bio Researcher. How and where it was actually used as a research vessel remains a mystery.
Click here for historical USCG photo.
Click here for historical USCG photo.
Cape Spencer Lighthouse
Cape Spencer, AK

Location:  Located on the northern side of the entrance to Cross Sound from the Gulf of Alaska.
Latitude:  N 58.19885
Longitude:  W 136.64048

Year Constructed:  1905. Active
Tower Height:  25 feet    Focal Plane:  105 feet

Square cylindrical reinforced concrete tower with lantern and gallery, centered on the roof of a square concrete keeper's quarters and fog signal building.  Lighthouse painted white, lantern and gallery black; the keeper's house roof is a conspicuous red.
A beacon at Cape Spencer was requested as early as 1906, but it wasn’t until 1912 that this rocky region received its first light–an unmanned acetylene lantern.   A lighthouse to properly mark Cape Spencer commenced in May of 1924.

A single-story reinforced concrete building (51’ x 62’) was built at the summit of the rocky mass to house both the fog signal equipment and the keepers. From the center of the squat structure’s roof, a 14-by-14-foot tower rose another twenty-five feet. A third-order Fresnel lens, designed and constructed in Paris by Barbier, Bernard and Turenne, produced the lighthouse’s flashing characteristic. The only part of the station that could be easily traversed was the hundred yards of plank walkways linking the lighthouse to the boathouse, crane, and garbage chute.

The Coast Guard removed the Fresnel lens from Cape Spencer in 1974, the same year in which the lighthouse was reportedly unmanned. The small lighthouse, perched atop the seventy-foot-tall rock, is still considered an important navigational aid and receives regular Coast Guard visits.  The third-order Fresnel lens and clock works from the Cape Spence Lighthouse are on display at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau.
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Click here for historical USCG photo.