Historic Light Station Information
SENTINEL ISLAND LIGHT - ALASKA
SENTINEL ISLAND LIGHT TOWER, CIRCA 1935
Location: LYNN CANAL/AUK BAY
Station Established: 1902
Year Current Tower(s) First Lit: 1935
Automated? YES 1966
Foundation Materials: CONCRETE
Construction Materials: WOOD FRAME/CONCRETE
Tower Shape: SQUARE TOWER ON FOG SIGNAL BUILDING
Markings/Pattern: WHITE W/RED LANTERN AND ROOF
Relationship to Other Structure: ATTACHED
Original Lens: FOURTH ORDER, FRESNEL 1902
- Sentinel Island Light Station is a guide on an important water passage for Alaskan transportation and commerce, and the lighthouse is an excellent example in Alaska of Art Deco architecture. Sentinel Island and Five Finger light stations along Southeast Alaska's Inside Passage started operating on March 1, 1902. They were the first American lighthouses built in Alaska. Sentinel Island Light Station stands at the entrance to Lynn Canal, a heavily used marine transportation corridor from near the city of Juneau north to the cities of Haines and Skagway. The U.S. Lighthouse Bureau added a concrete Art Deco style lighthouse building to the site in 1935 that is an excellent example in Alaska of the popular architectural style. Sentinel Island Light Station continues to guide recreational and commercial vehicles through the Inside Passage today.
- The discovery of rich gold deposits in the upper Yukon River area at the close of the nineteenth century prompted a massive rise in the number of ships navigating Lynn Canal. The canal was part of the Inside Passage, a safer route for ships to travel than the open ocean route to the west through the eastern Gulf of Alaska. In the late 1890s, watercraft of every description converged upon the Pacific Northwest ports to sail north. Once they passed British Columbia waters, there were few guides through the Inside Passage. Fog, rain, strong tides, and a rocky shoreline made this passage particularly difficult, especially for large steamers overloaded with prospectors and freight. Over three hundred accidents in Inside Passage waters were reported in 1898. Although Alaska's governors had been urging the U.S. Government to install navigation aids along Alaska's coasts for over a decade, only a few markers and buoys had been installed. In a report to Congress dated October 13, 1900, the inspector and engineer for the Thirteenth Lighthouse District, headquartered in the Pacific Northwest, gave Sentinel Island highest priority. Congress appropriated funds for two lighthouses in Alaska, one at Sentinel Island, that year. George James, a Juneau resident, received the contract and began construction of the Sentinel Island station in 1901. Construction costs were $21,267. Sentinel Island Light Station started operating on March 1, 1902, sharing the honor with Five Finger Light Station south of Juneau, as one of the first two American-built lighthouses operating in Alaska. In the next three years, seven other lights would be established along the inside passage.
- The original Sentinel Island lighthouse was a wooden, square, duplex keeper's residence with hipped cross gables and an integral light tower. A steel and glass lantern on top of the tower housed a fourth order Fresnel lens. During the 1930s, the U.S. Lighthouse Bureau replaced many of the wooden lighthouses in Alaska with concrete buildings of the Art Deco architectural style; in 1935, Sentinel was one of these lights. The Sentinel Island light and fog signal house's rectilinear massing, flat roof, central tower, stepped elevation plains, one over one double hung sash windows and vertical fretwork distinguishes it as Art Deco. Its total cost was $35,310. The original lantern was moved to the new tower and the building continued to serve as the keeper's residence until the light was unmanned and automated in 1966 due to inflation and technological advances. In 1971, the U.S. Coast Guard demolished the deteriorated original residence by burning it in accordance with recommended fire procedures issued by the Coast Guard.
- On October 24, 1918, a particularly vicious storm hit Southeast Alaska. A fully loaded Canadian Pacific steamship, the Princess Sophia, left Skagway at 10:10 p.m. At 2:10 a.m. the unthinkable happened when the ship ran onto Vanderbilt Reef at cruising speed. A fleet of rescue vessels from Juneau rushed to the site. The Princess Sophia's captain did not think his ship was damaged badly enough to warrant the risky evacuation of passengers as the storm worsened. The boats sent to the rescue had to retreat to shelter, which some found by way of the light from Sentinel Island Light Station. The following morning, the rescue boats returned to Vanderbilt Reef and saw only a twenty-foot section of the Princess Sophia's mast visible above the water. None of the 353 passengers and crewmembers survived.
SENTINEL ISLAND LIGHT TOWER, CIRCA 1902
SENTINEL ISLAND LIGHT TOWER, 6/22/1929