A Little Light History for the Central Oregon Coast

By Gretchen Ammerman | Monday, May 6, 2019

Though landscape photos of lighthouses make great photo ops, I think it’s the glimpses into the lives of the people – the ones who lived according to the tides and times of day, lighting the way for ships with candle light or oil lamp – that make a visit to a lighthouse so special. Thankfully, many of the Central Coast's lighthouses and homes of the keepers and their families have been preserved or lovingly restored.

Now fully automated and powered by electricity, all three of these lighthouses continue to light the night. 

Yaquina Bay

This short but sturdy building may be the oldest one in Newport.

With a brief operation as a lighthouse from 1871 until 1874, the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse is the only wooden Oregon lighthouse still standing and is believed to be the oldest structure in Newport. It is also the only existing Oregon lighthouse with the living quarters attached, which is why it is shorter than the others. As you climb the tight staircase to the hatch where the keeper would have popped up into the light structure for maintenance, you pass three stories of rooms. These rooms are where the keeper and his family lived, all wonderfully decorated with furniture, clothes, even toys that might have been owned by them. With even an era-specific vegetable garden in the back, the building is certainly worth touring.

Some of the rooms in the light keeper's quarters look still lived in.

Yaquina Head 

I remember the fog-bathed morning I first to visit Yaquina Head Lighthouse, built in 1872 and decommissioned in 1939. The weather wasn't great for the photos that I came to take. It was fantastic, however, for capturing the mood of what life might have been like for the light keepers who daily helped mariners not get mired in pea soup.

A tiny bit of fog hovers around the lighthouse helping visitors get into the mood.

While I waited for the fog to clear, I took a walk though the wonderful visitors center. It showcases many displays, vintage photos and a video that helped make up for the fact that the light keepers' house was destroyed. My personal favorite display was the selection of seeds that would have been sowed by people trying to survive in the time before a Fred Meyer was right down the road (yes, I’m a fan of gardens). But lighthouse geeks will be thrilled by the life-size reproduction of a fresnel lens – the technology that helped boost the light giving power in the towers.

Heceta Head 

Seagulls enjoy the fact that drone use is limited in the Heceta Head State Park

Arguably the most photographed lighthouse in the country, the Heceta Head Lighthouse is in pristine shape and the grounds, surrounded by hiking trails and the also photogenic Heceta Beach, are stunning. The lighthouse keeper's quarters still stand, but they're now operated as a bed and breakfast for those that really want immersive experience.

There are a few different ways to reach the lighthouse, including trail heads in the Carl Washburn State Park, but the main parking area, which has restrooms and ample parking, is at the beach. From there, you will reach the facilities by a fairly steep trail that's not too long. The beach is a fee park, and the fees help keep these types of places open and the grounds maintained.

A lasting souvenir ...

You can carry a tiny lighthouse with you always by picking up a lighthouse charm on the Florence Charm Trail, the charming way that the city of Florence is trying to encourage people to stop and shop when they're in town. For only $2, you can build a bracelet with charms that represent the business selling it. My favorite paws down is the dog paw from the Oregon Humane Society. 

If you've had an, dare I say, enlightening experience to share, leave a comment! We'd love to hear about it. And for other things to do while discovering coastal history, be sure to check out our Daytime Events calendar. For evening entertainment, our Nightlife page guides you to the best places to be.

About the Author Gretchen Ammerman
Gretchen Ammerman received an Environmental Science degree from Humboldt State University and was soon running a state environmental agency in Hawaii. She gave it up for the glamorous life of the freelance writer. This led to steady employment as a newspaper editor in Lincoln City, OR, where she knew she was doing well when the paper was threatened with a lawsuit within a week. Though the work was rewarding, she returned to freelance writing to have more freedom to explore the beautiful state of Oregon with her adopted dog, Scout.