- At 107 feet, the Grays Harbor Lighthouse is the tallest on the Pacific coastline of the state of Washington.
- This lighthouse was built of brick and concrete, completed in 1898, and boasts a 135-step, self-supporting spiral staircase.
- Visitors can see the original third-order clamshell-shaped Fresnel lens (although a smaller light is used now), and they can observe a variety of local wildlife in the area near the lighthouse.
Like coastal sentinels, lighthouses stand stoic and steadfast against the endless expanse of the sea. Illuminating the darkness, the bright beam of light from atop a lighthouse is a beacon of hope, guiding sailors safely through fickle ocean waters. There are several lighthouses in Washington State, but one towers high above the others as the tallest lighthouse in Washington.
The tallest lighthouse along the Washington State Coast is the Grays Harbor Lighthouse at 107 feet tall. The lighthouse provides a 360° view of the Pacific Ocean and the surrounding area. Standing at the entrance to Grays Harbor, the lighthouse was originally built just 400 feet away from the water’s edge. However, due to the addition of a jetty system in the harbor, extensive amounts of sediment have accumulated along the coast of Grays Harbor. So, while it once stood 400 feet away from the high-tide mark, today, the Grays Harbor Lighthouse is nearly 3,000 feet away!
History of the Grays Harbor Lighthouse
You can find this incredible lighthouse on Ocean Avenue in Westport, Washington, where it guards the entrance to Grays Harbor. Captain Robert Gray discovered the harbor back in May 1792. He named it Bullfinch Harbor after the owner of one of his ships. However, Captain Gray’s voyages were not very well known. So, when Captain George Vancouver came upon the area and met Captain Gray, he decided that they should officially name it Grays Harbor instead.
Later in the late 1800s, the area of Westport had become a major hub for the logging industry. The harbor was bustling with activity and needed a lighthouse to aid in ocean navigation. For example, there were an incredible 13 sawmills at Grays Harbor in 1890. They exported 60 million board feet of lumber in a single year!
The Grays Harbor Lighthouse was built to help meet the needs of mariners traveling along the Pacific Coast. It was designed by Carl W. Leick, an architect who designed several other structures along the West Coast. However, Leick believed the Grays Harbor Lighthouse was his greatest work. The lighthouse was designed in a late Victorian Italianate Style, and it was dedicated on June 30, 1898.
Construction and Design of the Grays Harbor Lighthouse
The walls of the lighthouse start out at a 4-foot thickness around its octagonal base. As they rise up, the walls narrow and end with an 18-inch thickness at the top. The inside of the walls is made of brick, with a concrete coating on both sides for additional reinforcement. Its sandstone foundation is about 12 feet thick. Originally the lighthouse tower had windows to illuminate the interior. However, when electricity was added they decided to cement over the windows to reduce maintenance.
Crafted from cast iron, the lighthouse’s original 135-step spiral staircase remains strong and durable today, even over a hundred years later! The metal work was done with great care and attention to detail by Patrick Dundon (from San Francisco Boiler Works). The landing brackets adorning the walls are both functional and artistic, adding an extra touch of elegance to the staircase. In addition, the staircase is self-supporting. It relies on its own strength and stability to stay in place, without extra support or reinforcement.
Lighting the Gray Harbors Lighthouse
If you are feeling adventurous, you can still climb the original 135-step spiral staircase to the lantern room, where you can see the original lens used back in 1898! Unlike other modern lighthouses, the Grays Harbor Lighthouse still holds its original third-order clamshell-shaped Fresnel lens. The Fresnel lens has several small, thin rings that bend light together into one bright, focused spot.
This remarkable lens was created by Henry-Lepaute in Paris in 1895. It had a distinct signature of alternating white and red flashes split up by five seconds. However, the red glass on one side of the light source diminished the amount of light transmitted. To overcome this issue, the bull’s-eye with the red glass is much larger than the one that produces the white flash. This ensured that ships could see both the white and the red flashes up to 16 miles away at sea.
Floating in a trough of mercury, the lighthouse’s original Fresnel lens could be rotated by a weight that hung inside the tower. However, in the 1990s people worried that the mercury was dangerous to visitors. So, they closed the Grays Harbor Lighthouse to the public for a few years.
Although the original Fresnel lens still sits atop the lighthouse, now the lighthouse uses a smaller light from New Zealand. The new 35-watt bulb can be seen up from 17 to 19 miles away!
In 2001, the Grays Harbor Lighthouse was safe enough to reopen to visitors, and to this day it continues to serve as a navigational beacon along Washington State’s Pacific Coast.
Wildlife Near the Gray Harbors Lighthouse
The area surrounding the Gray Harbors Lighthouse is filled with incredible wildlife. It is not uncommon to see herds of deer while you are walking through this area. Elk, bunnies, weasels, and raccoons have all been spotted here as well. Even black bears have been known to take a stroll down Ocean Avenue!
In the harbor and along the sandy beach, there are tons and tons of shorebirds, especially during their spring and fall migrations. You can see birds like cormorants, a variety of gulls, sandpipers, grebes, ducks, and loons. On occasion, you might even be lucky enough to see a blue heron, a bald eagle, or some brown pelicans. And it’s always fun to watch flocks of pudgy little dunlins flying above in synchronized patterns.
In the rocky areas further offshore, there are seabirds like albatrosses, auklets, tufted puffins, shearwaters, and storm petrels. If you move closer to the water’s edge, there are always tons of sea lions along the docks. And if you walk along the beach or climb to the top of the lighthouse, you can often see gray whales far out at sea!
Where Is Grays Harbor Lighthouse on a Map?
Grays Harbor Lighthouse is located on Point Chehalis, Washington, a peninsula between South Bay and the Pacific Ocean and opposite, to the north, from Point Brown peninsula. The nearest city is Westport, and it is 132 miles southwest of Seattle and 101 miles slightly south and east of Tacoma via I-5.
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