Humboldt Bay is the largest harbor in California
north of San Francisco, and site of a pair of
lighthouses. In the 1850's the area became
an entry point for miners searching for California gold.
The bay was one of the locations chosen for California's
first seven lighthouses.
The $15,000 light was completed and lit in 1856. The light
was built on the north spit of Humboldt Bay. The station
was a single dwelling with a tower built through the
center of the roof. The original tower was eventually
raised to improve visibility. The tower housed a fourth-order
Fresnel lens visible for fourteen miles. A steam whistle was
added in 1874.
The lighthouse at the north spit served until 1892. The light
was battered by a combination of erosion, storms, and earthquakes.
By 1876, the keeper reported waves within 20 feet of the lighthouse.
An 1877 earthquake cracked the tower and dwelling. The cellar
flooded in an 1880's storm. In 1882, another earthquake separated the
south gables from the rest of the building.
Ultimately it was deemed "unsafe for occupancy" by the
Lighthouse Board. The fog signal continued to operate for
some time afterwards. Finally, in the 1930's, the north
spit light collapsed during a storm. (According to Lighthouse Digest,
the structure was bulldozed in the 1930's.)
A new light was planned for a high bluff well south of the harbor
entrance. When the government tried to purchase the site, the
owner's $5000 price was deemed too high. After attempting to
acquire the land by eminent domain, the sides agreed on a price of
$2226. The site included 10 acres, right of way, and access to
water from a nearby spring.
The replacement light began service in 1892 at Table Bluff. The
station was identical in design to those at
and San Luis Obispo. The bluff
set the focal plane of the light at 187 feet
(176 feet according to the Keeper's Log), and increased visibility
to twenty miles. The station included the keeper's dwelling and tower,
a duplex for assistant keepers, and fog signal building.
The new station was popular to visitors. In the 1930's
the light was open to visitors
during the week, but access was restricted on the weekends due to the
number of visitors. During World War II, the visitors were
replaced by a Coast Guard beach patrol, coastal lookout station,
and Navy radio compass station.
After World War II, the Keeper's residence
was torn down, leaving only the tower. The tower was automated in
the 1950's, and abandoned altogether in 1975. The station was turned over
to the Bureau of Land Management, who sold it to a private organization
helping people deal with substance abuse.
The deteriorating tower was rescued thanks to a local resident
named Ray Glavich, who organized a group of volunteers to move
the tower to Eureka. The tower was cut in half, transported by truck
to Woodley Island, and reassembled. The tower still stands today
at the Woodley Island Marina.
The cupola from the original light on the north spit was found at
Coast Guard Station Humboldt Bay in 1987. The restored cupola
and the fourth-order lens are displayed at the Humboldt
Bay Maritime Museum in Samoa, near Eureka.
Umbrella Guide to California Lighthouses, Nelson pp. 157-160
California Lighthouses, Roberts and Jones p. 16
The Keeper's Log Spring 2003, Summer 2003