Point Cabrillo is located in Northern California between the
towns of Fort Bragg and Mendocino. In 1850, shortly after
the discovery of gold in California, the brig
Frolic, bound for San Francisco from Hong Kong, ran
aground and sank off Point Cabrillo. Captain Faucon of the
Frolic had intended to make his fortune by selling
his goods to the miners of gold rush. When his ship was
wrecked, only his officers and two seamen returned to San
Francisco with him - the others were either lost or abandoned
the crew in search of the gold fields. Captain Faucon would
later serve the Union in the Civil War, and eventually make
his fortune, ironically, in the salvage business.
Henry Meiggs, a San Francisco businessman, sent his foreman
Jerome Ford to the area in 1851 to recover goods from the
Frolic. At this point, there was little to
salvage. The local Pomo Indians had already salvaged most of
what could be found from the Frolic. (Visitors to
the Pomo were reportedly puzzled by the silks and wooden
chests from Hong Kong in the Pomo village!)
While salvage attempts were not practical, Ford reported to
Meiggs that the area contained vast redwood forests. By
1852, Meiggs established the first of many sawmills which
would soon appear along the Mendocino coast. The area around
the mill was known as Meiggsville, and is now the town of
The lumber industry petitioned for a lighthouse in the area,
and in 1905 one was commissioned for Point Cabrillo. The
lighthouse was the only marker between Point Arena and Cape Mendocino.
William Baumgartner was assigned as the first head keeper.
The white lighthouse, completed in 1909, included an
air-siren fog signal and a 47-foot tower with a third-order
Fresnel lens. A wooden blacksmith/carpenter's shop was built
near the light. Three keeper's dwellings were built on a
terrace above the lighthouse. A concrete oil house was added
near the lighthouse in 1912.
The lighthouse was severely battered by a storm in February
1960. Boulders were torn from the cliffs below the point.
The waves struck the station with such force that the doors
were broken in, and the fog signal torn from its foundation
and shoved against the wall. The storm left a foot of gravel
and sand on the lighthouse floor.
In 1963, Bill Owens retired as the last civilian lighthouse
keeper on the west coast. The lens was removed from service
in 1972, and replaced by an aerobeacon. The station was
automated, and periodically maintained by Coast Guard
personnel from Fort Bragg.
In 1989, the Coast Guard planned to move the inactive Fresnel
lens to a museum in Virginia. Local opposition kept the lens
at Point Cabrillo. The Coastal Conservancy acquired the land
in 1978, and operated the Point Cabrillo Preserve jointly
with the North Coast Interpretive Association (NCIA). Today,
Point Cabrillo Preserve is 300 acres of protected open
headland along the Mendocino Coast. The property was transferred
to the California Department of Parks and Recreation in 2002,
and the park programs and restoration managed by the
Point Cabrillo Lightkeepers Association.
In 1996, the NCIA began an ambitious restoration project of
the Point Cabrillo Station. The blacksmith shop was restored
in 1996. The oil house was restored to house the Coast Guard
radio and LORAN (Long Range Aid to Navigation) equipment.
Restoration of the oil house was completed in Spring 1998.