North Head lies near the mouth of the Columbia River,
approximately two miles north of
The Cape Disappointment
light, installed in 1856, was obscured to ships approaching from
the north by the headland extending southwest from the light.
This obstruction led to many shipwrecks, including the
Harvest Home in 1882,
Whistler in 1883, Carrie B. Lake in 1886,
Grace Roberts in 1887, and Strathblane in
To remedy the situation, a lighthouse was built at North Head,
which faces the ocean directly and would be clearly visible
to ships traveling from the north. The 65-foot tower
stood on a 130-foot cliff. The lens was the first-order lens from
and was first lit in 1898. A small workroom was built at the base.
Two residences, a barn, and several other outbuildings
were built east of the lighthouse. A fog
signal was also built, but proved as inaudible as the
one at Cape Disappointment.
North Head is one of the windiest places in the country.
The lantern room windows were equipped with
handrails for keepers cleaning the glass.
Winds of 126 miles per hour were recorded on January 29, 1921,
before the instrument blew away. In 1932, a wild duck
was blown into the lantern, breaking through the glass and
chipping the lens.
In 1935, the first-order lens was replaced by a fourth-order
lens. That lens was eventually replaced by an aerobeacon in the
1950's, and later by a modern optic mounted outside the tower.
The light was automated in 1961.
The tower is white, but was
painted in camouflage colors during World War II, after a
Japanese submarine fired 17 shells at nearly Fort Stevens.
The shells caused no injuries, and the only damage was to
a backstop on a baseball diamond.
Today the lighthouse is part of Cape Disappointment State Park
(formerly Fort Canby State Park).
The first-order lens is on display at the Lewis and Clark
Interpretive Center in the park. The residences still stand,
and visitors can stay in the residences overnight.
The light itself is still active, but open for tours.
Umbrella Guide to Oregon Lighthouses, Nelson pp. 109-112
Pacific Northwest Lighthouses, Roberts and Jones pp. 34-35
The Keeper's Log Summer 2004