In the 1850's, the town of Scottsburg on the Umpqua River
was a thriving port for lumber exports, as well as a
starting point for gold miners headed to the mines of the
west. When the Pacific coast was surveyed for lighthouses,
the Umpqua River was chosen as the site for Oregon's
first lighthouse, thanks in
part to the efforts of Oregon Territorial Governor Joseph
Lane, who also held a claim to land in the Umpqua Valley.
The early construction workers were hindered by local
Native Americans, who periodically stole tools from
the site, and who may have resented this incursion into
their territory. Relations worsened until finally,
a construction foreman set off a stick of dynamite.
The sound of the blast apparently frightened off the
Native Americans for good.
Several vessels had already been lost on the hazardous
Umpqua River bar prior to the construction of the first
lighthouse. The light was completed in 1857, two years
prior to Oregon's admission to the Union. The lighthouse
was a duplex with a 92-foot tower housing a third-order
The first Umpqua River lighthouse was short-lived. It was built
on sand close to the river edge. An 1861 storm compromised
the foundation of the lighthouse. In 1864, it was reported
that the lens had been removed, and while workers were
dismantling the lantern room, the tower began to show signs
of toppling. The workmen hurredly abandoned the tower moments
before it collapsed.
A new lighthouse was not approved until 1888.
Several issues delayed completion of the lighthouse.
One contractor went bankrupt while performing
the work. When the lighthouse was near completion, the
lens' base was determined to be fifteen inches too short.
Construction stopped until additional funds were allocated
to correct the problem and complete the project.
The new lighthouse, designed by Carl Leick, was identical to
Heceta Head in
Oregon. The new tower was built of two layers of brick,
and overlayed with cement. The 65-foot tower was
built 100 feet above sea level, well back from the river
and the ocean. The first-order Fresnel lens built by Barbier
and Cie alternated a white and red flash. A workroom was
attached to the base of the tower.
Other than a fire in 1958, the light has operated almost continuously
ever since. The lighthouse was automated in the 1960's,
and the surrounding grounds turned over to the state of Oregon.
Most of the 110 acres of the lighthouse reservation
are now the Umpqua Lighthouse State Park, overlooking the Oregon
Dunes National Recreation Area.
A nearby former Coast Guard building now houses a museum.
In 1983, the chariot mechanism that rotated the lens failed.
The Coast Guard considered replacing the spectacular lens with a modern
optic. Local uproar caused the Coast Guard to reconsider.
The mechanism was rebuilt and the Fresnel lens relit in 1985.
In 2006, after two years of hard work and fund-raising, the
old doors and windows of the lighthouse were replaced by
new fiberglass doors, designed to resist the elements for
twenty years. The doors and windows were donated by
JELD-WEN of Oregon; funding was raised to perform the
installation. GayLyn Bradley, Keeper-Coordinator
of the Umpqua River Lighthouse, received the Lighthouse Digest
Beacon of Light Award in 2006 for her efforts in driving
the restoration project.
Oregon's Seacoast Lighthouses, Gibbs pp. 81-86
Umbrella Guide to Oregon Lighthouses, Nelson pp. 23-25, 27-28
Pacific Northwest Lighthouses, Roberts and Jones p. 18
Lighthouses Northwest - the Designs of Carl Leick, Aliberti p. 14
Lighthouses of the Oregon Coast (video)
The Keeper's Log Fall 2004, Winter 2005
Lighthouse Digest Jan-Feb 2006, March 2006