"Of all national assets, archives are the most precious:
they are the gift of one generation to another,
and the extent of our care of them marks the
extent of our civilization." Arthur Doughty.

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San Juan Islands, Washington State, United States
A society formed in 2009 for the purpose of collecting, preserving, celebrating, and disseminating the maritime history of the San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound area. Check this log for tales from out-of-print publications as well as from members and friends. There are circa 500, often long entries, on a broad range of maritime topics; there are search aids at the bottom of the log. Please ask for permission to use any photo posted on this site. Thank you.

05 October 2015

❖ POINT WILSON, The Greeter Light ❖

Point Wilson Lighthouse,
Port Townsend, Washington.
From the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
"There was much fanfare when Point Wilson Lighthouse was established at the west side entrance to Admiralty Inlet and Puget Sound in 1879. Its strategic location was near the bustling seaport town of Port Townsend, which was in those years targeted for the major shipping center for that corner of the world. Sailing vessels and steamers ran in and out of the port with regularity, and next to San Francisco, no port had a more boisterous and sinful waterfront that did old Port Townsend. Houses of ill repute were numerous and the shanghaiing of sailors and drifters was a day to day occupation for both runners and grog shop owners.
      Every navigator entering or departing Puget Sound had to take Pt. Wilson into his reckoning if he didn't want to strike an obstruction lurking under the salty brine. When the weather was clear one could properly give the point a wide berth, but the culprit was fog, and when it settled over the local waters, sailor beware. Unfortunately, for three decades after settlement of the area, mariners rounded Pt. Wilson without the assistance of either a guiding light or fog signal, rather incredulous when one considers the importance of the major turning point from the Strait of Juan de Fuca into Admiralty Inlet.
      Pressure of the most determined variety finally got action from the Lighthouse Board to press Congress for funds, and on 15 December 1879, the beacon became a reality. It was a light of the fourth order, and to alert ships in foggy periods, a 12-inch steam whistle was installed.
      David M. Littlefield, a veteran of the Civil War and a highly respected citizen of the community was the unanimous choice of the lighthouse inspector to serve as the guardian of the light.
Point Wilson Lighthouse,
Port Townsend, Washington.
Photo by P.M. Richardson pre-1911.

Original from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
      Captain George Vancouver, the renowned British navigator probably rested easier in his grave knowing that the spike of land which he named Point Wilson [for his 'esteemed friend' Captain George Wilson, of the British Navy] was finally marked by a navigation aid. He rounded the tip of the sandy promontory in a heavy fog and was unable to judge the extent of the body of water into which he had entered. With some of his men charting the shore and others sounding in the boats, he continued sailing along the beach until another projection, now known as Point Hudson, was sighted. There as if by magic, the sun broke through revealing perhaps the most beautiful scenery ever seen by the eyes of the sea-weary Britishers. Admiralty Inlet and Puget Sound were gazed upon in rapture. To the northeast, a mountain towered above the foothills, reflecting the glow of the noonday sun. The Utopian site was the same mountain sighted earlier from the Strait of Juan de Fuca to which Vancouver applied the name Baker. Against the western horizon were the snow-capped peaks of the Olympics with their dynamic, sawtooth character, and above the skyline to the south, the greatest surprise of all––king over all it surveyed, the lofty 14,000-ft majestic, snow-covered mountain to which the explorer bestowed the name Rainier, after Rear Admiral Rainier of the British Navy. Unfortunately, little regard was given to the ageless name applied by the native Indians––Tahoma. Beneath that marvelous ring of mountain ranges spread a series of deep, intricate waterways, the fabulous inland sea which was named for another British man of the sea––Peter Puget. Puget Sound was to become a place set apart. 
Point Wilson Lighthouse and Fort Worden,
Port Townsend, Washington.

Photo by P. M. Richardson from the archives of S.P.H.S.©
      Point Wilson, once the haunt of Indians who brought their canoes to rest on its shores, and fished its bountiful waters for centuries, was now the site of a lighthouse. It was a 46-ft frame tower rising from the keeper's dwelling, with a fog signal unit attached. To differentiate the sentinel from the one on Admiralty Head, the fixed white light in the lantern was varied by a red flash every 20 seconds.
      A share of vessels have met with mishap near Point Wilson, but the lighthouse has been a welcome sight to mariners ever since its inception. Though Port Townsend was destined to lose out to other Puget Sound ports as the hub of shipping, specifically after the rail links remained on the eastern shores of the Sound, it nevertheless played a key role in maritime history. The lighthouse became the greeter light for the entire Puget Sound area and continues that important role today." 
Text from: Lighthouses of the Pacific, Gibbs, Jim. 1986. Schiffer Publishing Co.

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