Pigeon Point Lighthouse
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A decon at a great spot to check out along the coast.
The Carrier Pigeon, a 175-foot long clipper ship with a gilded pigeon as her figurehead, was launched from the shipyards at Bath, Maine in the fall of 1852. She left Boston on January 28, 1853 for her maiden voyage around Cape Horn to San Francisco. The ship was spotted off Santa Cruz on the morning of June 6. That evening, with a thick fog hiding the shore, the Carrier Pigeon struck rocks and began taking on water. The captain and crew made it safely to shore, but the ship was a loss. After offloading a good portion of the supplies, the vessel, valued at $54,000 and still stranded on the rocks, was sold for $1,500. Since the wreck of the Carrier Pigeon, the point close to the rocks that claimed her has been called Pigeon Point. Previously, the point was known as Punta de las Ballenas (Point of the Whales), as a whaling station was located there.
At least three more ships were lost near the point in the 1860s, prompting many calls for a lighthouse and fog signal to aid navigation in the area. After a struggle to secure property near the point, Congress appropriated a sum of $90,000 for the Pigeon Point Lighthouse in March of 1871. The fog signal and Victorian fourplex were completed first, and the steam whistle, with four second blasts separated alternately by seven and forty-five seconds, was fired up for the first time on September 10, 1871. Torrential rains and difficulty in assembling the spiral staircase contributed to delays in completing the tower. The light from the first-order Fresnel lens was not shown until November 15, 1872, over fourteen months after the fog signal was completed.
The 115-foot tower shares the title of tallest lighthouse on the west coast with Point Arena's tower. The tower is similar in design to those at Bodie Island and Currituck Beach in North Carolina, Morris Island in South Carolina, and Yaquina Head in Oregon, though the heights of the towers differ. The first-order Fresnel lens is made up of 1,008 separate prisms and has twenty-four flash panels. Revolving at a rate of one revolution every four minutes, the light has a signature of one flash every ten seconds. The lens was used at Cape Hatteras (in an older tower, not the current tower) before being transferred to Pigeon Point. The small building attached to the base of the tower was used for an office and oil storage. In the early 1900s, a separate oil house, which now houses an historic display on the lighthouse, was built away from the tower as a safety measure. About the same time, the original signal house was replaced by the fog signal building, which stands today.
In 1943, a radio antenna, which emitted a Morse code signal unique to Pigeon Point, was erected near the tower. The radio signal was eventually synchronized with the fog signal so that a mariner, by measuring the delay between receiving the radio signal and hearing the fog signal, could calculate his distance from the point. Before synchronization of the signals, a ship would use radio signals from multiple stations to triangulate his position.
In 1960, the original fourplex, though still in good condition, was razed, and four ranch-style houses were built by the Coast Guard, clearly an aesthetic compromise. A rotating aero-beacon was placed on the balcony outside the lantern room in 1972, and the Fresnel lens was covered. The station was automated in 1974. In 1980, the four generic houses were leased to American Youth Hostels, Inc, for use as economical, dormitory-style accommodations.
In 2000 just as the Lighthouse Inn, a bed and breakfast located adjacent to the lighthouse property, was nearing completion, the Peninsula Open Space Trust purchased the inn and surrounding property. The inn was removed and the property returned to a natural state. Thanks to this "undevelopment" project and other purchases by the trust, the area around Pigeon Point Lighthouse should remain in a natural state for years to come.
The lighthouse itself is currently closed to the public, but the grounds remain open. In December 2001, a section of the cornice on the exterior of the lighthouse fell off. The lighthouse will remain closed indefinitely. The lighthouse may still be viewed from the grounds. For current updates, call the park hotline at 650-879-2120.
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Last Updated: on 7/15/2018 1:28:53 AM Pacific Daylight Time (8:28 AM GMT)
Coordinates are in the WGS84 datum