If you haven’t had a chance to see the Museum’s exhibit on the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, now is your chance.  The exhibit, which closes on May 15, 2015, explores the history, life of, and after life of the secluded lighthouse.  The Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, known affectionately as Terrible Tilly, or just Tilly.

The Tillamook Rock Lighthouse receiving visitors, image taken between 1913 and 1939.

The Tillamook Rock Lighthouse receiving visitors, image taken between 1913 and 1939.

Tilly’s story first began in 1878, when funding for construction of the lighthouse was approved.  The act read as follows, “That the sum of fifty thousand dollars be and the same is hereby appropriated … of any moneys in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated for the purpose of constructing a first-class light-house on Tillamook Head, Oregon.”

The initial location for the lighthouse was Tillamook Head, but after being fully vetted, it was decided that a lone basalt rock off of Tillamook Head would be the better location.  Construction began in 1879 and was completed in late 1880. Tilly’s light first shone in early 1881.  The first part of Tilly’s life was surrounded with intrigue.  During the construction phase, a highly recognized lighthouse designer fell into the Pacific while trying to gain access to the rock.  Later, the Lupata (also written as the Lupatia) was torn apart just off the rock.  The wreck was so close that the crew constructing the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse could hear the men yelling, “Hard aport!”

Despite, these difficulties the lighthouse had a successful career.  She acted as a warning beacon to thousands of vessel skirting the coastline on their way to the mouth of the Columbia River. The Columbia River became a busy part of marine commerce in the mid-to-late 1800’s. This was and is still considered one of the most dangerous river mouths in the world. Ships lost to the sea were so common that the waters became known as the Graveyard of the Pacific.

The Tillamook Rock Lighthouse was an important part of the Columbia’s marine routes, until 1957 when she was decommissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard. Lighthouse keeper Oswald Allik, the last civilian keeper, wrote in the logbook, “Farewell, Tillamook Rock Light Station.  An era has ended.  With this final entry, and not without sentiment, I return thee to the elements.  You, one of the most notorious and yet most fascinating of the sea-swept sentinels in the world; long the friend of the tempest-tossed mariner.  Through howling gale, thick fog and driving rain your beacon has been a star of hope and your foghorn a voice of encouragement.  May the elements of nature be kind to you.  For 77 years you have beamed your light across desolate acres of ocean.  Keepers have come and gone; men lived and died; but you were faithful to the end.  May your sunset years be good years.  Your purpose is now only a symbol, but the lives you have saved and the service you have rendered are worthy of the highest respect.  A protector of life and property all, may old-timers, newcomers and travelers along the way pause from the shore in memory of your humanitarian role. Oswald Allik – September 1, 1957

A sky view of the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse.  Image was taken after she was decommissioned.

A sky view of the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. Image was taken after she was decommissioned.

Some say that life after being decommissioned was even more interesting and unique than the life spent protecting ships from shore. From rumors of mob connected owners, to grand ideas of a quiet vacation rental, to life as a place for the dead to rest in peace. But you’ll have to visit the museum to learn more!  The Museum is open Wednesday through Monday, closed Tuesday.  Open from 1:00 – 5:00 p.m.  Admission is by donation, so come see us whether you have the cash or not.

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