Battery Point gets first light on west coast

April 23, 2007 12:00 am

By Cornelia de Bruin

Triplicate staff writer

Battery Point Lighthouse takes its name from the cannons salvaged from Crescent City Harbor after the ship America burned nearby.

The cannons were mounted on the northern point of the harbor entrance, and were used during Fourth of July celebrations decades ago.

The lighthouse was the second addition to the point, receiving its $15,000 funding from Congress in .

It was not included in an 1852 contract to produce the first eight West Coast lighthouses. Still, it became the first to be lighted, beating Humboldt Harbor Lighthouse by 10 days.

Connected to the mainland by a low isthmus at low tide, the rock on which the lighthouse stands is an island at high tide.

Its lighthouse would look at home in New England, being built in Cape Cod Salt Box style rather than showing the spanish influence on lighthouse design that's seen elsewhere on the coastline.

Its original light, a fourth-degree Fresnel lens, was "the Rolls Royce of the time," according to Del Norte Historical Society Director Brian O'Callaghan.

It's housed now in the Historical Museum at 577 H St., placed on a mechanism on which it revolves. O'Callaghan explained that it was done to prevent its catching the building on fire with highly focused sunshine streaming through the cast glass.

By 1875 the lighthouse was "in a dilapidated condition," according to the Lighthouse Board, which thought that the light was "of little consequence."

Mariners stayed well out to sea if they couldn't make harbor during the daylight hours because of treacherous Point St. George, which lay about 6 miles northwest.

Even after the Point St. George lighthouse was lighted, mariners continued to avoid night-time entrance to the harbor. They felt that the Battery Point light was also needed to navigate their way in safely.

John Jeffrey became keeper of the light in 1875, living there for 40 years. In 1953, the light was automated and Del Norte Historical Society leased the building.

A flashing light was installed on the harbor breakwater in 1965. The lighthouse light was re-lighted in 1982.

Since then, it has been listed as a private aid to navigation.

It has been walloped by storms, sustained broken upstairs windows from rogue waves, and washed over by a tsunami, but the sturdy lighthouse and building that it's perched upon have guarded Crescent City Harbor for a long enough time that they have come to symbolize Crescent City.

The first degree Fresnel lens that formerly lighted St. George Reef Lighthouse is displayed at Del Norte County Historical Museum.