Heceta Head Lighthouse is Back
You can learn much about our state by exploring the many towering whitewashed wonders that rise above the Oregon coastline.
Oregon’s lonesome-looking sentinels are prized for the scenic moments that capture our hearts, plus the sheer rugged coastal drama they lend the landscape. They also take us back to the state’s early days of maritime service and duty. Oregon’s lighthouses are historic and interesting structures that provide beautiful and compelling scenery.
Heceta Head Lighthouse, near Florence, is one of Oregon’s most popular coastal tourist sites – boasting more than 750,000 visitors who travel to the state park property each year.
“When this lighthouse was built in 1894, this was a pretty isolated place,” said Kevin Beck, the Oregon State Park Manager responsible for the parkland perched on the edge of a coastal headland. “Even though Florence is only 8 miles away, a century ago it required a two-day trip. So, if you worked at the lighthouse, you lived here because it was such a long journey into town. They had their own school building; they farmed here and were generally pretty ambitious people who worked hard to carve out a living.”
The “work” was also critical service that kept mariners safe at sea. Named for 18th-century Spanish explorer Bruno Heceta, the lighthouse was built long before there was a coastal highway, so horse and wagon were only means to move goods off ships to reach the remote outpost.
“The lighthouse bricks came from San Francisco,” noted Beck, a longtime enthusiast of all things lighthouse-related. “They’d bring it in here by ship, get the material in to shore via a small boat and then with horse and wagon bring it up to this site.”
Three-men crews were stationed at the remote site where their families joined them for a life of work and serious responsibility. “Shipping was so important to a growing Pacific Northwest,” said Beck. “Not only for transporting supplies, but people too. That’s what made this site so important – ships needed to safely transit through this area of the ocean.”
But after more than a century of service, Heceta Head Lighthouse needed help: rust and ruin had taken over the tower.
So it was closed down in 2011, went under wraps in 2012 and then crews went to work. Trained teams removed decades of old paint, sanded and de-scaled and replaced worn out metal. They even replaced some of the tower’s basalt rock cornices. The special work crews then re-painted and restored the tower’s gleaming white stucco finish.
Heceta Head Lighthouse – closed for the past couple of years during its first major million-dollar remodeling – is set to re-open during the first week in June. The waiting is over! “Now, it is a real show-stopper,” said a smiling Beck.
He added that the two-year restoration effort really paid off inside the tower. Visitors will quickly appreciate how light and airy the lighthouse interior seems – that’s because all of the boarded up and concreted-over windows have been opened up to the sea and sky again. In addition, the interior brickwork has been restored to original condition and the entire make-over looks stunning.
“It is just beautiful architecture and detail work that has been hidden,” said Beck. “We are very proud that a lot of this detailed work is back to how it looked in 1894.”
The glass fresnel lens (it was shipped around Cape Horn in 1892), plus a 1000-watt light bulb are in perfect condition too and will be shining when the tower re-opens to the public.
There is more to entice visitors for a longer stay! Nearby, Carl G. Washburne State Park offers visitors plenty of elbowroom to stretch out and play in a quiet and out of the way parkland. It offers 58 sites for RVs or trailers, plus two yurts for folks who like to camp, but don’t own the gear.
Heceta Head Lighthouse is one of nine lighthouses managed by Oregon State Parks, but it is the only site where a keeper’s cottage is still standing. The keeper’s cottage is a private bed and breakfast where you can enjoy a longer stay.
“Oh, it is very isolated, but people like it that way,” said Michelle Bursey. Michelle is the co-owner of the Heceta Head Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast that offers 6 rooms – each one of the rooms offers wonderful views to the ocean, the forest or the nearby lighthouse. “There aren’t any other residences around and yet, it’s on one of the most popular highways in the United States, so it’s nice that it’s preserved this way.”
The Queen Anne style cottage offers a wonderful escape and an amazing seven-course breakfast – in fact, they even share their remarkable recipes in a book about the place. There are no phones or TV, but an inviting front porch with a spectacular ocean view that will keep you coming back for more visits. “We have many guests who come to get away from it all – people who want to leave the hustle and bustle and enjoy the view – enjoy each other. It’s quite special that way,” said Bursey.
“The natural beauty is awesome,” added Beck. “When you add a lighthouse and the keeper’s cottage it’s all in one: natural beauty and architectural beauty, and it just pulls folks to it like a magnet.”
About the Author: Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.
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