Digest>Archives> May 2008

Washington State’s Lost Smith Island Lighthouse


Smith Island is located near the eastern end of the Washington's Strait of Juan de Fuca. At the time Smith Island Lighthouse was built in 1858 it stood approximately 200 feet from the edge of the sandy cliff. Smith Island Lighthouse is one of small number of lighthouses that was actually attacked by Indians, although it was only a minor skirmish. No one at the lighthouse was injured although it was reported that one Indian was wounded.

As far as island life goes, and if you like isolation, living at this lighthouse for the most part was ideal for keepers and their families and at one time a number of sheep grazed on the island. One keeper introduced rabbits to the island, which turned out to be a big mistake and before long they multiplied so fast they became a major nuisance.

Erosion was always a problem at the lighthouse and by 1950 there was less than 50 feet between the edge of the bluff and the lighthouse. As erosion crept closer, the lighthouse was abandoned and the keepers were moved to other housing and a light on a skeleton pole replaced the light in the tower.

In 1964 lighthouse historian and author Jim Gibbs received permission from the Coast Guard to remove the lantern room from the lighthouse and install it on the Skunk Bay Lighthouse. Had he not done so, the lantern room would have eventually been destroyed. His actions saved a valuable part of history, as have his numerous books.

Eventually, bits and pieces of the old lighthouse toppled over the cliff. Part of the structure remained teetering on edge for a number of years until one day in 1998 what remained of the structure simply slid down the bluff and the lighthouse was lost forever.

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This story appeared in the May 2008 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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