Digest>Archives> June 2002

An Early Pacific Northwest Lighthouse Family

By Peri Lane Muhich


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Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

It was November of 1864 when Daniel Pearson was appointed Keeper of the Red Bluff Lighthouse on Admiralty Inlet in Washington Territory.

Red Bluff was so called because of its location on the ninety-foot rocky ridge that projected into the inlet at Admiralty Head on Whidbey Island. Red Bluff was also referred to as the Admiralty Head Lighthouse and eventually the Red Bluff title was dropped and it was known only as Admiralty Head Lighthouse. The structure was a Cape Cod style lighthouse: a white, two story wooden dwelling with the tower rising through its center, shuttered windows, a screened entrance and a white picket fence surrounding its yard. The light shone from a fourth order Fresnel lens at a height of forty-one feet and illuminated an arc of 270 degrees of the horizon.

Pearson had arrived in Washington Territory only six months prior to his appointment. He had come from Lowell, Massachusetts where he had heard a young man, Asa Shinn Mercer, talk at a town meeting about all that Washington Territory had to offer. Mercer’s primary audience had been the single young ladies of Lowell, who happened to include Pearson’s daughters.

Mr. Mercer had gone east to try and persuade some of the ladies of eastern refinement to return to Washington Territory with him, where the ratio of men to women was 9:1. “Churches and schoolhouses there are, but the great elevating, refining, and moralizing element - true women - are wanting”, Mercer had proclaimed.

In the spring of 1864 Daniel Pearson had been out of work and in ill health. The war between the states had caused the closure of the cotton mill where he had been a supervisor for several years. Pearson also had three fine daughters to think about whose prospects of finding husbands after the war looked grim. So after discussing it with his family it was decided that Daniel and his two oldest daughters, Josie (age 19) and Georgianna (age 16) would depart with Mercer in March, with the intentions that his wife Susan, son Orlando and youngest daughter Flora, would join them once they were settled in Washington Territory.

When Daniel Pearson and his daughters arrived in Seattle in May of 1864 they found their way to Whidbey Island. There Josie and Georgianna were given teaching positions at schools near Coupeville and Daniel became the night watchman for Puget Mill Company at Port Gamble.

When Captain William Robertson, Red Bluff’s first keeper, resigned in November, Daniel Pearson was appointed Keeper and his daughter, Georgianna, his assistant. Two years later, in the spring of 1866, Pearson’s wife, son and youngest daughter joined the rest of the family in Washington Territory. The whole Pearson family lived happily together at Red Bluff Lighthouse.

Daniel Pearson’s tenure was long at the Red Bluff lighthouse, spanning over 14 years. Through those years two of his daughters acted as the assistant keeper; a daughter and a son were married at the lighthouse, and a grandson was born there.

It was October 2, 1867 when this lighthouse family saw the first wedding take place in their home. Assistant Keeper Georgianna Pearson married Charles T. Terry. It was then that the youngest Pearson daughter, Flora, took over the assistant keeper’s duties and the lighthouse logbook. Flora became a favorite of the lighthouse inspectors.

A second family wedding took place at the lighthouse on June 2, 1868 when Daniel Pearson’s son, Orlando, married his childhood sweetheart, Clara Stanwood, who had recently arrived from Lowell.

A thorough inspection of the lighthouse was noted in the log entry for April 8, 1875 after the Lighthouse Service tender, Shubrick had arrived. Then the following was added to the entry:

“By order of Lt. Commander Louis Keurfoff (inspector): Be it here known, to whom it may or may not concern: All light keepers, either principal or assistant, in this domain of our beloved Uncle Samuel, are expressly forbidden to depart from the Territory of Single Blessedness and take up their abode in the populous State of Matrimony unless said departure be permitted and sanctioned by the Lighthouse Inspector. To any violation of the above official mandate there will be a penalty attached, to be filed at the next visit of inspector Keufoff.”

Flora Pearson was a prolific writer and included many descriptive observations about the Pearson family life in the lighthouse log entries. The November 25, 1875 logbook entry stated;

“Thanksgiving, Roast beef and cranberries, squash pie.” On the evening of December 5, 1875 a storm blew across the inlet. In the log entry for the next day Flora wrote; “Wind blowing all day, a frightful gale from the South. It blew so hard during the night that it cracked one of the plates of glass in the lantern.” Flora’s notes for December 25; 1875 read; “Saturday, Christmas - Keepers children and grandchildren all at house. Snowy”.

On May 8, 1876 the lighthouse log reveals another marriage; “Assistant Keeper left house today in A.M. Indefinite leave of absence. Arrived at Victoria in the P.M. Was married by Rev. William Ross in the evening. Sailed for San Francisco on the 11th. On the “City of Panama” arrived in San Francisco on the 14th. Sailed for home on the 30th on the “SS Dakota”. Came in a small boat from Pt. Townsend in a torturous sea. Arrived at the Station at 6 P.M. accompanied by the “other half”. Flora Pearson had married William Engle. After her marriage the Engles lived at the lighthouse with Flora’s mother and father and Flora continued her duties as Assistant Keeper. On September 30, 1877 Flora penned the following in the lighthouse log: “Born a son, Charles Terry Engle to the Assistant Keeper.”

Flora and her father continued at Red Bluff for another year until Daniel resigned on October 1, 1878 and Lawrence Nessels was temporarily appointed Keeper. Flora’s entry for October 21, 1878 said; “ Mr. Nessel took charge of articles in the Light House today”. She resigned as assistant keeper a month later on November 23, 1878.

The Pearson family grew and prospered on Whidbey Island. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the Red Bluff Lighthouse. During the Spanish-American War Admiralty Head was a strategic site at the entrance of Puget Sound. So in 1897, when the United States decided to fortify that entrance, the proper place for the big guns to be installed was on or near the site of the Red Bluff Lighthouse.

The lighthouse was moved a short distance to the north by 1903 when it got in the way of the Army’s construction of the gun emplacement. A new masonry lighthouse structure was erected even further north, and consisted of a two-story dwelling with an attached light tower of equal height. For about twenty years the original lighthouse served as non-commissioned officers quarters and at one time a medical clinic was located in one side of the building. In 1928 the lighthouse was dismantled and it was reported that many of the timbers were used for a house which faced the Inlet at Useless Bay and that the tower served as a cupola on the new house.

This story appeared in the June 2002 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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