Digest>Archives> June 2002

The History of Red Bluff: Washington’s Forgotten Lighthouse

By Peri Lane Muhich


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Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

In an 1857 marine survey the United States government recommended that two lighthouses be built in Washington Territory on Admiralty Inlet, one at Point Wilson on the peninsula and one on the ninety-foot jutting rocky promontory, called Red Bluff. This bluff sat overlooking the inlet at Admiralty Head on Whidbey Island, opposite Port Townsend.

Ten acres of land for the lighthouse were purchased in 1858 from Dr. John Coe Kellogg and his wife Caroline (Terry) Kellogg, who were early settlers of Whidbey Island. When it was completed the Red Bluff lighthouse was the first wooden lighthouse built in Washington Territory.

After its completion in 1860 Captain William Robertson, a “grey grizzled sea dog”, was appointed as Red Bluff’s first keeper. Robertson lived at the lighthouse with his wife Mary. He also served as Island County coroner during this time. After the Captain left the lighthouse he continued to live on Whidbey Island until his death in 1888.

The second keeper, Daniel Pearson, was appointed on November 28, 1864. Pearson had recently arrived in Washington Territory from Lowell, Massachusetts where, until the war between the states broke out, he had been a supervisor in one of Lowell’s many cotton mills. He was to become the longest keeper of the Red Bluff lighthouse, spanning over 14 years.

According to the lighthouse log Lawrence Nessels “took charge of articles in the lighthouse” on October 21, 1878. His permanent appointment didn’t come until June 3, 1880.

It was during Nessels term that the lighthouse log recorded on April 13, 1880 that the U. S. supply steamer Shubrick arrived and “Mr. Wheeler, Lampist, visited this station today and changed the oil lamp for a kerosene lamp.”

Joseph Evans, who had previously served as acting keeper at Ediz Hook Lighthouse for two years, became the fourth keeper at Red Bluff on Nov. 2, 1887. Tragedy struck at Red Bluff in late 1899 when Joseph Evans sixteen year old son, Henry, drowned in a boating accident. Evans was then sent to a lighthouse post on the Oregon coast where he later passed away.

Charles H. Davis was appointed keeper on January 23, 1900.

During the Spanish-American War Admiralty Head was a strategic site at the entrance of Puget Sound. So in 1897 the U. S. decided to fortify that entrance. The government bought land adjoining the lighthouse and began building Fort Casey. Unfortunately the proper place for big guns to be installed was on or near the site of the Red Bluff Lighthouse. So by 1903 the lighthouse was moved a short distance to the north when it got in the way of the Army’s construction of the gun emplacement. A new masonry lighthouse structure, known as Admiralty Head, was erected even further north, consisting of a two-story dwelling with an attached light tower of equal height. Charles Davis, the last keeper of the original Red Bluff Lighthouse, moved into the new lighthouse where he served as keeper until 1912.

Photos courtesy of the National Archives.

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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