History of the North Head Lighthouse

North Head Lighthouse © Richard Dawson

North Head Lighthouse © Richard Dawson

North Head Lighthouse was built to provide an aide to navigation for ships approaching from the north. Those ships could not see Cape Disappointment lighthouse, two miles to the south, in time to safely enter the Columbia River channel.

Construction began on North Head lighthouse in 1897 and it was completed and lit on May 16, 1898.  The lighthouse was constructed by George Langford, an early contractor and builder from Portland, Oregon. The tower was built 65 feet above the ground, designed large enough to hold the First-order Fresnel lens transferred from Cape Disappointment lighthouse.

Written in the “Report of the Light-house Board for 1898, “The contractors for furnishing the metal work delivered it on August 15, 1897, 173 days after the expiration of the time for the completion of their contract, incurring a penalty for delay of $4,325, or $160 in excess of the amount they were to receive under the contract.”  The government granted the contractor an extension until November 15, 1897. The station was finally completed on April 10, 1898. The next month it went into commission. The contractor filed suit against the United States to recover $5,868, damages. The final outcome is not known.

At the same time the lighthouse was being constructed, construction workers built two oil houses just to the east of the lighthouse. A keeper’s residence, a duplex to house two assistant keepers, a barn, and outbuildings were also constructed at that time. All of the original buildings are still located on site.

Lighthouse keepers and their families had a remote and hard life. Keepers would traditionally work 8 hour shifts if there were three keepers. If one of the keepers left, the hours would become much longer. The light was lit from dusk to dawn with cleaning and polishing being done during the daylight hours. The cleaning and maintenance of the light and lens was the most important duty of the keepers.

The first head lighthouse keeper at North Head was Alex K. Pesonen. He was placed in charge of North Head lighthouse on May 16, 1898, the day the lighthouse was put into service.

Keeper Pesonen had at one time served on the lighthouse tender “Manzanita” and as an assistant keeper at Tillamook lighthouse. He lived at North Head for 26 years.

During the time Pesonen was head keeper, he had a second assistant keeper by the name of Mabel E. Bretherton. She was the only female keeper assigned to North Head lighthouse. From 1905 until her resignation on October 31, 1907 she assisted in the care and operation of the light. Mabel Bretherton had also served at Cape Blanco lighthouse in Oregon prior to coming to North Head.