In his book Lighthouses of the Pacific, Jim Gibbs tells us that Washington’s Point Robinson Lighthouse, on the west shore of Puget Sound midway between Tacoma and Seattle, was a favorite of lighthouse keepers and their families. It was just isolated enough - picturesque and rugged yet not too far from civilization. The same qualities should serve it well today as one of the former keepers’ dwellings has been newly opened for overnight stays by the nonprofit Keepers of Point Robinson.
In its infancy the Point Robinson Station on Maury Island (now connected to larger Vashon Island) served as a fog signal location only, but two years after it was established in 1885 a lantern on a pole showing a fixed red light was added. This arrangement was replaced by an open framework wooden tower in 1894, and that structure gave way in 1915 to the present combined fog signal building and 38-foot octagonal lighthouse.
Point Robinson has long been noted for its fog. The keeper in 1897 reported that the fog whistle had to be sounded for 528 consecutive hours - which meant he had to shovel 35 tons of coal to power the steam whistle during that period. To help with the strenuous duty, an assistant keeper was assigned to the station in 1903.
The days of resident keepers ended with the automation of Point Robinson Light in 1978. The Coast Guard continued to maintain the light - a fifth order Fresnel lens is still in use - and the fog signal. But in the early 1990s some local residents, including World War II Navy veteran and former Boy Scout executive Royal English, heard that the government was planning to lease the land for a seafood-processing plant.
Hoping to maintain the light station and surrounding land for the general public, the concerned locals formed the Keepers of Point Robinson. The Keepers and the Vashon Parks Department negotiated a 15-year lease with the Coast Guard for use of the land and lighthouse station buildings, and a master plan was developed for the restoration and use of the site.
The site is now part of the Vashon-Maury Island Park and Recreation District, and the Keepers of Point Robinson are working closely with the Parks Department as plans are developed. Board member Carol McLean reports that a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation enabled the Keepers to hire an architectural firm that researched and documented all the buildings and identified needed repairs, and funds from King County have enabled some improvements.
Royal English, retired Coast Guard Captain Joe Wubbold, and other volunteers provide tours of the lighthouse, even treating visitors to blasts from an old foghorn that’s still hooked up to an air compressor. The Keepers also conduct an educational program for second graders at a local school and hold public events at the lighthouse, such as Vashon Island’s ever-popular Kite Day.
Among the members of the Keepers’ board of directors is popular lighthouse author and lecturer Elinor De Wire, who recently moved to Washington from the east coast. “How I love that little lighthouse!” says De Wire, who is now the group’s historian.
Seeing how successful overnight programs have been at three other Washington lighthouses - New Dungeness, North Head and Brown’s Point - the Keepers of Point Robinson have decided to offer weekly rentals of one of the two keepers’ houses. The house has been spruced up and furnished by volunteers among the Keepers. Janet Lynch, president of the group and an avid gardener, will have the help of a local gardening group to get the grounds looking their best.
For more information on renting the keeper’s quarters or to find out how you can help the Keepers of Point Robinson, contact: Keepers of Point Robinson, P.O. Box 13234, Burton, WA 98103. Phone: (206) 463-6672. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This story appeared in the
September 2003 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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