The Joseph Bernard Foundry cast the Browns Point bell in 1855 in Philadelphia. It was one of the eight bronze bells cast by Bernard. It was shipped around Cape Horn to the lighthouse at Dungeness Spit at the eastern end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, more than 20 years before Washington became a state. Because it was not loud enough to be heard in the howling winds of the strait, it was removed in 1871.
Its next tour of duty began in 1878 at Point No Point Lighthouse. It was moved to Point Robinson Lighthouse in 1885 and finally to Browns Point Lighthouse in 1903 where a two-story, wood-framed lighthouse replaced a light on a pole. Its job was to warn ships entering Commencement Bay, the future Port of Tacoma, Washington.
In its early years, it was struck on the exterior of the bell with a hammer, which was mechanically operated. The mechanism required winding at regular intervals by the lightkeeper. In the early 1920s, the bell was modified and operated by an electrical mechanism. In 1933, a modern, concrete lighthouse replaced the wooden lighthouse.
The bell retired from lighthouse service and was purchased for $50 by the College of Puget Sound in Tacoma. Its job was to announce the beginning and ending of classes. At this time, there was no mechanism to hit the bell. Instead, a custodian had to strike the bell with a hammer. Disliking this tedious, noisy job, he hit the bell continuously on the same spot until the bell cracked. Its sound changed forever. In 1984, the University (no longer just a college) gave the bell, which had been in storage for several years, to Fox Island Alliance Church where it called people to worship services.
The Points Northeast Historical Society, located at Browns Point Light Station, was founded in 1986. Its officers tracked the bell's history and found it at the Fox Island Church. After several years and regular correspondence with the church, the bell was returned to the Browns Point Light Station in June of 2001. Donations of a boom truck, volunteer carpenters, money and the generosity of the church releasing the bell to the Society, made the transfer possible.
Today, it rings again at Browns Point to the delight of children of all ages, and where it served the longest for 30 years. It hangs in the old (electrical) pump house and is struck on the inside of the bell with a bowling ball clapper, which was installed by the church.
The Browns Point lighthouse, lightkeeper's cottage, boathouse and the pump house are on the National Registry of Historic Places. Information about staying in the lightkeeper's cottage for a week's tour of duty can be found on the Historical Society's website: www.pointsnortheast.org or by calling
This story appeared in the
Jan/Feb 2006 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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