Withstanding the fury of the coast
The Mendocino presented a huge challenge to the designers of this lighthouseThe lighthouse's assigned position was a storm-battered, 400-foot cliff prone to frequent earthquakes and landslides. The compact tower, with its lifesaving beacon, had to be built to last.
The lighthouse was fabricated in San Francisco in 1867, then disassembledand shipped to Cape Mendocino. about 35 miles north of here. The heavy lighthouse pieces were landed on Cape Mendocino through heavy surf, hauled up the treacherous cliff, and reassembled. The lighthouse began service in 1868.
The lighthouse was designed with three levels. Each level had a distinct purpose in the operation and maintenance of the lighthouse. As you tour the lighthouse imagine...
1. The ground floor is composed of 16 iron plates; each bolted to its neighbors, and to the foundation. The plates lean inward, increasing the building's stability. A heavy iron door seals out the elements. This level was primarily used for storage.
2. The second floor, also made of 16 iron plates, once housed the clockwork mechanism that rotated the lens. A door leads from this level to the balcony, from which the keeper could access the upper catwalk to clean the glass.
3. The third level is the lantern room. The light was generated using a kerosene lamp and magnified with a first-order Fresnel lens. The signal light was visible up to 28 miles away. You can see where the bronze handles (now lost) were bolted to the window frames outside in order to give keepers something to hold onto as the fierce winds threatened to blow them away. A lightning rod stands at the top.
The sturdy little lighthouse had to withstand years of high winds and driving rain slamming into Cape Mendocino.
Which is taller?
Compared to the classic slender lighthouses of the east coast, the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse is not very tall—but its 400-foot clifftop perch made it one of the tallest beacons shining along the North American coast.