Working and Living on North Head
Lighthouse keepers maintained the North Head Lighthouse from 1898 until its automation in 1961. Keeping the light burning 365 days a year was arduous, repetitive work.
Keepers carried gallons of oil up the narrow, winding staircase every day to keep the light burning.
They regularly trimmed the five wicks and adjusted the flame heights and ventilation.
The most time-consuming task was cleaning the Fresnel (pronounced fra-nel) lens, which required daily polishing with a soft rag. Every two months, the keepers polished the lens with wine to ensure a brightly shining light.
On the Edge of the Continent
North Head Lighthouse had a Head Keeper, First Assistant, and Second Assistant. All three were employees of the United States Lighthouse Service, which mandated strict regulations related to cleanliness and maintenance of the lighthouse and residences.
In remote locations like this, the keepers and their families lived self-sustaining lifestyles. Due to the lack of services and supplies, families living on North Head planted large gardens and tended chickens to help provide enough food for the year.
The Need for a Lighthouse
The North Head Lighthouse, completed 1898, was needed to guide mariners approaching from the north who could
not see the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. The lighthouse warned ships of the shallow vraters at the mouth of the Columbia River.
"The keepers got considerable exercise carrying oil up to the lantern. Like a starved baby, it consumed 170 gallons every month..." ~James Gibbs, Sentinels of the North Pacific