It’s time to visit the first of Oregon’s 11 historic lighthouses. The Umpqua River Lighthouse at the mouth of Winchester Bay/Umpqua River probably has the most interesting history of all the lighthouses.
In 1851 Congress appropriated $15,000.00 and 33 acres of land on the Oregon Coast and construction on the Umpqua River Lighthouse was begun. There were many delays along the way due to a foundering materials ship in September of 1853, and due to Native Americans stealing critical tools. The Natives wanted to avoid an attack from nearby Fort Umpqua so they worked to stop construction activity in this manner. These lands for centuries were prime hunting and fishing grounds for Native Americans and they resented the progress being made on the building of this important coast lighthouse.
At the time it was believed that this port would become very important due to the “green gold” that extended everywhere nearby—that being the timber. Native Americans believed this was their land and acted accordingly. The construction workers did not want a confrontation as they were outnumbered. But when one saw his sledge hammer leaning against a Native hut and went to retrieve it he was jumped by the residents of the village. Mayhem broke out between Natives and workers but a quick thinking foreman lit a stick of dynamite frightening away the Natives. The Native threat was mostly over but long winter storms continued delays until the spring of 1857 when the lighthouse was finally completed making it the first light on the Oregon Coast.
The sandy soil location for the lighthouse was poorly chosen and following a winter gale combined with record mountain runoff in 1861 and more violent storms in 1863, the structure’s foundation was undermined and it came crashing down.
For 20 years there was no light here and commerce was stalled. In 1888 Congress appropriated $50,000.00 to build another Umpqua River Lighthouse, this time inland on the headlands above the mouth of the river. It is the farthest away from a river or ocean of all Oregon Coast lighthouses. And yet it is a beacon for ships out at sea that can be seen for miles.
The lens of a lighthouse is its most important feature. The Umpqua River Lighthouse lens is a special one. Manufactured in 1890 by a company in Paris, France, it truly is a thing of beauty. With twenty-four bull’s eye panels it completes a revolution every two minutes producing a signature of two white flashes followed by a red flash. The inside is as beautiful as the extended beams of light in the night. The lucky visitor will be permitted to step up inside the lens to view the revolving light that produces real butterfly images as it goes around.
Over the years this unique and very beautiful light has been threatened with being decommissioned. In 2010, Douglas County, Oregon, took over ownership of the lighthouse. In a ceremony in 2012, the U.S. Coast Guard officially turned over control of operation and maintenance to Douglas County. U.S. Coast Guard families are still housed at the lighthouse but work down the road at the Coast Guard Station in Winchester Bay. This important Oregon Coast lighthouse which operates 24/7 is a destination for visitors both local and out-of-state. When you visit Umpqua River Haven, this is a “must see!”