North Head Lighthouse celebrates 122 years


North Head Lighthouse at Cape Disappointment State Park as it looks today. Many thanks to Stephen Wood, interpretive specialist at Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center for contributing this blog. Stephen is excited visitors are returning to the park, the decade-long restoration is wrapping up and the lighthouse is looking amazing.

June 9 2020

North Head Lighthouse at Cape Disappointment State Park celebrated its 122nd birthday on May 16. 

It  looks gorgeous with all of the restoration work completed. It could be taller, and it could be more elaborate, but North Head is a jewel among Washington lighthouses.  A final project is underway to complete the restoration, further enhancing historic opportunities at the park.

The early years

North Head went into service May 16, 1898, to complement nearby Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, built in 1856.  During the 1850s, shipping traffic and shipwrecks increased, signaling the need for a second lighthouse at the mouth of the Columbia River, also known to mariners as the “Graveyard of the Pacific.” For 122 years, North Head’s light has kept these waters safer.

North Head becomes part of state parks

Washington State Parks took ownership of the North Head Lighthouse from the United States Coast Guard in 2012. Historic restoration is a long process and requires lengthy research, analysis and planning. All work done on North Head follows the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. To date, more than $3.5 million in restorations have been completed on the lighthouse, returning North Head to its 1898 appearance.

Restoring a state treasure

Red_soil remediation

North Head Lighthouse as it looked in the early stages of restoration. A significant amount of hard work wentFCRG_Keepers_logo in to restoring the lighthouse to its original splendor. 

Each restoration phase is a significant accomplishment, and they are not singlehanded efforts. Since 2009, Washington State Parks has collaborated with the Keepers of the North Head Lighthouse on numerous restoration efforts. 

The Keepers also worked with State Parks to ensure a successful transferal of the lighthouse from the Coast Guard. The group’s members largely contributed to this achievement. Through the Keepers’ dedication, North Head received publicity, grants, restoration work and funding.  

Glass and metal restoration


It took many steps to complete restorations at North Head Lighthouse. On the left work is being done on Northhead’s glass, while at the right, restoration is being done on the tower’s metal portion. 

Smaller projects kick-started the restoration. Following inspections, State Parks repaired the I-beams supporting the stairs. Fabrication of historically accurate doors and paneling were done in partnership with the Keepers.Two projects joined the tower with the workroom.The metal roof was added and a lintel (support) repaired. The lantern room was outfitted with new, double-paned glass windows.

Metalwork restoration began in late 2015 including lead abatement, iron repair and replacement, gallery railing reconstruction and changing the lantern room’s color. Under Coast Guard ownership, the lantern room was red for many years.  Washington State Parks restored it to black — the original color.

Stone restoration

Stone study_2

North Head needed significant repairs to its stone base! 

A study of North Head’s tower base revealed it was originally built with sandstone, likely a local variety. The local sandstone quarry closed long ago, and a similar stone is not available in Washington. It was a challenge to find similar sandstone and a working quarry to provide the necessary volume. Enter the Buckeye State.  As it turns out, a place near Cleveland, Ohio, had the most comparable sandstone.

Reclaiming the view

Phase 2_ window

North Head’s tower windows were carefully restored, bringing natural light back into the tower. 

The next phase began in 2016, to dramatic results.  In the early 1970s, following automation of the lighthouse, six historic windows were removed from the tower. Restoration reopened the windows, trimmed them in Ohio sandstone, returning natural light to the interior. Stucco was applied to the tower, and the workroom received a new ceiling, closet and other woodwork. Hidden above the ceiling is a self-draining dehumidifier to help regulate moisture — a constant source of deterioration.

The completed stone base

Phase 3_complete base

North Head’s new stone base cleared up decades of deterioration to dramatic results! 

In 2018, another phase began on the tower and workroom. Workers painted the tower stairs, applied new stucco to the interior tower and workroom, new stone to windows and new stone tablets on both sides of the vestibule.

The project’s pièce de résistance, though, is the base of the tower, and the outcome is phenomenal. It required removal of old, crumbling stone to solid base. Then, workers fastened new stone faces to the original. Now, the tower’s profile appears just as it did more than a century ago.

Standing tall

Phase 3_stucco unfinished

Stucco work being done on North Head’s work room

A final phase awaits.  Parks is currently planning to restore the two oil houses and is working with the Keepers to reproduce the historic lighthouse fence. The result?  Priceless.  When complete, North Head will offer a parks interpretive experience unlike many others. Akin to time travel, you can step back to 1898 and see the lighthouse with 21st Century eyes. 

Note: While North Head Lighthouse is not currently open for tours due to COVID 19, Cape Disappointment State Park is! We encourage you to visit the park and admire this amazing restoration from the outside.

Learn More

✔ Join Stephen Wood for our latest installment of the #AskaWaRanger series on Facebook Live.
Tune in at 2 p.m. Thursday, June 11,  to our Facebook page,and learn about the intriguing history of Fort Columbia State Park from the pre-settlement days to World War II, and ask a few questions of your own!

✔ Have some state parks history of your own?
Share your stories and photos on our Story Share portal! We might just publish them on our blog!

All photos courtesy of Cape Disappointment State Park.