The aren’t many rainbows along the Mendocino Coast. My Grandma used to tell me that a rainbow meant that it was a monkey’s birthday. To this day I am still wondering what she really meant. Never mind all that – here are two remarkable photos:
Club member Jim Williams asked if I could copy a photo of a painting for him. The painting had been bought for a $1 at a local thrift store by an elderly lady friend of Jim’s. The lady wanted to give the copies to friends. The painting photo was of the ruined lighthouse keepers houses belonging to the Punta Gorda lighthouse.
On the back was the story of the painting photo which I scanned and OCRd for Jim:
“After eight shipwrecks occurred between 1899 and 1907 on the rugged and rocky coast south of Eureka, the U.S. Lighthouse Service approved funding to build a light station at Punta Gorda, an 800 foot high cape located 16 miles south of Cape Mendocino. Because the land along the coast there rose steeply from the beach, finding a site for a light station was a challenge. A 22 acre site, a mile south of Windy Point was chosen. The light station consisted of a 27 foot tall lighthouse with a 4th order flashing Fresnel lens, a fog signal building, a blacksmith shop, an oil house and three houses which were similar to the houses being built at Point Cabrillo in 1908. Building material had to be landed on the beach north of the site, then hauled by horses and wagons around Windy Point at low tide.
From 1912 until 1951, the Punta Gorda lighthouse warned ships away from the dangerous offshore rocks. Because winter brought torrential rains, 70 miles per hour winds, and extremely high tides and surf, provisions for the keepers had to be brought in by horse and wagon before November. During the winter, fresh provisions and mail from Petrolia, 11 miles away, had to be brought in on horseback. After World War II, the Coast Guard assumed control of the station and built a road along the edge bluff as far south as Windy Point. When the Mattole River and Ten Mile Creek flooded, the keepers still had to bring in mail and fresh groceries from Petrolia on horseback around Windy Point at low tide.
By 1951, large vessels were using shipping lanes far out to sea and the Coast Guard decided that serving fishermen and occasional yachts was not worth the high cost of maintaining the station. Early in 1951, the Punta Gorda Light Station was closed, the lens was removed, and a light to warn ships away from the rocks was provided by a whistle buoy.
The 22 acre light station was later incorporated into the King Range National Conservation Area which was formally established by Congress in 1970. In 1976, the Punta Gorda lighthouse was officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places. On a clear day, Punta Gorda can be seen from the Mendocino Coast. Look north for the farthest western point of land which is 65 miles north of Point Cabrillo. The mountain to the east of Punta Gorda is King’s Peak.”
Now, Punta Gorda is a bit north of our Club’s main interest, The Mendocino Coast. Finding a map which shows its location was a chore.
As you can see it truly is in the middle of nowhere. This map shows Fortuna as being the nearest town of any size.
So what did the Lighthose and Lighthouse keepers houses look like:
A close up of the lighthouse:
In 1951 all aids-to-navigation were discontinued, the buildings boarded up and personnel transferred. The property was transferred to the Bureau of Land Management. In the late 1960s “hippies” moved into the quarters and improved them. Local authorities evicted these people and the Bureau of Land Management burned all the buildings except the Lighthouse and oil house. Punta Gorda was and is a very difficult station to reach. Most of the years it was in operation access was via horse, and during good weather horse-drawn wagon. After the United States Coast Guard assumed command a rough road was constructed (that usually washed out) and a jeep was used for transportation. One Coast Guard career horse, named Old Bill, served the Punta Gorda Light Station as a saddle horse, pack horse, and buggy horse for thirty years until the station closed in 1951.
The lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. The Fresnel lens and the flag staff pole were removed many years ago to the Humboldt Bay Maritime Museum located near Eureka, California.
The Punta Gorda Light was known as the “Alcatraz of Lighthouses” because of its remote location and difficult access.
Having learned all that here’s what started it all:
Our club, the Mendocino Coast Model Railroad and Historical Society, has connections with the folks who volunteer at nearby Point Cabrillo lighthouse. Club member Joe Green works at the Gift Shop; Roger Thornburn, our website guru and his wife, Nancy, help with the maintenance and the gardens respectively. Joe told me that the historical displays had been updated and were first class. As I had not visited the lighthouse since I was quite sick I persuaded my wife Sarah to take a hike to see if what Joe had told me was right.
Point Cabrillo lighthouse must be one of the most photographed “things” along the Mendocino Coast – witness these shots:
Just had Joe had told me the exhibits inside the lighthouse were beautifully presented. There was a small but informative display about the Pomo as well as nice section and model of the Frolic. Check out our website here if you don’t know how the wreck of the frolic was the event that opened up the Mendocino Coast to logging.
One snippet on one of the displays really got me going …… “The region encompassing today’s Point Cabrillo reserve was favoured by the Mi-toam’ Kai Pomo (Wooded Valley People) ………… within the 300 acre Preserve there are 18 prehistoric sites.” I was totally freaked out that just one sentence was devoted to what must be a major historical site. I decided on the way home that greatly enhancing our website section on the Pomo is going way up there on my to-do list.