The extreme northern California coast is one of the most beautiful landscapes in the United States. The dramatic coastal scenes have been magnificently preserved by Redwood National Park and other adjoining state parks.
Collectively, these world-class sanctuaries protect more than 30 miles of wild coastline south of the border with Oregon. It is in this region, just north of Crescent City, California, that the St. George Reef lighthouse can be found.
The lighthouse, which was built on an exposed rock island six miles out to sea, was the most expensive lighthouse ever built in the country, costing over $700,000 and taking nearly ten years to build. One worker was swept out to sea during construction.
In the end, the sturdy stone tower rose more than 140 feet above sea level and held a first-order Fresnel lens that displayed a bright, flashing light.
While its rock base is plainly visible during low tide, the lighthouse is often nearly submerged around its base by the violent Pacific storms that beset the coast every winter.
The lighthouse was one of the most vital ones in northern California and southern Oregon, lighting a dark and dangerous area between Cape Blanco and Cape Mendocino. It was there, for example, that the Brother Jonathan struck ground off Point St. George in 1865 and went down with 215 passengers and crew.
The lighthouse proved a dangerous place to work; several lighthouse keepers died when their boats swamped in the heavy surf. It was also one of the loneliest (no families permitted) and most unpleasant tours of duty in the service.
Finally, the remote lighthouse was decommissioned in 1975 and replaced by
a floating light buoy.
The historic St. George Reef lighthouse undoubtedly saved many a mariner's life during its 83 years of operation. It represents -- both in the difficulty of its construction and in the diligent attention to duty of its keepers -- the very best in this nation's long commitment to maritime safety.