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Preserving a special place | Kitsap Week

HANSVILLE — For many, the historic site was simply a place called home.

The two-story white duplex at Point No Point Light Station was built in 1880 as a residence for the lighthouse keeper and assistant keeper. But the old house tells as much about family life at the remote outpost as it does the men who kept the light burning and horns sounding for ships transiting Admiralty Inlet.

A steady succession of children played on the grass and beach here. The first, of course, were S’Klallam, whose ties to the area are memorialized in stone — literally — in a monument on the station grounds.

George and Mollie Maggs were the first children to live in the lightkeepers’ residence, and Mollie was born there in 1880; a second-floor room, next to a larger bedroom, may have been her nursery. The children’s father, John S. Maggs, was the first lighthouse keeper here (1879-1884); he had served as a lighthouse keeper in Victoria, B.C., and represented Clallam County in the territorial legislature from 1869-71.

Maggs is believed to have planted the holly tree in the house’s east yard. The tree is visible in a photo from the 1880s.

In the west yard, a perennially green patch of lawn is a reminder of the cistern that provided water for early inhabitants of the keepers’ residence. The cistern stored rainwater that was captured by gutters on the roof of the house.

The Maggses, Jankinses, Scannells and families that followed undoubtedly supplemented their table with salmon and shellfish; it was much easier to harvest shellfish on the beach or throw a line into Admiralty Inlet than to ride a horse to Port Gamble.  Families gardened and tended cattle here. Other buildings at the station included a barn, a poultry shed, and a boathouse with a landing for visitors and supplies. Home life was made easier by dishes, kitchen ware, a library of books and other supplies provided by a U.S. Lighthouse Service depot.

“When the keepers’ house was built, compared to other houses in the area it was very nice accommodations,” said Jeff Gales, executive director of the U.S. Lighthouse Society (www.uslhs.org).

“Lighthouse keeping, in general, was very difficult. It wasn’t physically demanding, but it was the type of job where you had to be attentive. The number of hours far exceeded your pay. The Lighthouse Service attempted to compensate with fairly nice lodging.”

In the station’s 132 years, keepers and assistant keepers came and went and the U.S. Lighthouse Service was absorbed by the Coast Guard. During World War II, injured military personnel were housed here to convalesce. The light was automated in 1977. In 1998, the Coast Guard leased the land, lighthouse and buildings to Kitsap County for use as a park.

The U.S. Lighthouse Society, which has occupied the western half of the keepers’ residence since 2008, has worked continuously to renovate and furnish the interior of the house to its pre-Coast Guard appearance, and also facilitated the restoration of the lighthouse and other outbuildings.

But time and the elements have taken their toll on the exterior of the keepers residence. A new roof is needed. Siding must be stripped of layers of peeling paint, and repainted in colors from its pre-Coast Guard era. Modern doors and windows must be replaced with those fabricated to historic specifications; ditto for the rain gutters. Porches must be resurfaced and sloped properly to draw water away from the building. Replica architectural details must be installed.

The society is accepting donations for the restoration; it received a $50,000 matching grant from the C. Keith Birkenfeld Memorial Trust, and by June must raise a matching amount. Donors’ names will be listed on a perpetual plaque.

The society has raised $10,000 so far; half of that came from one donor. Gales has applied for grants from Kitsap County Parks, the Kitsap County Foundation, and from the Washington Lighthouses Special License Plate Fund, which receives a portion of proceeds from special license plates depicting the state’s lighthouses.

“This is the first time we’ve asked the public for funds,” Gales said.

The restoration of the house’s exterior is the third and final restoration at the light station. Two earlier phases — restoration of the keepers’ workshop and restoration of the lighthouse — were funded by grants from the Seattle Foundation and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Restoring the exterior of the keepers’ residence will be a tedious job, not just because of the amount of work to be done but because of how it must be done. Behind the house is a protected wildlife refuge. Paint will have to be removed in a way that it won’t contaminate sensitive areas. That means, no sandblasting or pressure washing.

Gales said once the residence is restored to the way it looked in 1939, the last year it was operated by the U.S. Lighthouse Service, it will need only to be maintained. What must be done now is correction — replacement of modern details with period details — and deferred maintenance. The result of the project: A more accurate understanding by visitors of the U.S. Lighthouse Service era.

“The goal of the project is to rehabilitate and restore the structure to circa 1930s appearance, and set into practice regular maintenance of the structure so that it can be enjoyed by the public for another 100 years,” Gales said.

The U.S. Lighthouse Society has taken great care to accurately restore the lighthouse, keepers’ quarters and other buildings. The society works to preserve lighthouses and interpret the history of the U.S. Lighthouse Service, which was established in 1791 and operated as a part of various agencies until it became part of the Coast Guard.

Locally, the society works in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard and Kitsap County Parks & Recreation.

It’s an ideal relationship, Gales said: The society works to preserve historic lighthouse structures; the Coast Guard maintains aids to navigation; Kitsap County Parks manages recreational open space for public use. With the help of the U.S. Lighthouse Society, all historic buildings at Point No Point are accessible to the public at no charge. The site accommodates an estimated 40,000, most of which visit between April and September.

With the money raised in June, the society expects to begin restoring the exterior by July with an estimated completion date of October.

The U.S. Lighthouse Service dates to 1789, when it was formed as part of the Treasury Department to construct and maintain lighthouses and navigation aids.

After treaties were signed, opening the region to non-Native settlement, shipping increased in Puget Sound and vessels soon discovered just how troublesome the shoal off Point No Point could be. The bark Iconium ran aground in fog in 1868. The bark Windward, trying to avoid the shoal, wrecked off Whidbey Island in December 1875. In 1878, the bark Osmyn struck the Aureola in the fog and went down with three members of the crew.

By the time of the wreck of the Windward, the Lighthouse Service considered a beacon and fog signal at the Point essential to maritime safety. Vessel traffic was expected to increase when the Northern Pacific Railroad reached Tacoma, and the Lighthouse Service recommended that Point No Point be marked with a light and fog signal.

Despite safeguards in place at the Point for 34 years, two ships collided in heavy fog off Point No Point, resulting in the deaths of 16 people.

Lighthouse keeper William H. Cary would have been sounding the station’s steampowered diaphone fog horn that day — Aug. 26, 1914. The passenger liner Princess Victoria, headed from Seattle, and the passenger liner S.S. Admiral Sampson, en route to Seattle, were both moving at 3 knots, considered crawl speed. Still, as they rounded the point, the Princess Victoria struck the Admiral Sampson amidships, tearing a gash into the ship’s hull and igniting its fuel stores.

The Princess Victoria stayed locked to the Admiral Sampson long enough for most of the latter ship’s 160 passengers to scramble into lifeboats. When the Princess Victoria pulled away, seawater flooded into the Admiral Sampson and the ship went down quickly, stern first, in 320 feet of water. Down with the vessel went 11 passengers, four crew members and captain Zimro Moore.

Gales said Point No Point Light Station would have been equipped to help rescue survivors. An accurate restoration can help visitors understand the life of a lighthouse keeper — and the weight of his or her responsibility.

“It makes you think back to times past,” Gales said. “It’s difficult to go back in time, but [the restoration can help the visitor] imagine what life was like and get that sense of history.”

He added, “Most people are familiar with the Coast Guard but don’t know about the Lighthouse Service. That whole way of life prior to 1939 — that’s what we’re trying to shed light on.”

NOTE: Who lived on which side of the keepers’ residence? Gales believes the keeper and his family lived in the west half, farther away from the foghorn, and the assistant keeper in the east half, closer to the action.

What is believed to be the assistant keepers’ residence is a vacation rental managed by the society, with income generated from the property made available for regular maintenance.

— See also Colorful history, and characters, of Point No Point

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