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Still shining: For over 130 years, the light has shone from the Point No Point Lighthouse
No one knows why J. S. Maggs left his dental practice in Seattle to become the first lighthouse keeper at remote Point No Point.
According to Friends of Point No Point president JoAnn Johnson, the question is one frequently asked by visitors.
“Why would a dentist leave his practice in Seattle and come to a deserted area? Why? We have no idea,” Johnson said.
The remoteness of Point No Point does make for good stories. At the time, the lighthouse was reachable only by boat. When Maggs purchased a cow before the birth of his daughter, the cow arrived via a schooner and had to swim ashore.
Built in the late 1870s, Point No Point is one of 22 remaining lighthouses in Washington.
“Some lighthouses have literally fallen into the Strait of Juan de Fuca,” Johnson said. “One in the Columbia River washed away.”
And while the Point No Point lighthouse seems to be protected from nature, Johnson and other lighthouse lovers in Kitsap hope to secure its financial future.
Due to budget cuts, this year Kitsap County asked the Friends of Point No Point to take over the docent program. The Friends are now responsible for the docent training and printing the materials. And while the county is in charge of major maintenance upkeep for the lighthouse, the Friends help with fundraising projects.
The Friends have applied for a grant from the Washington Lighthouse License Plate Fund. (The specialized license plates ramoney for education and restoration projects.) The grant would help pay for rewiring in the lightkeeper’s duplex and repair a water-damaged ceiling.
The Friends are also making plans to raise funds to replace the windows in the lighthouse tower. The glass will cost about $1,000 and the price for installation has yet to be determined. The new windows will be double paned with a thin layer of UV protection to shield the Fresnel lens from sunlight, although the lens has already had its share of woes.
In 1931, the lightkeeper noticed a faulty valve in the kerosene lantern. To prevent harm to the lens, he replaced the valve. Unbeknownst to the lightkeeper, his assistant had the same proactive thought.
When the assistant came on duty, he too replaced the valve. Only the valve he put in was not a new one but the defective one the lightkeeper had earlier removed. The broken valve caused a ball of gas to build up inside the lens. When the gas ignited, it caused a crack in the thick glass.
“It was one of those ‘You’ve got to be kidding me’ kinds of things,” Johnson said. “They both thought they were doing a good thing.”
The lightkeeper wrote a letter to the U.S. Light Service and explained what happened. Luckily, the crack didn’t change the way the light came out of the lighthouse. The keeper had a good record and the incident was chalked up as an accident.
“He was lucky. He could have lost his job and been held responsible for the repair,” Johnson said. “It would have probably taken him the rest of his life to pay back the debt.”
In 2006, the Fresnel lens stopped shining when the U.S. Coast Guard decommissioned the lens and replaced the classic lantern with a modern light. The old model was getting costly to repair and parts were becoming scarce. The new automated light sits on a rail outside the cupola. It serves its purpose, but is nothing like the grand lens and lantern of the past.
Gone are the days when lighthouse keepers guarded the light and kept a watch out for fog. To get a sense of what life was like at Point No Point, the lightkeeper’s duplex is now available as a vacation rental. Luckily, roads are now in place and local markets have a good supply of milk. No need to bring your own cow while staying at the lightkeeper’s quarters.
Tours of the lighthouse are available on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m., now until the end of September. Docents educate guests and help run the museum and gift shop. Currently, there are 30 docents who help with the program and Johnson would like to have more. An increase in the number of docents would allow them to expand their days of operation.
Preserving the lighthouses for future generations to enjoy is a goal worth keeping.
“Someone once told me that just as Europe has its castles to preserve and protect, we have our lighthouses,” Johnson said.
In these modern days, when lights can be turned on and off with a clap or two, or even controlled by an app from your phone, it’s interesting to think of a time when a person’s occupation focused on keeping the light strong.
With gorgeous views of Puget Sound and Mount Rainier, Maggs may have had the right idea when he traded in cavities and toothaches for the captivating scenery and light.
People may wonder why Maggs uprooted and moved to the lighthouse. But after visiting Point No Point, perhaps a better question is, “Why not?”
Considered the oldest lighthouse in Puget Sound, the Point No Point lighthouse is located at 9009 Point No Point Road in Hansville.
Tours are available on Saturdays and Sundays, April through the end of September from noon to 4 p.m.
For more information on the lightkeeper’s two-bedroom, one bath and full kitchen vacation rental, visit www.uslhs.org