Most landmarks have a story behind them and Alaska Eldred Rock Lighthouse is no exception. Actually, movies are made of this kind of story. This account begins circa February 1898, during the Alaskan gold rush. According to history of that time, a three-mast passenger ship named the Clara Nevada set sail from Skagway, Alaska.
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Less than 30 miles into the voyage, a hurricane force storm caught them. The storm prevented the ship’s crew from seeing the island of Eldred Rock, in the Lynn Canal. The ship struck Eldred Rock, mysteriously setting off the dynamite, and supposedly killing everyone aboard the Clara Nevada. The ship and gold it held sank to the bottom of the Lynn Canal and the gold was never found, despite many divers searching for it.
A Lighthouse is Approved
This disaster got the attention of the Lighthouse Board and approval for building a lighthouse on Eldred Rock was granted in 1905. The then referred to Eldred Rock light, the 10th lighthouse built in Alaska, was finished in 1906. It officially became the Eldred Rock Lighthouse and a member of the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. It is currently the oldest operating lighthouse in Alaska, though it became a minor lighthouse in 1973.
The lens used for this lighthouse was a Fresnel lens, which has two panels called bull’s-eye panels, one of which has a diameter of four feet. The smaller, opposite panel has only a fourteen-inch diameter. A pane of red glass was inserted between the light and the largest prism. This caused the rotating lens to generate alternating red and white flashes. This unique lens has been in the Alaska State Museum since 1976. The two-storied, octagonal lighthouse is larger than most and the octagonal light tower is centered in the roof. The top floor and the light tower are made of wood, while the bottom story of the building is made of concrete. This has allowed the Eldred Rock Lighthouse to remain serviceable for over a century.
The Second and Third Storm
On March 12, 1908, another storm hit Eldred Rock and delivered a real surprise from the depths of the Lynn Canal. The morning after this storm, one of the assistants to the lighthouse keeper, Mr. Currie, went outside to check for storm damages. Mr. Currie was shocked to see a stranded ship on the shore of the island’s north end. Closer inspection revealed this beached ship to be that of the Clara Nevada, almost ten years to the date of her ill fate. The storm regained its force and returned the ship to its previous grave that evening. On February 6, 1910, that same assistant, Mr. Currie, and a second assistant, Mr. Selander, shoved off in a launch belonging to the station, voyaging to Port Sherman, perhaps for supplies. The cold, snowy afternoon of the next day, the pair set out on a return voyage to Eldred Rock. They were never seen again, though the missing launch was found, intact, five days later. There were no reports of rough seas, winds or other problems in their area, other than an ebb tide, that could explain their disappearance. The lighthouse was automated in 1973, removing the human element from the Alaska Eldred Rock Lighthouse.