The California Battery Point Lighthouse, located near the Oregon border, gets its unusual name from a trio of cannons! The cannons were retrieved from a ship named, America, which tragically burned up in the Crescent City Harbor, in 1855. The cannons, often fired from the point on Independence Day, have long since been removed, but the name, Battery Point, stuck.
Early California Battery Point Lighthouse Keepers
First lit in 1856, the cape cod style lighthouse has quite the stories to tell! Its first real keeper, Mr. Theophilus Magruder from the east, moved in to tend the light on Christmas Day 1856. Many locals nicknamed the light, Christmas Light, because of this. Theophilus, manned the light tower for many years, resigning when his $1000.00 annual salary was slashed nearly in half.
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By 1875, the lighthouse became worn down and there was some question as to whether it was a necessary light. Mariners decided it was needed, thus Captain John Jeffrey, his wife Nellie and their children moved in to tend Battery Point Lighthouse. The Jeffrey family entertained many adventures during the thirty nine years they lived there. This includes a story that is told about a wave that took out the kitchen wall, causing the lighthouse to catch fire! Thankfully, the wave that followed quickly put out the fire! Also, at times, Mr. Jeffrey had to get out the boat and bring the children to shore for schooling. Once the children were grown, it is said that one of the Jeffrey boys took an assignment as a lighthouse keeper, following in his father’s footsteps.
Modernization Brings Changes to the California Battery Point Lighthouse
Eventually, the California Battery Point Lighthouse became automated, was given an updated 375mm lens and turned into a museum. Curators, Clarence and Peggy Coons, experienced much weather and natural upset, right along with the beloved lighthouse. There were bouts of giant waves that battered and broke into the tower, a tsunami, and an incredible 1964 earthquake!
Peggy’s personal notes recall, with horror, the night the enormous waves, brought about by the earthquake, washed over and crashed upon the poor, unsuspecting Crescent City! She compared the crash and withdrawing of the waves, with someone who pulls the plug of a giant drain. Peggy recalled that she, along with her husband, had quickly dressed that moonlit night and had found themselves trying to run to the tower for cover, only to experience a giant black wall of water crashing down upon the island. She remembers seeing the island shift and change before her eyes. There was violent fire that began exploding the Texaco tanks, like fireworks gone wild! While the lighthouse suffered little, sadly, eleven people died and twenty nine city blocks, including ninety one homes were destroyed.
In 1965, a decision was made to turn off the lamp and allow a flashing light at the edge of the breakwater to help navigate the waters. In 1982, the lighthouse was switched to the on position once again, becoming a privately lit guide for harbor travelers. Today, visitors traveling by foot will find a museum full of maritime history, photos and little treasures that speak of days gone by. There is even a resident ghost that has been spotted! Caretakers of the California Battery Point Lighthouse are happy to keep her lit and to give tours of this trustworthy coastal gem.