Despite standing only 38 feet high, Cape Mears Lighthouse-the shortest in Oregon-guided ships through the fog effectively (with the help of a 200 ft cliff base and fancy French lens) for 73 years. Now subject to occasional vandalism, the small white lighthouse welcomes visitors who want to hear about Tillamook history and shares the spotlight with the other attractions at Cape Mears Scenic Point, such as the famed “Octopus Tree“- an unusual Sitka spruce tree, the largest colony of nesting common murres, miles of hiking trails, and whale sightings.
The lighthouse began its operation in 1890 and featured a signature signal: a fixed white light, dotted by red light flashes each minute, in a four-minute cycle. Due to its high natural platform, the light could be seen as far as twenty-one miles out at sea. The lighthouse keeper had to wind up a 200-pound weight every two hours to power up the clockwork mechanism that rotated the lens. And those were no ordinary lens! Fresnel lenses, made in France by the Henry-Lepaute firm, were shipped around Cape Horn to Cape Meares, where a hand-operated crane made from local spruce trees lifted the crates containing one-ton lens prisms up the 200 foot cliff. Made of sheet iron lined with bricks, the octagonal tower is the only one of its kind on the Oregon Coast and sits on a ledge cut from solid rock. (source: lighthousefriends.com)
After an automated beacon was installed in 1963, the old lighthouse was heading for demolition. However, thanks to local love, the old tower was spared and given in the care of Tillamook County. Sadly, with no one on premise to guard it at all times, the tower fell prey to vandalism, and the four bull’s-eye prisms were stolen from the Fresnel lens. A few years later, in 1968 the property was leased to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. The dilapidated keeper’s dwellings were replaced by a newly-built replica of the workroom and opened the lighthouse was to the public on Memorial Day, 1980.
Little by little, the stolen lens returned to the lighthouse, one during a drug raid in Portland, a second after a plea was made in a local paper, a third one was given to the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum, and the forth one miraculously appeared on the doorstep of a Cape Lookout assistant park ranger.
But alas, the happy ending was not to last: one January day in 2010, two twenty-some year olds fired shots at the lantern room, breaking fifteen panes of glass and several prisms in the priceless Fresnel lens. The estimated damage was $500,000. The two culprits were identified, arrested, then made to pay $100,000 and spend two weeks in jail three years in a row, giving them time to ponder upon their deeds.
Today, the light (made obsolete by modern GPS technology and decommissioned in 2014) is still a beautiful piece of Tillamook’s history and a must-see when driving the Three Capes Scenic route along the Oregon Coast, along with Cape Lookout and Cape Kiwanda.