Smith Island

This is the island as it appeared in 1948 from the east. The lighthouse appears at the left of the other buildings. The twin Cape Cod residences are in the center, and a third residence is behind the watch shack and other utility buildings. The buildings in the foreground were at the dock, where two small boats were stored. In use, the boats--14 to 16-ft. long-- were powered by 5 hp outboard motors (or oars). In the foreground beneath the lighthouse is a small pump house, which furnished brackish water for fire fighting and toilets. The far edge of the island was a sheer bluff about 60 feet in height. The near end of the island became a sandy spit stretching out to a tiny island (Minor Island) which held only a light and fog horn, operated from the watch house on the main island. Beyond Smith Island to the west are the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Victoria, B.C. on Vancouver Island to the north of the Straits, and Port Angeles, Washington on the Olympic Peninsula to the south.

(from Lighthouse Digest, http://www.lhdigest.com/Digest/Photopage.cfm?Photo=564 Used with permission.)

Originally, the Smith Island Lighthouse stood about 200 feet away from the island's western edge. The bluff began to erode, and when the bluff reached the front door in the 1950's, the lighthouse was abandoned. During the 1980's until the spring of 1998, the last part of the broken lighthouse clung precariously to the bluff and could be seen by passing pleasure boaters, ourselves included.

This story appeared in the January 1999 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. Copyright © 1995 - 2005 by Lighthouse Digest®, Inc. No story, photograph, or any other item on this website may be reprinted or reproduced without the express permission of Lighthouse Digest.

Author Sharlene Nelson, along with her husband, Ted, are the authors to the popular Umbrella Guide to Washington Lights, Umbrella Guide to Oregon Lights and Umbrella Guide to Oregon Lights. The Washington book has just been released in a new updated and revised edition. All three books are available from Lighthouse Depot by calling 1-800-758-1444.

Smith Island from the south, 1949. The lighthouse and the dwelling at left are already close to the eroding bluff. When this photo was taken, The lighthouse was no longer used as a residence, but the light itself was still in operation.

Smith Island buildings, 1949. The block building in right center was the watch shack, containing radio gear, generators and battery bank. The tall painted poles supported the radio beacon used for navigation. All electric power on the island was D.C, from a bank of about 18 large lead-acid truck batteries connected in series and recharged by gasoline-powered generators.

Living on Smith Island made one very conscious of the weather.

Smith Island lighthouse, 1949, from the northeast.

Smith Island lighthouse from the southeast, 1949.

Smith Island Light, 1949.

The Smith Island Light, 1949. The crystal lenses were made in Europe.

Control room in watch shack, showing timers and transmitters for radio beacon.

Minor Island Light and Foghorn. Entire building is poured concrete. Operated remotely from Smith Island watch shack. Diesel-powered generator, electric compressor to run the foghorn. Cast nameplate over door says "U S L H S 1935." Sign says, "DANGER Naval Bombing Area." Naval aircraft from Whidby Island Air Station, five miles to the east, dropped unarmed bombs and sonar buoys nearby, practicing for submarine hunting. Drums lying about on beach are oil drums, some empty.

Preparing to launch small boat at the dock. All supplies were transferred from supply ships to the island by these boats, except on occasions such as when fuel was transferred in 55-gallon drums, it came ashore via LCI landing craft. A pickup truck on the island hauled supplies between dock and light station, about 1/4 mile. (While I was there, the LCI began leaking as it neared shore, and sank just short of its destination. The fuel drums floated free and were rounded up and towed to shore. Later, a Coast Guard buoy tender hauled the LCI aboard and returned it to Seattle.

Here is a view from the dock, with a small boat plying between us and the tender out in deep water.

Fresh water system for the station. The flat structure in the rear collected rain water, which drained into the cistern and was then pumped into the wooden tanks in foreground. This provided all our fresh water except for dry spells, when ships pulled in as close as they could and transferred water through fire hoses into the tanks. The rain water tasted better.

Smith Island crew, 1948. I'm at left, and the commanding officer--a civilian holdover from when the Lighthouse Service was operated by the Commerce Department, prior to WWII--is at right. Other crew member unidentified. Dress code was quite relaxed. The dog was named Shang (short for Shanghai), owned by my wife Pat..

Dock, as visitors and family members prepare to debark via the 83-foot Coast Guard Cutter lying offshore. The planks in foreground were used to slide the 16-foot boat off the dock and into the water. At low tide, the water line might be fifty feet away from the dock. Pickup truck visible in rear. The commanding officer is holding a mail sack. Sailors at right are crew members from cutter. I think the little girl is standing on a fuel drum. Woman at left is getting some serious advice from the other woman. My wife Pat is in center with dog Shang.

South shoreline near dock. The water here is rather shallow, and when the wind is up the surf gets quite picturesque, but discouraging for attempts at launching small boats. Heaven for curious dogs. Unidentified crew member.

Click here to jump to page about the Coast Guard Cutter CG-83484