Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, Washington"
Includes ... Cape Disappointment Lighthouse ... Cape Disappointment ... Cape Disappointment Fog Bell ... The Golden Age of Postcards ...
Image, 2004, Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. As seen from the North Jetty, Cape Disappointment State Park. Image taken April 9, 2004.


Cape Disappointment Lighthouse ...
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse is located on Cape Disappointment, and is the oldest functioning lighthouse on the West Coast of the United States. Cape Disappointment Light marks the north side of the Columbia River Bar. Less than two miles to the northwest is the North Head lighthouse, which provides a beacon for the northern approaches to the Columbia River Bar. The Cape Disappointment Lighthouse was constructed in 1856 to warn seamen of the treacherous river bar known by then as "the graveyard of the Pacific."

Columbia River Lighthouses ...
Four lighthouses have been located near the mouth of the Columbia River and two more were located inland. They are the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse (1856), Point Adams Lighthouse (1875), North Head Lighthouse (1898), and the Desdemona Sands Lighthouse (1902), and inland were the Warrior Rock Lighthouse (1888), at the lower mouth of the Willamette River, and the Willamette River Lighthouse (1895), at the upper mouth of the Willamette.

"... On a case-by-case basis Congress appropriated funds for design and construction of important facilities. These included lighthouses: Cape Arago (1866), Cape Blanco (1870), Yaquina Bay (1872), Cape Foulweather (1873), Point Adams (1875), Tillamook Rock (1881), Warrior Rock (1888) at the mouth of the Willamette River, Cape Meares (1890), Umpqua River, Heceta Head, Coquille River (all 1894), and Desdemona Sands (1905 [error ???, 1902, see below]). The goal was to create a system of stations with interlocking lights. On a clear night at sea, a mariner might expect to sight at any point a distinctive beacon on shore to pinpoint the location. Fog signals powered by steam engines blasted warnings from a number of the stations to tell captains to drop anchor or beat a retreat until the mists cleared. ..." [Oregon State "BlueBook" website, 2006]

Lighthouse Views ...

Image, 2005, Cape Disappointment from Chinook Point, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Cape Disappointment, as seen from Chinook Point, Washington. Cape Disappointment Lighthouse is visible. View from outside Fort Columbia State Park. Image taken February 19, 2005.
Image, 2012, Cape Disappointment from Clatsop Spit, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Cape Disappointment, Washington, as seen from Clatsop Spit, Oregon. Image taken November 26, 2012.
Image, 2005, Cape Disappointment Lighthouse from the North Jetty, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, from the North Jetty. Rocks of the North Jetty are in the foreground. Image taken April 19, 2005.
Image, 2005, Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. View from the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. Image taken April 19, 2005.


Cape Disappointment Lighthouse in 1858 ...
From the 1858 United States Senate Report "The Superintendent of the Coast Survey showing the Progress of the Survey during the Year 1858":

"... The light-house is not upon the top of the cape, but upon a spur a little to the west of the southeast point, and about 95 feet below the highest part. The tower is whitewashed, placed 192 feet above the level of the sea, and being 40 feet in height and projected against a dark green background shows well in daylight.

The light is a fixed white light, of the first order of Fresnel; was first exhibited October 15, 1856, and shows from sunset to sunrise. Under a favorable state of the atmosphere it should be seen from a height of: 10 feet at a distance of 21 miles ... 20 feet at a distance of 22 1/2 miles ... 30 feet at a distance of 23 3/4 miles ... 60 feet at a distance of 26 1/3 miles.

Its geographical position, as determined by the Coast Survey, is: Latitude 46o 16' 32.7" north ... Longitude 124o 02' 13" west ... Or, in time 8h 16m 08.9s.

Magnetic variation 20o 45' east, in July, 1851, with a yearly increase of 1.4'.

Counting round seaward from the south, it commands a horizon of about 135 degrees, that is, from S.SE. to W.NW.; so that vessels coming from the northward cannot see the light until nearly in the latitude of the river. Placed on the top of the cape, it could have been easily made to show over the northwest part of it, and would also have commanded the entire river and Baker's bay.

From Cape Disappointment we have the following bearings and distances of objects to the northward: Point Grenville NW. by N. 1/2 N., 62 miles ... Destruction island NW. by N., 84 miles ... Flattery rocks NW. 5/8 N., 118 miles.

The last line passes tangent to the coast in latitude 47o 58', where there are two well marked rocks ... ..."

Fog Bell at Cape Disappointment ...
From the 1858 United States Senate Report "The Superintendent of the Coast Survey showing the Progress of the Survey during the Year 1858":

"... A fog-bell of 1,600 pounds has been placed on the bluff in advance of the light-tower, and will be sounded during foggy or other thick weather night and day. The distinctive mode of striking we have not yet found published. The machinery is on a level with the ground, in a frame building, whitewashed, and with the front open to receive the bell. ..."

From the 1869 "Coast Pilot":

"... A fog-bell of sixteen hundred pounds has been placed on the bluff in advance of the light-tower, and is sounded during foggy or other thick weather, night and day. The machinery is on a level with the ground, in a frame building, white-washed, and with the front open to receive the bell, which strikes nine consecutive blows each minute. ..."

The fog bell was discontinued on September 1, 1881, because, according to the 1889 "Coast Pilot":

"... The Fog-bell at Cape Disappointment was discontinued September 1, 1881, because it could not be heard when a vessel was approaching the bar. ..."

From 1889 until 1969 the Cape Disappointment fog bell resided at the Warrior Rock Lighthouse on Sauvie Island. Today the bell resides at the Columbia County Courthouse in St. Helens, Oregon, and sits at the front entrance to the new building.


Image, 2007, Courthouse, St. Helens, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Entrance new section, Columbia County Courthouse, St. Helens, Oregon. Fog bell on the right is the original bell from Cape Disappointment. Image taken February 17, 2007.
Image, 2007, Cape Disappointment Fog Bell, St. Helens, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Cape Disappointment Fog Bell, Columbia County Courthouse, St. Helens, Oregon. Image taken February 17, 2007.
Image, 2007, Cape Disappointment Fog Bell, St. Helens, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Cape Disappointment Fog Bell, Columbia County Courthouse, St. Helens, Oregon. Image taken February 17, 2007.

Scripture reads:
"Cast by J Bernhard & Co
No.78 N 6 St
Philada 1855"


"The Golden Age of Postcards" ...

The early 1900s was the "Golden Age of Postcards", with the "Penny Postcard" being a popular way to send greetings to family and friends. Today the Penny Postcard has become a snapshot of history.

Penny Postcard, Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, ca.1908 Penny Postcard: Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, ca.1908. Penny Postcard, Postmarked 1908, "Fort Canby Light House, Ore." Note the cannons of Fort Canby. Card #12, O.W. Whitman, Astoria, Oregon, "hand-colored". In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.
Penny Postcard, Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, ca.1912 Penny Postcard: Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, ca.1912. Penny Postcard, Postmarked 1912, "Fort Canby Lighthouse, Mouth of Columbia River, near Seaside, Oregon." Note the cannons of Fort Canby. Published by Pacific Novelty Co., San Francisco. Card #5222. Card is postmarked September 5, 1912. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.


From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, November 18, 1805 ...
A little cloudy this morning I Set out [from their camp at Station Camp] with 10 men and my man York to the Ocian by land. i. e. Serjt. Ordway & Pryor, Jos. & Ru. Fields, Go. Shannon, W. Brattin, J. Colter, P. Wiser, W. Labieche & P. Shabono one of our interpreters & York. [according to Moulton, Clark gave the other men's names in two inconsistent lists --- those named included Clark, Ordway, Charbonneau, Pryor, the Field brothers, Shannon, Colter, Weiser, Labiche, Bratton, and York.] I Set out at Day light and proceeded on a Sandy beech

N. 80 W. 1 Mile to a point of rocks about 40 feet high [Chinook Point, now the location of Fort Columbia], from the top of which the hill Side is open and assend with a Steep assent [Scarboro Hill] to the tops of the Mountains, a Deep nitch and two Small Streams above this point, then my course was

N. W. 7 Mile to the enterance of a creek [Chinook River] at a lodge or cabin of Chinnooks passing on a wide Sand bar the bay to my left [Baker Bay] and Several Small ponds Containing great numbers of water fowls to my right; with a narrow bottom of alder & Small balsam between the Ponds and the Mountn. ...     This Creek appears to be nothing more than the conveyance of Several Small dreans from the high hills and the ponds on each Side near its mouth. here we were Set across all in one Canoe by 2 Squars to each I gav a Small hook

S. 79 W. 5 Miles to the mouth of Chin nook river, [today's Wallacut River] passed a low bluff of a small hite at 2 miles below which is the remains of huts near which place is also the remains of a whale on the Sand, the countrey low open and Slashey, with elivated lands interspersed covered with pine & thick under groth This river [Wallacut River] is 40 yards wide at low tide- here we made a fire and dined on 4 brant and 48 Pliver which was killed by Labiech on the coast as we came on. ...     after dineing we crossed the river in an old canoe which I found on the Sand near Som old houses & proceeded on-

S. 20 W. 4 Miles to a Small rock island in a deep nitch     passed a nitch at 2 miles in which there is a dreen from Some ponds back, the land low opposite this nitch a bluff of yellow Clay and Soft Stone from the river to the Comencement of this nitch     below the Country rises to high hills of about 80 or 90 feet above the water- at 3 miles passed a nitch- this rock Island is Small and at the South of a deep bend [near Illwaco, Washington] in which the nativs inform us the Ships anchor, and from whence they receive their goods in return for their peltries and Elk Skins &c. this appears to be a very good harber for large Ships. here I found Capt Lewis name on a tree. I also engraved my name & by land the day of the month and year, as also Several of the men.

S. 46 E. 2 Miles to the inner extremity of Cape Disapointment passing a nitch [location of Fort Canby] in which there is a Small rock island, a Small Stream falls into this nitch from a pond [today O'Neil Lake lies between Fort Canby and McKenzie Head] which is imediately on the Sea Coast passing through a low isthmus. this Cape is an ellivated <Situat> Circlier point [location Cape Disappointment Lighthouse] Covered with thick timber on the iner Side and open grassey exposur next to the Sea and rises with a Steep assent to the hight of about 150 or 160 feet above the leavel of the water <from the last mentioned nitch-> this cape [Cape Disappointment] as also the Shore both on the Bay & Sea coast is a dark brown rock [basalt]. I crossed the neck of Land low and of a mile wide to the main Ocian [today Waikiki Beach is located on the ocean side of this isthmus], at the foot of a high open hill projecting into the ocian, and about one mile in Sicumfrance. I assended this hill [McKenzie Head] which is covered with high corse grass. decended to the N. of it and camped. I picked up a flounder on the beech this evening.-

from Cape Disapointment to a high point of a Mountn. which we shall call [the Nicholas Biddle version has Clarke's Point of View inserted here. "Clarke's Point of View" is today's Tillamook Head, a name received when Clark visited and climbed the formation in Janaury 1806.] beares S. 20 W. about <40> [WC?: 25] miles, point adams is verry low and is Situated within the direction between those two high points of land, the water appears verry Shole from off the mouth of the river for a great distance, and I cannot assertain the direction of the deepst Chanel, the Indians point nearest the opposit Side. the waves appear to brake with tremendious force in every direction quite across a large Sand bar lies within the mouth nearest to point Adams [Point Adams] which is nearly covered at high tide. I suped on brant this evening with a little pounded fish. Some rain in the after part of the night. men appear much Satisfied with their trip beholding with estonishment the high waves dashing against the rocks & this emence ocian.





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*River Miles [RM] are approximate, in statute miles, and were determined from USGS topo maps, obtained from NOAA nautical charts, or obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2003

Sources:    "LighthouseFriends.com" website, 2005;    NOAA Office of Coast Survey website, 2005;    Washington State Department of Ecology website, 2005;   

All Lewis and Clark quotations from Gary Moulton editions of the Lewis and Clark Journals, University of Nebraska Press, all attempts have been made to type the quotations exactly as in the Moulton editions, however typing errors introduced by this web author cannot be ruled out; location interpretation from variety of sources, including this website author.
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September 2008