Last Visited: May, 2003
At the entrance to Winchester Bay and at the mouth of the Umpqua River, stands a sentinel of the ocean, casting its red and white beams of light some 20 miles out to sea. The 65-foot tower is situated on a hill 100 feet above sea level surrounded by US Coast Guard buildings and a Museum.
An earlier light structure, the first on the Oregon Coast, was built in 1857 on the south side of the river. It fell into the swollen water seven years later during a storm when the water eroded away the sand.
The current lighthouse was started in 1890 and was illuminated in 1894. It is the sister lighthouse to the one at Heceta Head just a few miles north of Florence. Both structures were built from the same plans.
The Umpqua Light shines through a first order Fresnel lens made of 616 glass prisms handcrafted in France and weighing two tons.
It is a beautiful display of fine craftsmanship and produces a spectacular colored light show at dusk. This is especially true if there is a very light mist in the air. The light rotates out to sea and on the trees behind it on the landward side. The light shines 24 hours a day, but visit after dark or before sunrise, if you possibly can. As you enter Umpqua Lighthouse State Park, down a winding road, the light's rainbow beacon rotates through the tall pines with alternating white, white and red beams. The 65 foot tower is brick covered with white stucco, but you will not be able to take you eyes off this fantastic lens.
The lens assembly was originally turned by a clockwork mechanism much like a grandfather clock, powered by a huge weight which had to be wound up by the lightkeeper every four hours.
This motive power is now performed by an electric motor and monitored by sophisticated equipment, which notifies the Coast Guard station if a malfunction occurs.
The original oil lamp has been replaced with a high powered 1,000 watt electric bulb. A spare bulb is mounted on a panel, which automatically moves it into place should the first one burn out.
In November of 1983 the old chariot wheel mechanism that rotates the light broke down. The Coast Guard promptly installed an airport beacon on the tower and made plans to remove the original lens. Local residents launched a storm of protest until the Coast Guard relented and repaired the rotating apparatus.
The lighthouse was restored by the US Coast Guard and is maintained by them.
Winchester Bay, Oregon
Wednesday - Saturday 10-4, Sunday 1-4, May 1 through September 30. Call (541) 271-4631 for current schedules and information.
If the person giving you the tour of the tower doesn't mention this, see if you can stick your head somewhat inside the fresnel lens. At least try and look straight up into it. You'll soon find an optical illusion. It'll appear that the lens isn't turning! Pretty wild. Give it a try.
Nearest Address: 797 Lighthouse Rd, Winchester Bay, OR
- From US101 in Reedsport, turn west onto Lighthouse Rd. This is the entrance to Umpqua Lighthouse State Park.
- Follow the road for about 1 mile until you come to parking across the street from the lighthouse. To purchase a ticket to tour the lighthouse you'll need to go to the lighthouse visitor's center which is about 200 yards further down the road.
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