1881: The Inauguration of a Lighthouse that Would Earn the Nickname “Terrible Tilly”

January 21, 1881

On northwestern Oregon’s Pacific coast, Tillamook Rock Light – located about 1.2 miles (1.9 kilometers) offshore from Tillamook Head and 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of the mouth of the Columbia River — was first officially lit at 7:15 p.m.  “The signaling is a success,” reported Joel W. Munson, who observed Tillamook Rock Light’s initial illumination from Point Adams Light (situated near the mouth of the Columbia River). He added, “Three cheers for the new light, long may it shine.” Munson’s statement appeared in the Oregon-based Daily Astorian newspaper a couple of days later. 

Construction of the Tillamook Rock Light to help safely guide vessels in that region’s treacherous and often turbulent waters was commissioned in 1878 by the U.S. Congress. It took the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers a total of 575 days to build the lighthouse, an effort made all the more formidable by the rocky terrain as well as the severe weather conditions in that part of Oregon. The cost for constructing the Tillamook Rock Light was approximately $125,000 (the equivalent of about $3.4 million today), making that lighthouse the most expensive one built on the west coast up to that time. 

Those serving as keepers at Tillamook Rock Light found it to be a huge challenge due to both the violent storms that frequently hit the area and the structure’s isolated location. The nationwide rough-and-tumble reputation of the lighthouse earned it the nickname “Terrible Tilly.” 

After more than three-quarters of a century of service, Tillamook Rock Light was deactivated in 1957 and replaced with a red whistle buoy. “Through howling gale, thick fog and driving rain your beacon has been a star of hope and your foghorn a voice of encouragement,” keeper Oswald Allick noted about the lighthouse at the time of its shutdown.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

For more information on Tillamook Rock Light, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tillamook_Rock_Light

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