1922: The Course is Charted for a Replacement Lighthouse on Alaska’s Admiralty Island

March 28, 1922

The U.S. Congress formally authorized funds for both the establishment and improvement of navigational aids in Alaska, a longtime territory that would achieve statehood 37 years later. One of the end results of this congressional appropriation was the construction of a replacement lighthouse at Point Retreat, a cape on the northern tip of Admiralty Island in southeastern Alaska, to help guide vessels traveling through Lynn Canal in that region. (Lynn Canal is a natural inlet and one of the world’s longest and deepest fjords.) The original Point Retreat Light had been inaugurated in 1904.

A native Scotsman named Charles E. McLeod was among those who helped to build the new version of Point Retreat Light, which was completed in 1924. Along with helping to build lighthouses in Alaska, McLeod had worked on board a lighthouse tender and served as an assistant lighthouse keeper in that part of the world. He was hired as the first keeper of the new Point Retreat Light and, in 1926, his wife and their toddler son Charles, Jr., emigrated from Scotland to join him. Unfortunately, the McLeod family’s time at Point Retreat Light was marked by sufferings and sadness.

One of the more notable of these misfortunes took place one day after Mrs. McLeod placed her son on a dock railing at the lighthouse so she could use both her hands to change the film in her camera. While she was handling that task, however, Charles, Jr., fell 40 feet (12.2 meters) from the dock to the rocky terrain below. He initially seemed to be unscathed from that fall, but ultimately started to experience problems with both legs. Charles, Jr., was then taken to the territory’s capital of Juneau for medical care. The doctor treating those injuries proved to be inept, however, and Charles, Jr., would remain disabled for life. The McLeods’ ill-fated time at Point Retreat Light came to a tragic end when Charles, Sr., developed pneumonia and died in 1930.       

The current version of Point Retreat Light was fully automated in 1973. This lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.

Photo Credit: gillfoto (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike International license is available at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)

Additional information on both versions of Point Retreat Light is available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Point_Retreat_Light

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