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Old July 17th, 2005, 09:54 AM
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SumTan's Pacific Northwest Trek - Part 17
Our driving through Seattle brought us to the 3rd lighthouse we were able to see on our trip, West Point Lighthouse. This 23 foot tall beacon juts into Puget Sound and was opened in 1881. It was constructed to welcome ships into Seattle.


Rundown signage at the light

West Point is equipped with a Fourth Order Fresnel lens. By the way, it occured to me that many of you may be wondering about the "order of the Fresnel lens" thing. There are some great online resources that explain this, but in short the "order" defines the focal length in the lighthouse lenses used to amplify the light source. Focal length is measured as the distance from the center of light source to the lens.


Steve & Amy and West Point Lighthouse

There are 7 orders in all, with the smaller numbers being furthest away from the light source. First Order lenses are the largest and primarily used on the seacoasts (average visibility: 22 miles). Second Order lenses are used both on seacoasts as well as the Great Lakes (average visibility: 20 miles). Third Order lenses find their usage on bays and river entraces, along with coasts and the Great Lakes (average visibility: 18 miles).


External beacon now provides light

The weirdly-named Third and 1/2 Order was used exclusively on the Great Lakes (average visibility: 17 miles). Fourth Order lenses were primarily implemented as lights for reefs, harbors, and shoals (average visibility: 15 miles).


Seattle now owns this lighthouse

Fifth Order Fresnel lens are used on breakwaters, channel markers, and lights marking small islands (average visibility: 10 miles). Finally, Sixth Order lenses find a home as pier and breakwater lights (average visibility: 5 miles).


A rocky beach... but popular

Oh, and by the way, the word is Fresnel, pronounced fra-nel'. It's two parts, with "Fre" rhyming with "Duh", and "nel" rhyming with "well". Not "FREZ-nell". Named after the French inventor, Augustin-Jean Fresnel. And that wraps up your lighthouse history lesson for today!


Tall grasses around the beacon

Anyway, West Point Lighthouse was converted to electric in 1926 and then automated in 1985, the last lighthouse in Washington with that distinction. It was also added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. As I've mentioned on previous lighthouse trips, recent moves by Congress have made it easier for the government to "dump" lighthouses on private entities when they become unneeded.


Built in 1881

The private firms, in turn, work to save and restore these historical beacons. (For those curious about the legislation, you'll want to read the National Historical Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000).


Other keeper buildings on site

In 2003, the city of Seattle applied to take custody of the lighthouse from the Coast Guard, hoping to integrate it into Discovery Park. In October 2004, the city was awarded the beacon much to the joy of lighthouse fans everywhere.


Quaint path to the lighthouse

During our visit to the lighthouse, we noted the still-very-active fog signal that was in place, going off every 15 seconds or so. The lighthouse is still buried behind a lot of Coast Guard fences and property markers, but perhaps Seattle will work to make it a little more visitor-friendly in the future.

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