Sharon Young-Hale and Bill French stand near the now-rotating Fresnel lens French built and installed a new mechanism for as a donation to the lighthouse. Photo provided

Lighthouse beacon turning again after 14 years

A piece of history is back in working order at Admiralty Head Lighthouse.

An 1800s rotating Fresnel lens that sat stationary for an estimated 14 years is back in motion thanks to the help of an Anacortes machinist.

“When I came on staff it became one of my pet projects,” said Sharon Young-Hale (formerly Sharpe), program specialist for Washington State Parks. She had been looking for someone who had the qualifications to rebuild the rotating mechanism, which sits below and acts as a base for the very large lens.

Young-Hale found Bill French, a man from Anacortes who initially volunteered his time to get the lens rotating again. In the end he donated both his time and the cost of repairs.

“It was a super awesome blessing,” Young-Hale said. “Now we have a fully rotating Fresnel lens.

“We’re pretty excited about it.”

French did not return calls for comment.

The Fresnel lens is a type of compact lens originally developed for lighthouses by French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel. A Fresnel lens can capture more oblique light from a light source, allowing it to be visible over greater distances. Lenses came in different sizes, from the largest Hyper-Radial lens to the smallest Eighth-Order lens.

Admiralty Head lighthouse has two Fourth-Order Fresnel lenses on display — one fixed and the other now-rotating lens.

“We’re the only lighthouse I’m aware of that has two Fourth-Order lenses on display,” Young-Hale said. “They really are a piece of art.”

“The technology to put them together is amazing.”

According to the United States Lighthouse Society, the cost of a Fourth-Order lens was $1,250 and they weigh 441-661 pounds and are nearly 29 inches tall.

“Each light signature is different, that’s how ships know where they are,” Young-Hale said.

The original lighthouse, known as the Red Bluff Lighthouse, was built in 1860 and became operational Jan. 21, 1861. Red Bluff Lighthouse employed a fixed, Fourth-Order Fresnel lens in its nine-sided lantern room to produce a white light at a height of 108 feet above the inlet.

In 1899, the lighthouse was relocated to make room for the creation of Fort Casey, and in 1901 $12,000 was appropriated for the construction of a new lighthouse. The light was activated atop the new lighthouse on June 25, 1903, and the original lighthouse was repurposed to house noncommissioned officers and, for a short time, a temporary medical clinic.

In 1928, the wooden lighthouse was torn down and the lumber used to build a house on Whidbey Island.

The new lighthouse was decommissioned in 1922. It’s not known where Admiralty Head’s original lens went, Young-Hale said. After the lighthouse was decommissioned, that lens went to the lighthouse in Dungeness Spit near Sequim.

“We don’t know where it went from there,” she said.

Both Fresnel lenses are on display at the lighthouse, which is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through the summer. It is run by volunteers, who are always needed.

Fort Casey will also be hosting a celebration Aug. 5 for National Lighthouse Day in which French will be recognized for his work on the lens.

More in Life

Oak Harbor performer juggles two productions at once

She’s here, she’s there, she’s everywhere

Santa Claus sitting awhile in Oak Harbor

Posing for photos until Dec. 23 at Harborview Mall

Island Unseen: Lab Girl, The Lorax, The Hidden Life of Trees and Me

I used to think of trees as majestic, oxygen-producing shade-providers. Not anymore.… Continue reading

From regret to redemption in Dickens’ classic Christmas tale

Whidbey Playhouse ‘A Christmas Carol’ a family affair

Potters of Whidbey hosting first holiday sale

‘So many of us between Oak Harbor and Clinton’

Saratoga Orchestra offers Peter, a wolf and a ‘petting zoo,’ too

Saratoga Orchestra hosts traditional kid-friendly concert

Among family treasures is a plate that traveled west by stage coach. A handwritten note taped to the back reads: “Grandpa Angell’s Mother brought this plate across the plains in 1861.”
Reflecting on family’s past a ‘never-ending’ pasttime

Tracing ancestors focus of local genealogy club

The Greenbank Trading Post is full of collectibles for all tastes. Anthony Gatto turned the old family barn with items from estate sales over the past two decades. Years ago, his store was one of 13 such stores along Whidbey’s main route but many have closed. His mother, RuthAnne Gatto, also helps out in the store, which got its beginnings as a olace to sell her homemade crafts.
Greenbank Trading Post packed with collectibles

Shop may soon become another relic of yesteryear

Conservation District holding 50th anniversary photo contest

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Whidbey Island Conservation District,… Continue reading

Annual Vets Day program Saturday in Coupeville

The Central Whidbey community will honor veterans Saturday during the annual Veterans… Continue reading