First came Dr. John S. Maggs, a Seattle dentist who left his practice to become the first keeper of Point No Point Lighthouse in 1880. His keeper's log reads...
HANSVILLE, Kitsap County — First came Dr. John S. Maggs, a Seattle dentist who left his practice to become the first keeper of Point No Point Lighthouse in 1880.
His keeper’s log reads like an overwrought drama, chronicling numerous clashes he had with a nemesis assistant:
“This a.m. Assistant Manning ran bell between 12 and 1 o’clock when there was a good horizon three miles off with not a particle of halo around the light and when I told him about it, that there was no need of running bell he said that I was a ‘damned liar.’ “
While running the show at Point No Point, keepers and their families lived in one side of a duplex built beside the lighthouse. The assistant keeper’s family lived in the other half, which unfortunately for Maggs meant only a wall separated him from Manning.
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The lighthouse having gone fully automated in 1977, Point No Point’s lightkeepers are vestiges of the past. But visitors can vicariously experience the life of a lightkeeper. For the first time in the 128-year history of the lighthouse, the keeper’s residence is being leased as a vacation rental.
The U.S. Lighthouse Society, which maintains a research library on lighthouse history, moved into the other half of the duplex in April. Its offices had been located within a San Francisco financial-district high-rise.
“For an organization like ours to be able to move to a lighthouse is exciting and will help us gain visibility,” said Jeff Gales, executive director.
The society is managing the vacation rental for Kitsap County, which about 10 years ago assumed the lighthouse property from the U.S. Coast Guard and had been renting the duplex on month-to-month leases.
Point No Point becomes the fifth lighthouse in Washington where vacationers can stay. The others are Point Robinson on Vashon Island, Browns Point near Tacoma, New Dungeness near Sequim and North Head at Ilwaco, Pacific County.
The Lighthouse Society hopes to turn the front room on its side of the keeper’s duplex into a minimuseum that would draw tourists who bounce from lighthouse to lighthouse the way rabid baseball fans take summer road trips to various ballparks.
“Lighthouses are like grandchildren,” said Elinor DeWire, of Seabeck, Kitsap County, who has written more than a dozen books on lighthouses. “You can’t say which is your favorite. Some are cuter than others. Some have better behavior. But you love them all.”
As lighthouses go, Point No Point is not particularly cute. Lighthouse form reflected function, and Point No Point needed to be close to the ground so as to not hover above the fog line. It rises a modest 30 feet, falling short of the romanticized visage of the soaring column on the sea.
The setting of Point No Point, however, is gorgeous. The lighthouse is located at the apex of an isolated sandy beach littered with driftwood — perfect for long, leisurely strolls, especially during low tides.
Sunsets paint the sky a searing orange. Whidbey Island, Mount Baker, Mount Rainier and the crest of downtown Seattle all are within eyeshot.
At the northern tip of the Kitsap Peninsula, Point No Point was the first lighthouse built on Puget Sound, strategically positioned at the junction with Admiralty Inlet.
All manner of marine vessels heading to or from Seattle, Tacoma and the naval base in Bremerton pass through here: container ships, cruise liners, hydrofoils, fishing boats, tugs and barges, submarines, aircraft carriers, sailboats, yachts and even kayaks.
Boat watchers have plenty to see. And it’s a great place for bird-watching, too, as the lighthouse and duplex are adjacent to a wetland.
The current can be strong, so swimming off the beach is discouraged. But the waves are gentle as they hit shore, except when giant ships churn on by.
In the duplex, the sounds of waves produce a sleep-inducing lullaby in the upstairs master bedroom, which also boasts an unobstructed view of the Sound.
Lens like a chandelier
Scheduled to begin operation on Jan. 1, 1880, Point No Point Lighthouse suffered an inauspicious start, according to the keeper’s log.
The weather was “very cold and disagreeable,” Maggs wrote.
The powerful Fresnel lens that would shoot a light beam across the horizon had not yet arrived from France. Storm panes for the tower had yet to be installed.
Determined that a beacon would shine on the scheduled opening day, Maggs hung a common hand lantern from the top of the tower dome, draping canvas against the wind.
A Fresnel (say “fray-nel”) lens — made of angled prisms that capture light and focus it out through the center — is the apple of the eye of lighthouse admirers.
“I think it looks like a ballroom chandelier,” DeWire, the lighthouse book author, said.
The Coast Guard shut off Point No Point’s Fresnel lens two years ago, switching to a beacon rotating on a post. Aesthetically, it was like replacing a crystal chandelier with a $29.95 Home Depot lamp.
The Washington Lightkeepers Association, a preservation group that DeWire founded, along with Friends of Point No Point Lighthouse, a local group that conducts tours of the lighthouse, persuaded the Coast Guard to keep the Fresnel lens in the tower even though it no longer is in use.
“You can’t pluck the eye out of a lighthouse,” DeWire said.
Although tours of the lighthouse — weekends only, from April to September — do not include access to the Fresnel lens, its beauty easily is appreciated from the ground.
In the evening, the setting sun bathes light on the tower, giving the lens a purplish glow.
When Navy Lt. Charles Wilkes conducted his famous exploration of Puget Sound in 1841, he named the spit Point No Point because, from the ship, the point appeared larger than it actually was.
The local native tribes called it Hahdskus, or “Long Nose.”
A rock just beyond the duplex marks where the Treaty of Point No Point was signed in 1855, and thus where the tribes of the Northern Kitsap Peninsula ceded ownership of their lands to Washington Territory and Gov. Isaac Stevens.
Like the point, the lighthouse from a distance appears larger than it actually is. The duplex, on the other hand, is spacious — so roomy, in fact, that during World War II, as many as 54 Navy sailors at a time slept in hammocks in the attic while recuperating from minor injuries.
Keepers resided in the duplex until 1977.
“The lighthouse keeper was a venerable occupation,” DeWire said. “It was like being the town preacher.”
For Maggs, who sermonized about his bothersome assistant, the occupation also made him vulnerable. In one particularly nasty confrontation between the two men, Manning locked himself in the lighthouse tower, armed with a pistol, and threatened Maggs’ life if he dared come inside. Maggs reported the incident to his superiors, who arrived to escort Manning off Point No Point.
“Myself and family all feel great relief that the Mannings are all gone for we have suffered untold annoyances from the first day that they arrived here until today they left from here,” Maggs wrote in his log.
These days, annoyances for those visiting or staying at Point No Point are pretty much nonexistent. That is, unless or until Maggs and Manning decide to return for one dramatic, ghostly final showdown.
Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or firstname.lastname@example.org