St. George Reef Lighthouse

The St. George Reef Light is an inactive lighthouse located six miles (10 km) off the coast of northern California near Crescent City.


A rare wave-washed sentinel where the ocean hits from all sides, its beacon and fog signal warned ships of the nearby treacherous rocks and reefs. The light's location was selected because the area had a history of serious maritime accidents and its construction was a direct result of the wreck in 1865 of the Brother Jonathan. However, this site, battered by stormy waters, presented challenges to the designer as well as hazardous conditions for construction workers and, later, for lightkeepers. Unlike the typical lighthouse design by federal architect Ammi B. Young, which consisted of a separate keeper's cottage and light tower, the living quarters and light tower at St. George Reef Light were housed in the same medieval fortress-like structure on top of a 50-foot (15 m) high foundation.


The light was first illuminated on October 20, 1892. It stands 144 feet (44 m) above the waterline. The first complete survey of the rock was done in 1882, and construction began in 1883, with the blasting of the rock into a stepped pyramid to form the core that anchored the caisson to the rock. Construction was erratic for several years due to lack of funds allotted by Congress. Work was finally completed in 1891, but the lighthouse awaited arrival of its lens from France until the following year. When the light finally became operational in 1892, the total construction expense came to $752,000- making it the most expensive lighthouse ever built in the US and more than double the initial estimate.


Duty at St. George Reef was among the most difficult of any station, due to its remote location and being surrounded by unpredictable, treacherous seas. Several people died during its construction and operation, dozens resigned or sought transfer, and a few even suffered mental breakdowns. Supplies came by launch and the entire boat was hooked on the large boom and lifted to a boat deck at the base of the caisson. Storms routinely crested over the top deck of the caisson, and in 1952 storm waves even broke the windows in the lantern room 150 feet (46 m) above sea level with seawater streaming down the tower's staircase.

Termination and preservation efforts

The light station was replaced by a "floating lighthouse" buoy and decommissioned in 1975, and its 8-foot (2.4 m)-high first-order Fresnel lens was removed in 1983 for display at the Del Norte County Historical Museum in Crescent City. In 1996, transfer of the lighthouse to the St. George Reef Lighthouse Preservation Society was completed. The society conducts ongoing restoration work as well as tours of the site by helicopter from October through June.

The lighthouse is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and was commemorated on a USPS postage stamp in 2007.

Historical Information from USCG web site
References & Sources
  • Sentinel of the Seas: Life and Death at the Most Dangerous Lighthouse Ever Built, Dennis Powers, 2007


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