XII. DEATH AND DISASTER ALONG THE HUMBOLDT COAST (continued)
D. AIDS to NAVIGATION
1. The Crescent City Lighthouse
In 1855, the year after Crescent City was incorporated, the California legislature passed a concurrent resolution urging the state's delegation in Congress to press for the passage of an act providing for the erection of lighthouses at "Trinidad and Crescent City."  On March 3, 1855, Congress appropriated $15,000 for the construction of a Crescent City lighthouse, and on December 8 President Franklin Pierce designated certain lands as reserved for lighthouse purposes. 
The lighthouse and keeper's quarters was constructed in 1856, and on December 10 of that year, the fourth-order light was lit for the first time by Mr. Van Court. Theophilus Magruder was named keeper on Christmas 1856.
According to the Lighthouse Board, the Crescent City light was
The keeper's quarters by the late 1860s needed funds for its maintenance. But, as is frequently the case with bureaucracies, number of years passed before money became available for the structure's up-keep. To goad he Lighthouse Board into taking action, warnings were voiced that the station was "in a delapidated condition, and should be rebuilt if the light is to be continued." The Board, itself, was of the opinion that the light was of little consequence, because no vessel could enter Crescent City Harbor after dark, and no ship bound up or down the coast could, with safety, hold a course near enough to shore to make the light. If a first-order light were erected on Point St. George Reef, the Crescent City light should be discontinued. 
The station was repaired by 1879, and in the following year the color of the dwelling was changed from "a stone-color" to light buff, and the tower painted white. Mineral oil lamps replaced the lard-oil lamps in 1881. Fifteen years later, the ten acre reservation on Battery Point was subdivided and sold at public auction. Meanwhile, the fourth order constant level lamp had been replaced by a Haines mineral-oil lamp. On May 18, 1907, the lens was replaced with a new four-panel fourth-order lens. 
In July 1939, the United States Coast Guard assumed responsibility for the Crescent City Lighthouse. Fourteen years later, an automatic light was installed, and on November 1, 1953, the United States leased the lighthouse to the Del Norte County Historical Society. 
2. St. George Reef Lighthouse
The site of this lighthouse is on Northwest Seal Rock, it being the outermost danger of St. George Reef, a cluster of rocky islets and sunken rocks projecting westerly from Point St. George. Inside the reef, close under Point St. George, is a deep, wide channel navigated by northbound steamers, during the hours of daylight, when the coast is not fogbound. The Lighthouse Board, in selecting this site for a first-order light, was influenced by several factors: (a) the tragic sinking of Brother Jonathan; (b) its position midway between Capes Mendocino and Blanco; (c) its location about six miles from the mainland; and (d) the large area, about 40,000 square feet of rock, above low-water mark, available as a construction site. 
On April 3, 1883, a construction crew left San Francisco in the schooner La Ninfa. The party numbered 25, consisting of crew, quarrymen, stonecutters, and a blacksmith, with an outfit of provisions, fresh water, and tools. La Ninfa was towed by the wrecking steamer Whitelaw, having on board four sets of moorings. After a stormy passage, Whitelaw succeeded in making Northwest Seal Rock, on the morning of April 9. A 12,000-pound mushroom sinker was lowered. Despite a heavy sea, La Ninfa was made fast. 
It had been assumed that the spar buoy could be secured at 18 fathoms, but it was found that the depth was 30 fathoms, and that the spar buoys were too small. Larger ones would have to be secured. The steamer headed for Humboldt Bay, the nearest point where they could be procured. It was April 28 before Whitelaw, having secured the buoys, returned to Northwest Seal Rock to find the schooner gone and no trace of the moorings.
The weather being favorable, the ship laid the remainder of the moorings and awaited the reappearance of La Ninfa. When the schooner did not show up, Whitelaw on May 3 proceeded to Humboldt Bay. On her arrival, the crew learned from the brig Josephine that they had sighted and spoken to La Ninfa during a gale off Cape Mendocino on April 30. After taking on coal, Whitelaw was again taken out to sea, and on May 6 she found the missing schooner. From the captain, Superintendent of Construction A. Ballantyne learned that during a storm on the night of April 22, La Ninfa's line had parted, and she had been driven north, then south. Whitelaw was employed to drag for the missing moorings, but she was unsuccessful. Arrangements having been made with Hobbs, Wall for lease of Crescent City, Whitelaw was discharged. 
On May 9, 1883, the construction people made a landing on the rock. Ringbolts were positioned, springlines run, and the schooner made fast. The next day, the 10th, blasting powder was landed and drilling started on the north side of the rock. By the end of August, the benches, ten feet wide around the outline of the pier, had been formed by blasting, and only required to be finished off by stonecutters. In addition, space was blasted for the water supply, allowing for a storage capacity of 77,000 gallons.
By September 28 the site had been prepared and was ready to receive the masonry. The tools and men were then evacuated from the rock. The crew was paid off in San Francisco and the tools stored on Yerba Buena Island. 
In the fall of 1883, Ballantyne prepared drawings and specifications for a wharf, workmen's quarters, and stonecutters' shed on the North Spit at Humboldt Bay. Here the stone would be dressed, before it was shipped to the rock. James Simpson of Eureka, as low bidder, was given the contract for this work.
While in Humboldt County, Ballantyne's attention was called to a deposit of granite recently discovered near the mouth of Mad River. Visiting the quarry, he found a "deposit of granite boulders of a good quality," and in sufficient quantity to complete the structure. The stone was purchased at a royalty of four cents per cubic foot. A contract was made with the railroad to haul the stone from the quarry to the stoneyard for two dollars per ton. 
The spring of 1884 found work being pushed at the quarry and stoneyard, so there would be several boatloads of cut stone ready for shipment to the site.  About May 1 Whitelaw was chartered and dispatched to the reef with a large boom derrick and heavy backing anchors.  It was July 2 before the moorings were set, and the derrick positioned ashore. Meanwhile, the schooner American Boy had been chartered and outfitted in Humboldt Bay, as a quartersboat.
The appropriation act of July 7, 1884, contained only $30,000 for Northwest Seal Rock, so construction was immediately suspended and both vessels discharged, "as the work could not be carried on advantageously at an expenditure less than $15,000 per month, or $75,000 for the season." To make use of the limited funds available, Ballantyne employed a force of from 12 to 20 quarrymen and laborers and from eight to ten stonecutters in Humboldt County until October 31, 1885, when they were laid off. 
To guard against deterioration of the plant and possible loss of the derrick, a working party sent from Humboldt Bay spent the month of June 1885 raising all the moorings except one, which was replaced and rebuoyed. The derrick was secured against possible loss from its exposure to heavy seas. 
Congress on March 3, 1885, voted another $40,000 to continue the work. Ballantyne still considered the sum inadequate, ana as no appropriation was made in 1886, no work was programmed with the available funds, other than the routine care of the property.
In four years, 1883-1886, only one working season of about 100 days had been used advantageously on the rock. During a part of these four years, other attempts were made to work on the reef, but because of inadequate appropriations the plant deteriorated, and rot and rust "combined to make the first four years of work unduly expensive."
An appropriation of $120,000 having become available March 4, 1887, authority was given by the Lighthouse Board for "preparing and laying stone by hired labor, for the purchase of plant in open market, and charter of the vessels necessary on the best terms obtainable." First, crews had to be turned to removing debris that had been washed into the quarry by the winter rains; replacing the piles at the stoneyard wharf weakened by teredos; and overhauling and re-rigging the plant. The schooner Sparrow of 200 tons was chartered and fitted out as sleeping quarters for 50 workers. A large assortment of tools, rope, blocks, chain, and ironwork, together with a powerful steam winch, were shipped by the steamer Santa Maria from San Francisco on April 5.
By May 18, Ballantyne and his people had six sets of moorings positioned. The remainder of the month was spent in erecting four boom derricks and a large hoisting engine; and building a wharf for receiving materials at the rock. On June 4 the steamer Alliance reached the reef with the first cargo of building materials and stonemasons. At the close of the season's work, on October 3, the pier had been raised to a height of 18 feet. 
Work was resumed in April 1888, with funds appropriated the previous month. Two vessels were chartered. Whitelaw, which had sailed from San Francisco on April 19, reached the rock on the 26th with men, chains, rigging, tools, and lumber for the landing and men's quarters. By the time Del Norte arrived with her first cargo of building stone on May 26, the wharf with quarters for 50 men underneath had been finished. Before the season ended, the 13th course of masonry had been laid, raising the pier to a height of 28 feet, excluding the zero course). 
Congress made available $200,000 to fund the project on March 2, 1889. On April 11 Del Norte sailed for Humboldt Bay, where she took aboard men and material and proceeded to the rock. Work was commenced on the 14th course on April 30. The weather during the season was more severe than in 1888, but an improvement over 1887.
The men's quarters, although strongly built, were smashed in a May gale. None of the laborers were injured, but some of the men were washed from their bunks.
By October the pier was completed, eight courses having been laid in 1889. The walls of the boiler-room, coatrooms, and store rooms were erected and arched, while the paving of the pier was laid. With the coming of the autumn storms, work was suspended, and measures taken to secure against damage the property to be left at the site.
No attempt was made to push construction at the rock in 1890, because available funds did not warrant the effort. Work, however, was continued at the quarry and stoneyard, preparing stone for the tower. Sufficient stone having been dressed by July 1, the crew was discharged and the stoneyard placed in charge of a watchman. 
On September 30, 1890, $81,000 was allotted for construction. This made a total of $721,000 appropriated, which was the estimated cost of the structure. Early in 1891 plans were made to complete the station. On April 10 the steam schooner Sunol sailed from San Francisco for the reef, by way of Humboldt Bay. She reached Seal Rock on the 22d. On going ashore, Ballantyne and his 50 men found their quarters badly battered and no mooring buoys. Work was resumed on May 1, and they commenced setting flagging on top of the pier. The first stone of the tower was positioned on May 13 and the last on August 23. A four-boom derrick was rigged inside the tower for supplying masons with stone; it also served as an inside scaffold. A double hoist was erected for mortar, and the falls of both hoists were carried to steam winches.
One June 16 occurred the only serious accident during the construction of the tower. One of the riggers, while letting go a tag line of the big derrick boom, was swept over the pier to his death.
From August 23 to October 29 the crew was busy taking down scaffolding; erecting ironwork; pointing stonework; putting in concrete arches in the tower; laying concrete floors in the pier rooms and upper hallways; leveling platforms for landings, derrick seat, and hoisting-engine bed; building donkey-engine house; plastering rooms in tower; carpenter work; painting metal work; varnishing all woodwork; and setting up the foghorn signal boilers and machinery. All work was finished by October 31, but Ballantyne was unable to get his people off the rock until November 8, because of the heavy sea.
The station was left in charge of three keepers, and the construction people with tools and rigging embarked. The tools were stored at Yerba Buena and the men paid off in San Francisco on November 18, 1891. 
In July 1892 the lens for the lighthouse reached San Francisco from France, and in August it was taken by a tender to the station, and installed. The St. George Reef Lighthouse was finally lighted on October 20, 1892, with a first-order light, flashing alternately red and white, with 15-second intervals between flashes, illuminating the entire horizon. 
The hoisting engine left behind by the construction people to be used in landing supplies broke down in 1892. It was replaced by a new double-drum hoisting engine and boiler, erected on the top of the pier. A small house was built over them to protect them from the weather. 
On October 17, 1893, the 1st assistant keeper and the station's 18-foot boat were lost in an an angry sea. In January 1894 the station was provided with a new boat. A set of boat davits were put up on the Crescent City wharf to enable the keepers to secure their craft while ashore. 
A scarcity of water caused the Lighthouse Board on March 1, 1895, to change the fog signal to longer silent intervalsthis would reduce the expenditure of steam. The foghorn would now give a 5-second blast to be followed by a silence of 75 seconds. 
One of the keepers was injured in 1901, while attempting to hoist the launch from the water. To correct this situation, a new boom, 90 feet long, was placed on the derrick and guyed to the tower. This greatly improved facilities for landing supplies and taking the launch from the water, as the boom extending farther from the side of the rock reached a point beyond a treacherous eddy which had heretofore made landing dangerous.
Probably the most violent storm experienced at this lighthouse was in 1923. Mountainous seas from a nor'wester broke on the platform of the tower, 70 feet above water, with such violence as to tear the donkey-engine house from its foundation. 
3. Redding Rock Light
An unattended automatic acetylene light was placed on Redding Rock in 1912. This light was on a black, steel skeleton tower, 116 feet above the ocean. It would operate for six months on one change of gas, and it cost when erected $3,800.
The six-man crew charged with installing the light was marooned on Redding Rock by bad weather and had to spend the night there. The next day they were taken off "by throwing them ropes which they tied around their waists." The men then leaped into the sea and were drawn into the tender. 
Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004