Browns Point, East Passage

Browns Point, East Passage

by | Mar 16, 2021

Browns Point is a conspicuous point of land at the southern end of East Passage with a lighthouse marking the entrance to Commencement Bay, about 21 miles (34 km) south-southwest of Seattle and 4 miles (6.5 km) north of Tacoma, Washington. In May 1841, the U.S. Exploring Expedition, commanded by Lieutenant Charles T. Wilkes, entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca and sailed south into Puget Sound, making charts and naming many of the prominent features. The 224-ton brigantine Porpoise selected an anchorage in Commencement Bay and sent boats out surveying. Lieutenant Wilkes named a point marking the north entrance to Commencement Bay, Point Harris, in honor of Alvin Harris, a sailmaker’s mate on the Porpoise. In 1877, Lieutenant Ambrose Barkley Wyckoff, commanding the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey schooner Yukon, was making a hydrographic survey of upper Puget Sound and Commencement Bay and noted the same point of land on his charts as Point Brown, a name used by local residents to honor an early settler.

Point Brown was an important turning landmark for ships entering Commencement Bay and when vessel traffic increased significantly with the completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad at Tacoma in 1873, the U.S. Lighthouse Board recommended Point Brown be marked with a light.  On December 12, 1887, a lantern was displayed from the top of a post 12 feet (3.7 m) high on the tide flats about 150 feet (46 m) from shore. At high tide, the light could only be reached by rowboat. The East Passage between Elliot Bay and Commencement Bay was renowned for its persistent fog, and mariners complained that the point was in urgent need of a better light and a fog signal. In 1903, the U.S. Lighthouse Service built a lighthouse and keeper’s dwelling on Point Brown. The lighthouse was a two-story wood-frame tower 30 feet (9 m) high, perched on pilings over the shoals off the point. It was accessible at low tide but required a rowboat at high tide. In 1906, the tide flats were surrounded by riprap and filled in allowing the lighthouse keeper direct access to the tower. The keeper’s dwelling was a one-and-a-half-story Georgian-style house built on a knoll approximately 100 feet (30 m) from the shoreline. Additional outbuildings included a pump house for freshwater, an oil house, and a boathouse. On October 21, 1903, the new station keeper, Oscar V. Brown and his wife Annie L. Brown arrived at Point Brown on the lighthouse tender Heather and tended the light and fog bell for the next 30 years. Oscar and Annie Brown became such fixtures in the community that soon everyone referred to the light station as “Brown’s Point” rather than Point Brown.

In 1933, the wooden lighthouse on Browns Point was replaced with a square Art Deco-style concrete tower standing 38 feet (12 m) high and 10 feet (3 m) on each side. On July 7, 1939, the property was transferred to the U. S. Coast Guard. In 1963, the Coast Guard automated the lighthouse and closed the Browns Point Light Station. The City of Tacoma immediately began negotiating with the government for a lease and in 1964, Tacoma Metro Parks was granted a free long-term lease of the 7.2 acres (3 ha) light station for the recreation and enjoyment of the public. The Points Northeast Historical Society, a local volunteer group and non-profit organization, is restoring and renovating the light station buildings. Read more here and here. Explore more of Browns Point here:

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