Chiefs Island, Cape Arago

Chiefs Island, Cape Arago

by | May 22, 2021

The Cape Arago Light is the third of a series of light towers built on Gregory Point and Chiefs Island just south of the entrance to Coos Bay, about 8 miles (13 km) west-southwest of Coos Bay and 3 miles (5 km) west of Charleston, Oregon. The headland was originally named Cape Gregory by Captain James Cook on March 12, 1778 after Saint Gregory, the saint of that day. It was later renamed Cape Arago after François Arago. Chiefs Island was named by the Coos people whose homelands include the headland across from the island.

The first light was built in 1866 and was nothing more than an octagonal tower 25 feet (7.6 m) tall with a steel skeleton base. The tower was located on Gregory Point at the northwest end of Chiefs Island and connected to the keeper’s residence by a wooden walkway 1,300 feet (400 m) long. The location was very exposed to dangerous wind and waves and the tower was in frequent need of repair. In 1909, a new wooden tower was built on Chiefs Island that was 100 feet (30 m) above sea level and provided better illumination. However, erosion eventually threatened this light as well, and in 1934, a third tower was built that is now the only surviving structure on the island. The original lighthouse was blown up with dynamite and removed in 1936, the keeper’s residence was razed in 1957, and the second lighthouse met the same fate in the 1960s. In 1966, the remaining light was automated, and in 1993, the Fresnel lens was replaced with a modern lens. The light remained a beacon for Coos Bay until it was decommissioned in 2006.

The site is now closed to the public, and the entire area is fenced off. In 2012–2013, the original wood bridge accessing Chiefs Island was severely damaged by erosion and removed. In 2013, approximately 24 acres (9.7 ha) including Gregory Point and Chiefs Island were signed over to the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw. Gregory Point is now a research reserve with 57 acres (23 ha) of subtidal and 3.5 acres (1.4 ha) of intertidal area. Read more here and here. Explore more of Chiefs Island and Cape Arago here:

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