The Cape Flattery Lighthouse, located in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, was built on Washington state’s Tatoosh Island, which is the northwestern point of the 48 contiguous states. Construction of the lighthouse was difficult on an island that is high above sea level. It was first lighted on December 28, 1857.
By the time of the outbreak of World War II, the days of the civilian keepers of the U.S. Lighthouse Service were over at Cape Flattery Lighthouse. They had been replaced by Coast Guard personnel, who all lived on the island with their families. A weather station on the island was also staffed. With the outbreak of World War II, the government sent additional people to the island to set up a U.S. Navy intercept radio station to search for enemy transmissions and track enemy ships off the coast. A small contingent of U.S. Marines was also sent to guard the people and the all of the facilities on the island.
Recently, Judy Watson Brennan sent us a large selection of photos from when her father, Master Chief Petty Officer James Kenneth Watson. was stationed, with his wife Waneda and their small children, Jimmy and Judy, at a number of west coast Lighthouses from December of 1941 to February of 1949.
In her letter to us, Judy wrote, “My father was always a hero to me while I was growing up. Whether the situation was the flooded Mississippi Ricer or a doomed passenger plane in the Gulf of Alaska he seemed to be involved with many rescues over the years. After scanning all these photos I have a renewed admiration for all the young men and women who lived at these locations in the 1940s. To this day I feel pride when I see or hear about anything to do with the Coast Guard.
“My father and mother lived at these faraway islands, which at times, must have seemed to them like they were living on the edge of nowhere. But they managed somehow, even with small children under the age of five. There were no cell phones, no internet and no television – it must have been quite an adventure.”
CPO James Kenneth Watson was more commonly known as “Kenneth,” or “Kenny.” The photos shown here were all taken at Cape Flattery Lighthouse during the time that he was stationed there from December of 1942 to November of 1946.
Although the people living on Tatoosh Island could see the mainland, they might as well as have been living on a different planet. Being somewhat isolated, most never had a reason to leave the island during the war years. The children thought this was a normal life, and they had just as much to do, and play with, as did the kids on the mainland. The families living on the island went about their assigned duties and often celebrated special occasions together as a group.
As time went on, there was less of a need for people to live on Tatoosh Island. The Navy left the island at the conclusion of the war. In 1966, the Weather Station closed and its buildings were demolished. In 1977, the lighthouse was automated and last keepers were removed. Today, the few structures that were left after most of the buildings were demolished after automation are in total ruins. In recent years, the island and the lighthouse were turned over to the Makah Indian Tribe. There are no current plans to maintain or restore the tower.
We have published these never before published photos because they give a rare glimpse into the way life once was at the Cape Flattery Lighthouse, a lighthouse station that is now mostly gone, to be remembered only in the pages of Lighthouse Digest.
This story appeared in the
Jul/Aug 2018 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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