A Rocky History: Tillamook Rock Lighthouse
By Angela Baumgartner
Published: 02/11/2012  Updated: 08/08/2019
"Terrible Tilly" braces against the powerful Pacific Ocean waves.
"Terrible Tilly" braces against the powerful Pacific Ocean waves.  Photo by Gary Hayes

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse is one of the most interesting lighthouses on the Oregon Coast.

Sitting atop an outcropping of rock just offshore from Tillamook Head and surrounded by ocean on all sides, the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse was first lit in 1881. Built to help guide ships past the dangerous jutting headland as they approached the Columbia River, the magnificent 62-foot tower with fog signal displayed a first-order Fresnel lens 130 feet above sea level.

Community uproar over treacherous construction conditions required sequestering out-of-area workers on a boat. To reach the site, workers swung in a hoist transported above the raging torrent. Tillamook Rock Lighthouse duly earned the nickname of "Terrible Tilly" because of the treacherous waters surrounding the rock, causing more than 2,000 shipwrecks. Large metal screens and other modifications fought against violent ocean storms hurtling 100-pound rocks against the lighthouse that was prone to broken equipment and flooding.

Up until the lighthouse was decommissioned in 1957, tales were told regarding ghosts of past keepers swirling around the tower and ghost ships passing by. In 1970, Tillamook Rock Lighthouse was registered as a National Historic Monument.

The best place to see the lighthouse and crashing waves, especially during winter storms, is the viewpoint at Ecola State Park in Cannon Beach where you can view the rock 750 feet above the rocky shoreline of Tillamook Head. The lighthouse can also be viewed from Seaside.
A Rocky History: Tillamook Rock Lighthouse