A Historical Look at the Cape Arago Lighthouse
Published: 10/24/2018 Updated: 08/13/2019
Circa 1910 photo courtesy of Oregon Historical Society
In the mid 19th century, Coos Bay became an important west coast shipping point for Oregon's lumber. As shipping grew, so too did the need for a navigational aid to guide vessels to the bay.
After the arrival of white settlers, Coos Bay soon became an important harbor on Oregon's South Coast. In 1866, the first Cape Arago Lighthouse illuminated the bay entrance from Cape Gregory, a promontory just south of Coos Bay. Known to the Coos Indians as Chief's Island, the lighthouse was nothing more than a 25-foot octagonal tower connected to the keeper's residence by a 1300-foot wooden walkway. Rowboats were initially used to reach the island, until 1876 when a low bridge was constructed. The bridge was not able to withstand high seas and was washed away and reconstructed many times before a tramway was built in 1891 to connect the island to the mainland. This new means of accessing the island proved to be perilous when the tramway's cable snapped, plunging its passengers 60 feet into the rocky surf below. Today, only the third-generation light remains and is closed to the public. In 1993, the site was added to the National Register of Historic Places and ownership has since transferred to the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians. Working in partnership with the Coast Guard and Bureau of Land Management, the Confederate Tribes aim to establish an interpretive center that will give visitors a glimpse into the past and opportunity to explore the rich history of Oregon's South Coast.