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Restoration of Point Reyes Lighthouse Lens

Bill Anderson and Mike Warren, along with Peter Crook (not pictured), have been trained in maintaining the lens at Point Reyes. They are part of a team that the park calls the Lighthouse Corps. All photos by Candace Clifford

On April 18th I had the pleasure of visiting the Point Reyes Light Station in Point Reyes National Seashore located on the Pacific Coast 35 miles north of San Francisco. This special tour was part of the annual Council of American Maritime Museums conference hosted by the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. One of the highlights of the tour was seeing the first-order lens in situ. Volunteer Keepers Mike Warren and Bill Anderson were on hand to welcome us to the site, and we had the unusual priviledge of watching the lens rotate on its chariot wheels for several minutes.

Although funds were appropriated for a lighthouse at Point Reyes in 1854, disputes over title of the land dragged on for 15 years. In that period over three-quarters of a million dollars worth  of ships and cargo was lost from shipwrecks on that point.

The Barbier & Fenestre apparatus was manufactured in Paris in 1867. It has been in the tower since the light was established in 1870. The lens was transferred from the U.S. Coast Guard to the National Park Service when the light was automated in the 1970s.

Point Reyes CA 2017 Bill Anderson winds clockwork JCC
Bill Anderson winds clockwork
Weights that drive the clockwork mechanism. Keepers had to wind these weights every two hours and twenty minutes when the light was active.

According to Carola DeRooy, Museum Program Manager for the Seashore, “The National Park Service has funded a multi-million dollar restoration project for the lighthouse, lens and clockworks, and fog signal building, as well as accessibility improvements and new exhibits at the entire site. We have been in the planning stages for 2 years and the work will be starting in the fall. The tower’s roof is being replaced, so the lens and clockworks have to be removed at the beginning of the project and conservation work done while it’s out.”

A bullseye, broken in a recent earthquake, will be repaired during the restoration.

A complete condition assessment will be undertaken to see what additional repairs are necessary to the lens, chariot wheels, and clockwork. After the conservation is completed, the lens will be re-assembled as an interpretive display in the tower. It is hoped that the lens will be operated for paid “behind the scenes” tours that would help fund its maintenance.

The restoration is expected to take a year, and the park will try, with safety considerations in mind, to keep the site accessible as much as possible. The lighthouse itself will have scaffolding all around it and will likely be closed until building repairs are completed.

Currently, the lighthouse stairs are open to the public Fridays through Mondays. See the park’s visitor information for details on times the lens room is open and links to more information.

The building just below the lighthouse still belongs to the Coast Guard and the current aids to navigation (light and fog horn) are on the roof of that building.

Submitted by U.S. Lighthouse Historian Candace Clifford, May 5, 2017.

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U.S. Lighthouse Society News is produced by the U.S. Lighthouse Society to support lighthouse preservation, history, education and research. Please consider joining the U.S. Lighthouse Society if you are not already a member. If you have items of interest to the lighthouse community and its supporters, please email them to candace@uslhs.org.

3 thoughts on “Restoration of Point Reyes Lighthouse Lens

  1. Thanks for a great bit of info. Just curious about the condition of the wheel track. Understand the track wears down rapidly

    1. No wear on the wheel track that we have seen. The carriage wheels need to be replaced periodically, but I am not aware of any re surfacing or other maintenance having been done to the track. We clean the track above and below the wheels before we rotate the lens as well as wiping off the wheels and giving them a couple drops of oil to lubricate the track/wheel interface.

  2. Very nice photos and article. I have shared it on my FB page. It was a pleasure to meet Candace and all the other curatorial folks. Cheers Mike Warren

    Sent from my iPad


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