This past September, there was a dedication ceremony held at a large boulder to dedicate a brass plaque which marks the site of the first lighthouse on Admiralty Head, near Coupeville, Washington – the Red Bluff Lighthouse. It is located on the bluff below Battery Kingsbury at Fort Casey Historical State Park.
The Red Bluff Lighthouse got its name from explorer Charles Wilkes, who during his exploration of 1838-1842, named the area because of its reddish tint.
The wooden lighthouse was a critical aid to navigation for many years. It first became operational in 1861. When construction of Fort Casey began in 1897, the lighthouse was moved to make way for gun batteries, and the bluff, on which it was located, was lowered approximately 30 feet. A new lighthouse, named Admiralty Head, was then constructed nearby and became operational in 1903. The old Red Bluff Lighthouse was used by the Coastal Artillery Army for several years before it was razed. The lens in the old Red Bluff Lighthouse was moved over to the new Admiralty Head Lighthouse and remained in operation until 1922 when it was deactivated.
The first keeper at the Red Bluff Lighthouse was a retired Victorian sea captain, William Robertson, “a grey grizzled sea dog,” who served from 1861 to 1864. He and his Irish wife, Mary Jane, lived on their Donation Act Land Claim farm on the Admiralty Inlet named Lea Bluffs, which just recently was acquired for permanent preservation by the Whidbey-Camano Land Trust.
There is an interesting backstory associated with Daniel Pearson, who served as the second Red Bluff Lighthouse keeper from 1864 to 1878. On his website, lighthouse historian Kraig Anderson wrote: “In 1864, Asa Shinn Mercer, the newly elected president of the University in Seattle, visited Lowell, Massachusetts to recruit young women to relocate to Washington Territory to serve as teachers and help balance the none-to-one ratio of women to men. Two of the eleven ladies, known as the Mercer Girls, who traveled to Washington via Panama with Mercer that year were nineteen-year-old Josephine Pearson and Georgianna, her fifteen-year-old sister. The Pearson girls were accompanied by their father Daniel Pearson, who hoped the change in climate would improve his health. Josephine and Georgianna served as teachers in Coupeville on Whidbey Island, while their father served a watchman at the Puget Mill in Port Gamble.
“When Josephine died unexpectedly on August 21, 1864, Daniel relocated to Whidbey Island, where, later that year, he was appointed as the second head keeper of the Red Bluff Lighthouse on Admiralty Head. In March of 1865 Georgianna her left school teaching job to become the assistant keeper to her father.
“In 1866, Daniel Pearson was joined by his wife and two more children, Daniel and Flora, who came west as part of Asa Mercer’s second expedition.
With two marriageable daughters living at the lighthouse, many suitors came calling. According to Flora’s memoirs, one Sunday, ‘There were fifteen horses with men’s saddles on their backs, hitched to the fence.’
“When Georgianna married in October 1867, seventeen-year-old Flora became assistant keeper. Flora kept the log and was a favorite of the lighthouse inspectors. After describing an inspection visit in 1875, she wrote:
By order of Lt. Commander Louis Keurpoff (inspector): Be it hereby known, to whom it may or may not concern: All light keepers, either principal or assistant, in this domain of our beloved Uncle Samuel, are expressly forbidden to depart from the Territory of Single Blessedness and take up their abode in the populous State of Matrimony unless said departure be permitted and sanctioned by the Lighthouse Inspector.
“Undeterred or perhaps with the inspector’s blessing, Flora married William Engle in 1876, but continued to serve as an assistant keeper at the lighthouse until November 1878, one month after the resignation of her father.”
Upon Daniel Keeper Pearson’s death in 1897, the following information regarding his service was printed in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: “He was keeper of the Admiralty Head Lighthouse, and for 13 years, he was never absent from his post for one night. His great regularity and promptness in the business affairs of life, as well as his strict integrity in all matters, made him a most remarkable man.”
Both the Robertsons and the Pearsons are buried at Sunnyside Cemetery, a Pioneer burying ground, that is located on central Whidbey Island, near Coupeville, Washington.
This story appeared in the
Mar/Apr 2023 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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