Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore


Ranching History

When you cross Inverness Ridge toward the Point Reyes headlands, you leave the pine/fir forest behind and enter the stark beauty of the coastal grasslands, dotted with cattle and scattered ranches.

This open, working landscape is known as the Pastoral Zone. At first glance, open pastures and rolling fencelines are punctuated by windbreaks, stockponds, and feedlots arrayed around a ranch core. There, the mix of nineteenth century redwood homes and barns with twentieth century aluminum and steel utility buildings becomes evident, suggesting the evolution of the dairy industry. In fact, the National Seashore visitor has happened upon one of the earliest and largest examples of industrial-scale dairying in the state of California.

The Alchemy of Grass Turned to Gold
The 1849 California Gold Rush brought an influx of capitalists, merchants, professional practitioners, laborers, and agriculturists, amongst others seeking alternative wealth along the shores of San Francisco Bay. Some of those who vainly sought mineral gold in the Sierra Nevada foothills came further west, finding gold of another kind at Point Reyes. With their dairying skills honed in their previous homes, they could envision production of golden wheels of cheese and casks of butter to provision the growing population of nearby San Francisco. The treeless coastal plain beckoned with opportunity.

The early American settlers of the 1850s were impressed with the cool, moist climate of Point Reyes, providing near-ideal conditions for raising dairy cows. Abundant grass and forbs, a long growing season, and sufficient fresh water supplies promised productivity well in excess of domestic need. Unknown to the early ranchers, the expansive coastal prairie was most likely the byproduct of burning, weeding, pruning and harvesting for at least two millennia by Coast Miwok and their antecedents.

The Franciscan missionaries set the stage for the explosion of dairy in west Marin with the introduction of feral cattle in 1817. They established the San Rafael Asistencia, near San Francisco Bay, as an annex to Mission Dolores in San Francisco, serving as a recuperative center for ailing Coast Miwok and Ohlone natives. Secularization of the missions following Mexican independence from Spain led to land grant subdivision and the expansion of cattle ranching on the peninsula.

Creation of an Empire
The advancing front of Americano ranchers brought to light poor record keeping, and the behavior of several Mexicano land grantees coveting and utilizing a neighbor's adjacent parcel. As land was sold to the new immigrants, the title to the land usually became ensnared in litigation. During a five-year period ending in 1857, the San Francisco law firm of Shafter, Shafter, Park, and Heydenfeldt obtained title to over 50,000 acres on the peninsula, encompassing the coastal plain and most of Inverness Ridge. Unlike the small dairy operations pre-existing on the peninsula, these Vermont-native lawyer / businessmen saw the opportunity to market large quantities of superior quality butter and some cheese under a Point Reyes brand to San Francisco. The remote location of Point Reyes would be overcome with the expeditious delivery of finished products and livestock to the foot of Market Street by way of small schooners, and eventually by rail and ferry.

Initially, the Shafters signed new leases with the existing dairy ranches. The singular exception was the sale of Tomales Point to an old friend from Vermont, Solomon Pierce. The Pierce family built a small town to support their isolated twin dairy ranches with the commanding views of the Pacific and Tomales Bay. In time, the Pierce Point Ranches out-competed the Shafter dairy collective in production and quality of finished product.

Oscar Shafter's son-in-law C. W. Howard, and the Shafter brothers proceeded to divide the remainder of their real estate into a tenant dairy enterprise in 1866. The land was subdivided into 33 ranches. Three years later, the business partners partitioned the dairies into six tracts, leaving each to own and manage a collection of coastal plain and ridgeline ranches. Oscar Shafter and Howard utilized the letters of the alphabet to name their individual ranches. "A" Ranch was located closest to the headlands; "Z" Ranch was located at the summit of Mt. Wittenberg, while several letters were left unneeded. James Shafter bequeathed more poetic names like Drakes Head, Muddy Hollow, Oporto and Sunnyside.

The Shafters and Howard employed family members, local residents, or recruited European dairymen as superintendents to construct new dairies, refurbish existing ranches, recruit immigrant ranch hands, and aid selection of the tenant ranchers. The tenant ranches were rented by Irish, Swedish, Italian-speaking Swiss, and Azore Islands-Portuguese families. Surviving Coast Miwok families displaced by the Spanish missions also found work on the dairies situated above their Tomales Bay homes. The Shafters envisioned creating a more civil society for the nineteenth century Bay Area, refining bachelor ranch hands and educating ranch family children. Chinese, Canadian, Filipino, Mexican and German immigrants all found their chance to get started in America through dairying at Point Reyes.

The "Butter Rancho"
The ultimate success of the Shafter / Howard dairy enterprise rested on their ability to market and negotiate contracts with high-end hoteliers and fine food purveyors. The Point Reyes brand of butter conveyed a high level of quality, attested in articles in local contemporary newspapers. "The grass growing in the fields on Monday is butter on the city tables the following Sunday," as the 1880 History of Marin County reported. The brand with letters "PR" inside a star was stamped into cheesecloth-wrapped rolls or casks of butter. This familiar symbol was actually forged by other dairy farmers of the time.

Record yields of butter and cheese came from the dairy farms at Point Reyes throughout the late 19th century. Herds of Devons, Jerseys, Guernseys, and later on Holsteins, numbering from 100 to 250 cows per ranch, catapulted the Point Reyes enterprise as perhaps the largest operation in the early years of the state. In 1867, Marin County produced 932,429 pounds of butter, the largest yield of butter in California. These huge amounts of butter were produced in an era when the finest restaurants served every good steak with a melting slab of butter on top.

The distance to San Francisco and east Marin communities precluded the ability to ship milk for domestic consumption. In the absence of refrigeration, the raw milk was briefly useable by the ranch families and employees. Collected by milkers either outdoors or inside large milking barns, raw milk sat in pans inside dairy houses to allow for cream separation. The surplus skim milk was dumped into a drain leading to an open trench, finding its way to penned, thirsty hogs. It was not unusual to see swine and casks of butter shipped off together on the decks of schooners headed for the city.

The estates of the three Shafter / Howard families declined shortly after the turn of the century. Following the 1906 earthquake, several dairies located on Inverness Ridge shuttered their doors. Although building damage contributed to their demise, these ranches failed due to the absence of Coast Miwok burning and the rapid expansion of native coyotebrush and poison oak thickets, leading to dramatic reductions in grazeable pastures for cows. By 1933, all ridgeline dairies were gone.

The demand for Shafter / Howard ranch produce waned, particularly as transportation throughout the Bay Area improved. Other regional dairies were improving their quality, quantity and distribution of produce, while the cumulative impacts of overgrazing on Point Reyes had caused a significant decline in pasture quality. The accumulation of massive debt, the 1929 stock market crash, and the close of the Depression ultimately brought an end to the three estates, and the "butter rancho". Land speculators picked up the pieces, and in most instances resold the ranches to the contemporary tenants.

The Transitional Years
The Shafter / Howard enterprise "corresponded to the feudal system of England", according to the San Rafael Independent in 1939. The new owners had chafed at the terms of their leases and the increasing inability of their landlords to make capital improvements to their dairy infrastructure. The timing of the demise of the Shafter family estates coincided with Federal and state regulation of milk production for consumer health. Butter production shifted from the individual ranches to cooperative creameries located on "F" Ranch and railroad town of Point Reyes Station. The most important improvements, in the form of more profitable Grade A dairy operations, began to appear in 1935, though most were constructed after the conclusion of World War II. Ranch homes and bunkhouses built in the 1870s were found to be too small and difficult to maintain, and began to be replaced with stucco-covered, single story residences.

During the Depression, ranchers struggled to make ends meet. It was not uncommon for ranchers to augment their incomes with expanded livestock production, such as beef cattle, chickens, and eggs. Several ranches invited Japanese immigrants to raise peas, and Italian immigrants to cultivate artichokes on more remote parcels. These ventures were usually successful. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, and the subsequent internment of the Japanese-Americans and relocation of Italian-Americans, the fields went fallow for lack of labor, and mounting soil erosion problems. During Prohibition, whiskey and rum smuggling at Home Ranch on Limantour Estero replaced dairy operations as their sole source of income.

Others changes were coming. The Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937, expediting movement of produce from the North Bay region into San Francisco. During World War II, the ranches became connected to the regional electric power grid, replacing gas-powered generators to run milking and refrigeration equipment. The cooperative creameries closed, allowing for ranchers to sell raw milk as commodity to regional creameries. After the war, some dairies ceased operation, converting to far less labor-intensive beef cattle operations. Probably most important, fresh war veterans who had transited through San Francisco enroute to the Pacific theatre decided to relocate their families to the Bay Area, swelling the tide of suburbanization into Marin County.

Advent of a New Landlord
Marin County had embraced a favorable growth plan in the 1950s and 60s to benefit real estate developers and speculators, with assistance from the state department of transportation. With the influx of new residents, many of them affluent, property taxes for the county as a whole dramatically increased. At the same time, dairy operators nationally saw prices for the products drop considerably. Dairies regionally had been closing or consolidating for sometime, but the combination of economics, competition, labor costs, taxes, environmental regulation, and land values accelerated the pace. Point Reyes dairies feared the loss of the quality of life as much as declining profitability. If more dairies closed their doors, the fear rose that the supporting dairy industry infrastructure might collapse. Most important, the ranchers valued the pastoral landscape that their parents and grandparents had set roots in, often back to the nineteenth century.

In order to secure their place at Point Reyes, the dairy and cattle ranchers formed an uneasy alliance with the Sierra Club in hopes of preserving their ranches and west Marin open space. The National Park Service had actively sought to establish a literal beachhead on the California coast, and Point Reyes in particular, as early as 1936. Washington was approached to help solve the pressing needs of many local and national constituencies. The compromise hammered out by Congress and signed by President Kennedy in 1962 explicitly provided for the retention of the ranches in a designated pastoral zone, with ranchers signing 25-30 year reservations of use and occupancy leases, and special use permits for cattle grazing. Over the ensuing ten years, NPS acquired the 17 remaining operating ranches and the property of the abandoned ranches.

In 2002, six historic Shafter / Howard era dairies are operating in the park. An additional nine occupied historic ranches and former ranch sites run beef cattle. The Pierce Point Ranch on Tomales Point ceased operations in 1973. Three years later, Congress authorized creation of the wilderness area incorporating that ranch as habitat for the reintroduction of tule elk. Beginning in 1980, NPS invested in the rehabilitation of the ranch core, citing it as the best example of a nineteenth century west Marin dairy ranch. Pierce Point Ranch was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985, and was subsequently opened to the public as an interpretive site.

The former "W" or Bear Valley Ranch was early on designated as the new National Seashore's headquarters. Visitors to the Bear Valley Visitor Center pass through the former ranch core, adaptively reused for park administration and support services. The visitor center itself is a new addition, designed to echo the surrounding agricultural landscape and local history. Plans call for seventeen ranches on Point Reyes to be included on the National Register as a historic landscape district.

Imagine what this windswept, fog-enshrouded landscape may have looked like almost two hundred years ago, before the first cattle made their way here. Imagine Coast Miwok coexisting with tule elk, grizzly bear, mountain lion, whales, dolphins, countless birds and their innumerable prey species. Then imagine the early beginnings of these formerly remote ranches as you drive by enroute to the lighthouse or the tule elk preserve. Perhaps you can imagine in 1916 Pierce Ranch school teacher Helen Smith walking into the creamery to scoop a small cup of cream from the cooling pans to pour over her breakfast pancakes. Her experience is a far cry from our contemporary neatly wrapped packages of butter and milk purchased at the local supermarket. If, on your way home from Point Reyes, you should stop to treat yourself with ice cream, don't be surprised if several days ago it started as grass and a cow you just passed.

For more information, refer to Ranching on the Point Reyes Peninsula: A History of the Dairy and Beef Ranches within Point Reyes National Seashore, 1834-1992. By D. S. (Dewey) Livingston, National Park Service, 1993, revised 1994. It is available at reference desks of local libraries, museums and university libraries. An automotive tour of the pastoral landscapes in west Marin on cassette tape, produced by Marin Agricultural Land Trust, is available at National Seashore visitor centers. Tours of selected West Marin ranches are offered periodically by Marin Agricultural Land Trust.


Historic Landscapes

The Point Reyes peninsula is remarkably covered with numerous layers of human activity that have left sometimes overt, other times subtle changes on the landscape. Those changes, imposed upon a rugged coastal environment, were filtered through the lens of cultural values, traditions, lifeways, economies and technologies of people who emigrated from small and great distances over a period of several millennia though current time.

The National Seashore has identified twelve historic cultural landscapes within its boundaries and the north district of Golden Gate National Recreation Area administered by Point Reyes. Over time, each is being documented, evaluated and where necessary rehabilitated, following guidelines of the National Register of Historic Places.

The dairy and cattle ranches on Point Reyes peninsula represent the single largest cultural landscape. The smallest is located at nineteenth century lime kilns located in the Olema Valley. Landscapes can range in scale from historic sites to substantial districts. They may express a high level of design, as seen in the two former RCA / Marconi Wireless Stations on Point Reyes and Bolinas. Conversely, there are vernacular, or homespun landscapes developed out of need or desire over time, rather than arising from measured designs. The ranches along Lagunitas Creek and the Olema Valley fall in this category. In the absence of archived documents of written histories, ethnographic landscapes are dependent on oral histories and material artifacts to piece together an understanding a cultural groups heritage. Examples at Point Reyes include the inhabitation and resource collection and processing sites for the Coast Miwok in historic and prehistoric time, and the I.D.E.S. Hall of the Portuguese ranching community that once stood on "N" Ranch.

The cultural landscapes in the National Seashore include:

  • Point Reyes Ranches Historic District: over 22,000 acres on the coastal plain, highlighting the origin of ranching in west Marin, and emphasizing the history of the Shafter / Howard dairy enterprise (1857-1939), also known as the "alphabet ranches", and its contribution to the development of industrial-scale dairy in California. Many of the existing ranches are operated by descendents of the early Point Reyes dairies. The Pierce Point Ranch, now on the National Register, will be joined by the other operating ranches in the near future.
  • Olema Valley Ranches Historic District (including the Lagunitas Creek ranches): a smaller but comparable district, also with origins in nineteenth century dairying. In the absence of landlords and ranch standardization, the Olema Valley ranches display a broader architectural styles and site development, including fragmented orchards containing heritage trees.
  • Point Reyes Light Station: the 1870 lighthouse is the icon for a larger nineteenth century landscape that incorporated the adjacent equipment and transformer buildings, foghorn apparatus, the former lightkeeper's residence now used as a visitor center, and the water collection cisterns. Heading east, the former wagon road led across Charles Webb Howard's "A" Ranch to the landing and rock quarry on Drakes Bay. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Point Reyes Lifesaving Station: Built to enhance maritime traffic safety, the Drakes Bay location replaced an original 1890 U. S. Lifesaving Service station on Point Reyes Beach. The compound consists of the boathouse and barracks, housing one the last operating U.S. Coast Guard 36' motor lifeboats, and attached loading wharf, dock and marine railway. Between the boathouse and a handsome commanding officer's residence with freestanding garage and landscaped grounds is a number of supporting operations structures. A cemetery for boatmen who died in service at Point Reyes is located near the "G" Ranch. The 1927 Lifesaving Station compound is a National Historic Landmark.
  • RCA / Marconi Wireless Stations: Guglielmo Marconi sited and commissioned the building of wireless telegraphy transmitting station in Bolinas and receiving station in Marshall, on Tomales Bay, in 1913-14. They formed the foundation for the most successful and powerful ship to shore and land station, known as "KPH", on the Pacific Rim. The Marshall station was replaced in 1929 by a new Art Deco-designed facility at Point Reyes Beach on the "G" Ranch. Few of the succeeding generations of antennas, arranged in "farms", remain at the two sites. However, the radio equipment, some of it dating to the World War II-era, remains intact, functional, and used for ceremonial occasions by former RCA key operators. The Monterey cypress "tree tunnel" at the Point Reyes station is a signature landscape feature that evokes some of the prestige that RCA placed in this profitable, historic operation. Studies are underway to ultimately list both National Seashore sites and the Marshall facility, now a California State Parks conference center, together as a multiple property National Historic Landmark.
  • Olema Lime Kilns: A stone wall ruin and two arched fireboxes remain of a three-kiln operation in the Olema Valley. Built in 1850 by San Francisco entrepreneurs on Rafael Garcia's rancho, they were apparently abandoned no later than 1855 after only a few firings, probably due to the poor quality, small limestone deposits and the financial depression of that year. This archaeological working landscape is listed as California State Historical Landmark no. 222.
  • Bolinas Copper Mines: The scenic Wilkins Ranch, at the head of Bolinas Lagoon, witnessed three waves of mining fever on the upper slopes of Bolinas Ridge. Three copper mining companies organized in 1863, following the clearcutting of redwoods from the slopes of Olema Valley. Only one, in Union Gulch, produced any substantial ore, but failed due to low copper prices and high transportation costs for smelting. The Chetco Mining Company, more successful than its predecessors, closed its doors in 1918 as the last operation to work the vein. The mine's adit and shaft, having long since been secured, are accompanied by the mining road, concrete foundations and cabin site, a rusty boiler and cable, and other large debris.
  • Tocaloma Resort District: In the early twentieth century, on the banks of Lagunitas Creek, stood a substantial resort hotel and tent cabins that served as pleasuring grounds for the affluent of San Francisco, looking for healthy living and recreation. First built in 1887 to cater to a sportsman's clientele, it burnt to the ground and was replaced with a more luxurious building. Vacationers arrived at a whistlestop on the Northwestern Pacific Narrow Gauge Railroad. The 1929 stock market crash sent the resort into decline. Today, near the intersection of Sir Francis Drake Highway and Platform Bridge Road, you can see several of the small individual cabins from that era, now used as private residences. The former rail right-of-way, and a handsome bridge across Lagunitas Creek built in 1927, found on the Don McIssac ranch, also are remaining vestiges.
  • Hamlet: This small community was one of the oldest settlements on Tomales Bay. It served as flagstop on the original North Pacific Coast Narrow Gauge Railroad for shipping dairy products, hogs and fish from northern bay sources. Its businesses prospered for many decades, including a fish canning facility, oyster beds, processor and eating establishment, boat repair and overhaul facility, a small dairy, local mercantile, and vacation cabin community for hunters and fishermen. Its decline followed the increasing siltation of the bay, with the wharf abandoned by the World War II. The site today is a ruin.


Maritime History

The sea is the soul of Point Reyes. It not only affects the climate and the species found here, but it is the key influence on the human history of the area. The Coast Miwok have depended on this coastline for food and materials for thousands of years; Spanish explorers and merchants, returning with spice and silk from the Asia, navigated by these cliffs and shores; and gold miners, dairy farmers, and lumbermen counted on the ships that sailed these waters for transporting their goods to and from market. Point Reyes' maritime history is a microcosm of California's history.

Today, Point Reyes National Seashore helps preserve the maritime history of California. Among the dozens of shipwrecks that were lost in the waters off Point Reyes, lie the remains of the San Agustin. Wrecked in Drakes Bay in 1595, it is the first shipwreck in California history. The San Agustin was only the first of a long line of tragedies. While Point Reyes provided a landmark, it also posed a hazard to generations of sailors who navigated these waters.

In an attempt to reduce the number of wrecks and to provide aid in navigation along these rocky shores, the U.S. Lighthouse Service built the Point Reyes Light Station in 1870. For 105 years, it provided mariners with guidance and aid. Despite the efforts of the men and women who worked at the lighthouse, ships continued to wreck on the rocks and beaches. In 1889, the Life Saving Service opened the first of two Life Saving Stations built at Point Reyes. The second station, the Point Reyes Lifeboat Station at Drakes Beach, and the last intact marine railway on the West Coast, closed in 1968. The men stationed there attempted the rescue of victims of storm and wreck. The incredible danger of their job can be sensed in their unofficial motto, "You have to go out, but you don't have to come back in."

As technology improved, other means of protecting navigation and communication with ships at sea appeared. Beginning in 1913, Guglielmo Marconi, a pioneer of wireless radio, built radio stations in the area. Ultimately, transmitting and receiving stations in Bolinas, on Tomales Bay, and near the Great Beach reached out across the Pacific to provide communications to ships at sea. Station KPH, the maritime radio station owned by Marconi and later, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), signed off in 1997 and brought to a close an important chapter in Point Reyes' history.

Whether in climbing down the stairs to the Lighthouse or walking out to the Lifeboat Station, today's visitor can gain a better appreciation for the impact the sea has played on the history of California and in particular, on Point Reyes.


Lighthouse History

Point Reyes: A Treacherous Obstacle to Mariners
Point Reyes is the windiest place on the Pacific Coast and the second foggiest place on the North American continent. Weeks of fog, especially during the summer months, frequently reduce visibility to hundreds of feet. The Point Reyes Headlands, which jut 10 miles out to sea, pose a threat to each ship entering or leaving San Francisco Bay. The historic Point Reyes Lighthouse warned mariners of danger for more than a hundred years.

The Point Reyes Lighthouse, built in 1870, was retired from service in 1975 when the U.S. Coast Guard installed an automated light. They then transferred ownership of the lighthouse to the National Park Service, which has taken on the job of preserving this fine specimen of our heritage.

All lighthouses in the United States are now automated because it is cheaper to let electronics do the work. Many decommissioned lighthouses were transformed into restaurants, inns or museums. The lighthouse at Point Reyes National Seashore is now a museum piece, where the era of the lightkeepers' lives, the craftsmanship and the beauty of the lighthouse are actively preserved.

The Point Reyes Light First Shone in 1870.
The Point Reyes Lighthouse lens and mechanism were constructed in France in 1867. The clockwork mechanism, glass prisms and housing for the lighthouse were shipped on a steamer around the tip of South America to San Francisco. The parts from France and the parts for the cast iron tower were transferred to a second ship, which then sailed to a landing on Drakes Bay. The parts were loaded onto ox-drawn carts and hauled three miles over the headlands to near the tip of Point Reyes, 600 feet above sea level.

Meanwhile, 300 feet below the top of the cliff, an area had been blasted with dynamite to clear a level spot for the lighthouse. To be effective, the lighthouse had to be situated below the characteristic high fog. It took six weeks to lower the materials from the top of the cliff to the lighthouse platform and construct the lighthouse. Finally, after many years of tedious political pressure, transport of materials and difficult construction, the Point Reyes Light first shone on December 1, 1870.

The Lighthouse, Fog Signal and Lifesaving Station Saved Lives
Lighthouses provide mariners some safety by warning them of rocky shores and reefs. They also help mariners navigate by indicating their location as ships travel along the coast. Mariners recognize lighthouses by their unique flash pattern. On days when it is too foggy to see the lighthouse, a fog signal is essential. Fog signals sound an identifying pattern to signal the location to the passing ships. Unfortunately, the combination of lighthouses and fog signals does not eliminate the tragedy of shipwrecks.

Because of this ongoing problem, a lifesaving station was established on the Great Beach north of the lighthouse in 1890. Men walked the beaches in four-hour shifts, watching for shipwrecks and the people who would need rescue from frigid waters and powerful currents. A new lifesaving station was opened in 1927 on Drakes Bay near Chimney Rock and was active until 1968. Today, it is a National Historic Landmark and can be viewed from the Chimney Rock Trail.


The Fresnel Lens: The French Jewels
The lens in the Point Reyes Lighthouse is a "first order" Fresnel (fray-nel) lens, the largest size of Fresnel lens. Augustin Jean Fresnel of France revolutionized optics theories with his new lens design in 1823.

Before Fresnel developed this lens, lighthouses used mirrors to reflect light out to sea. The most effective lighthouses could only be seen eight to twelve miles away. After his invention, the brightest lighthouses could be seen all the way to the horizon, about twenty-four miles.

The Fresnel lens intensifies the light by bending (or refracting) and magnifying the source light through crystal prisms into concentrated beams. The Point Reyes lens is divided into twenty-four vertical panels, which direct the light into twenty-four individual beams. A counterweight and gears similar to those in a grandfather clock rotate the 6000-pound lens at a constant speed, one revolution every two minutes. This rotation makes the beams sweep over the ocean surface like the spokes of a wagon wheel, and creates the Point Reyes signature pattern of one flash every five seconds.

The Lonely Life of a Lighthouse Keeper
Keeping the lighthouse in working condition was a twenty-four hour job. The light was lit only between sunset and sunrise, but there was work to do all day long. The head keeper and three assistants shared the load in four six-hour shifts.

Every evening, a half-hour before sunset, a keeper walked down the wooden stairs to light the oil lamp, the lighthouse's source of illumination. Once the lamp was lit, the keeper wound the clockwork mechanism, lifting a 170 pound weight, which was attached to the clockwork mechanism by a hemp rope, nine feet off the floor. The earth's gravity would then pull the weight, through a small trap door, to the ground level 17 feet below. The clockwork mechanism was built to provide resistance so that it would take two hours and twenty minutes for the weight to descend the 17 feet. And as the weight descended and the clockwork mechanism's gears spun, the Fresnel lens would turn so that the light appeared to flash every five seconds. In addition to winding the clockwork mechanism every two-hours and twenty minutes throughout the night, the keeper had to keep the lamp wicks trimmed so that the light would burn steadily and efficiently, thus the nickname "wickie."

Daytime duties for the keepers included cleaning the lens, polishing the brass, stoking the steam-powered fog signal and making necessary repairs. At the end of each shift, the keeper trudged back up the wooden staircase. Sometimes the winds were so strong that he had to crawl on his hands and knees to keep from being knocked down. The highest wind speed recorded at Point Reyes was 133 m.p.h., and 60 m.p.h. winds are common.

The hard work, wind, fog and isolation at Point Reyes made this an undesirable post. Even so, one keeper stayed for about twenty-four years, a testament to his devotion and love of Point Reyes!

The Lighthouse is an Enduring Historical Legacy
The historic Point Reyes Lighthouse served mariners for 105 years before it was replaced. It endured many hardships, including the April 18, 1906 earthquake, during which the Point Reyes Peninsula and the lighthouse moved north 18 feet in less than one minute! The only damage to the lighthouse was that the lens slipped off its tracks. The lighthouse keepers quickly effected repairs and by the evening of the eighteenth, the lighthouse was once again in working order. The earthquake occurred at 5:12 a.m. and the lighthouse was scheduled to be shut down for regular daytime maintenance at 5:25 a.m. Although the earthquake caused much devastation and disruption elsewhere, the Point Reyes Lighthouse was essentially only off-line for thirteen minutes!

The National Park Service is now responsible for the maintenance of the lighthouse. Park rangers now clean, polish and grease it, just as lighthouse keepers did in days gone by. With this care, the light can be preserved for future generations - to teach visitors of maritime history and of the people who worked the light, day in and day out, rain or shine, for so many years.

Visiting the Point Reyes Lighthouse Today
The Point Reyes Lighthouse is located on the western-most point of the Point Reyes Headlands. The Lighthouse Visitor Center is open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Thursday through Monday. Here, you can see historic photographs of shipwrecks and lighthouse-keepers, and handle items on the touch table, including whale baleen. A display of local birds will introduce you to the birds you might see just off the cliffs. A small bookstore offers books, maps and other educational products. To get to the lighthouse itself, you must walk a half-mile from the parking lot to the Visitor Center, and then down 308 steps. The stairs are open 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Thursday through Monday. When wind speeds exceed 40 m.p.h., the steps to the lighthouse are closed for visitors' safety.

Seasonally, there are tours of the lantern room and evening lighting programs. On weekends and holidays during whale-watching season, the road to the Lighthouse is closed to private vehicles. Visitors must ride a shuttle bus. Please call the Lighthouse Visitor Center for details at (415) 669-1534.


"Punta de los Reyes…. God help the hapless mariner who drifts upon her shores."
San Francisco Chronicle, 1880

The dark, surging waters and treacherous crags of Point Reyes have commanded fear and respect from generations of sailors. These treacherous waters conceal the remains of ships whose crews were unwary, overconfident, or merely unfortunate. Standing on the bluffs and overlooks along the Point, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on these wrecks and what they mean to us. More than just a silent memory of past tragedies, shipwrecks are time capsules, moments of maritime history, captured by fate and waiting at the bottom of the sea to tell their stories.

Close to the vigorous port of San Francisco, Point Reyes has always been a major feature along the shipping routes. It thrusts ten miles out into the ocean. Tormented by chill, coursing currents, the sheer granite cliffs are thrashed by howling winds and concealed by impenetrable fogs - the worst the Pacific has to offer, according to a survey carried out by the United States Lighthouse Service in the 1800s. These hazards lie in wait for all ships that venture too close. Before the construction of the Point Reyes Lighthouse in 1870, over three-quarters of a million dollars in ships and cargoes were lost on the rocks. Even after the lighthouse was built, Life Saving Stations were established on Ten Mile Beach and at Chimney Rock to rescue the crews and passengers of foundering ships. To date, the Point has taken more than fifty ships and the lives of numerous sailors and passengers: ships that were never again seen from these shores and men and women who never returned to the embrace of their families and loved ones.

Before rail lines and highways connected California with the rest of the world, life here depended on oceanic shipping. Even the simplest merchandise arrived by ship. The vessels lost at Point Reyes exemplify the continuing history of shipping along the West Coast. The first ship sunk was a Spanish galleon, the San Agustin. Returning from the Philippines in 1595, a storm drove this ship onto the beaches and scattered its wreckage across Drakes Bay. Typically, the wrecks were not glamorous. They did not carry the gold and jewels that thrill treasure hunters, but the goods and supplies that fueled the growth of far-flung cities and outposts. Lumber ships and oil tankers, fishing scows and dairy schooners have been shattered on the rocks of Point Reyes. Ships continue to wreck on Point Reyes. Even with modern satellite technology, nearly every year some small vessel, a pleasure craft or fishing boat, is lost to these shores.

Shipwrecks are more than tragedies of lives and cargoes lost. They offer glimpses into the lives and histories of the ships and their sailors. Some wrecks carry with them the simple items that are rarely passed from one generation to the next. Tools, equipment, and personal items, originally of little intrinsic value, may be priceless as illustrations of the commonplace in their day. Wrecks can also provide final testimonials on ideas and techniques used to build ships that have forever disappeared from the seas.

Shipwrecks are a respected and protected part of Point Reyes National Seashore. They are archaeological sites that provide opportunities for scientific and historical research. More importantly, these wrecks serve as memorials to the work and sacrifice of the men and women who have made their lives on the sea.

European Explorers

The ancient home of the Coast Miwok people, the dramatic landscape of the Point Reyes peninsula with its wave battered cliffs, remained undiscovered by European explorers until the late 1500's. Sir Francis Drake probably first sighted and mapped the fog-shrouded headlands in 1579, at which time he is thought to have camped along the beach which today bears his name. Drake's quest for new lands and riches had taken him around South America to the Spanish trade routes of the Pacific Ocean. His ship, the Golden Hinde, was full of gold and luxuries such as porcelain, taken from Spanish galleons traveling from the Philippines to Acapulco.

During the summer of 1579, Drake came ashore somewhere in California to careen his ship to repair the hull. The ship's chaplain complained in his log of "the stinking fogges". The nearly omnipresent fog at the Point Reyes headlands throughout the summer, along with the chaplain's descriptions of the inhabitants, the landscape and the wildlife, indicate that Drake's Estero may be the location of Drake's camp. Drake claimed the land for Queen Elizabeth before setting sail southwest to complete his circumnavigation of the globe before returning to England in 1580.

During the late 1500's, Spanish galleons were making numerous voyages between Mexico and the Philippines. To sail across the north Pacific, ships from Manila would sail north before catching the prevailing easterly winds, arriving along the North American coast north of Point Reyes. It is likely that numerous Spanish crews saw Point Reyes as they sailed south along the California coast toward Acapulco and other Mexican ports where Asian luxury goods such as porcelains and spices were then shipped to Europe. We do know that in 1595, Sebastian Cermeno anchored in the calm waters of what is now called Drakes Bay. As his crew was ashore seeking fresh water, their Manila galleon stuffed with silks and spices, was wrecked in a sudden storm. The crew managed to return home by rowing their long boat to Mexico.

The Spanish had been sending ships along the Pacific Coast and overland explorations throughout North America for many years. In an age of empire building, the Spanish expanded their domain up the California coast from Mexico. Point Reyes officially entered Spanish maps on January 6, 1603 when Sebastian Vizcaino sighted the headlands on the Roman Catholic feast day of the three wise men. Following Spanish tradition, the headlands were named after these religious figures: "la Punta de los Reyes" or the Point of the Kings. Spanish expeditions along the north coast continued. Later, sailors eventually found and entered Tomales Bay, where they would have seen the Miwok village at Segogolue or Toms Point. Amongst the kotças (sleeping shelters), the Spanish traded goods made of metal for finely woven Miwok baskets.



The cultural history of Point Reyes reaches back some 5,000 years to the Coast Miwok Indians who were the first human inhabitants of the Peninsula. Over 120 known village sites exist within the park. According to many experts, Sir Francis Drake landed here in 1579, the first European explorer to do so. In response to the many shipwrecks in the treacherous coastal waters, key lighthouse and lifesaving stations were established by the United States Government in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In the early 1800s, Mexican land grantees established ranchos. They were followed by a wave of American agricultural operations, which continue to this day in the Seashore's pastoral zone.

Coast Miwok

Before the Europeans came to California, the Coast Miwok people were the inhabitants of what we now call Marin and southern Sonoma Counties. They knew and blended with this bountiful land for thousands of years, developing a rich economy based on gathering, fishing and hunting. Village communities of 75 to several hundred people developed in sheltered places near fresh water and plentiful food. "Kule Loklo" (meaning "Bear Valley") is a recreated village. It stands where no village ever was, but where one might have stood.

Coast Miwok life was intricately woven into the changing seasons. In the late spring, fresh new greens of Indian lettuce, young nettle leaves and clover were gathered. Fire-hardened digging sticks were used by the women to reach deep-set roots and bulbs. The ocean provided kelp in large amounts, some to be eaten fresh, the rest dried and stored for the winter. Tule was gathered in the fall for skirts and tule baskets. The summer sun ripened grasses and flower seeds, gathered by hitting the ripened seed with a beater basket and letting them fall directly into a collecting basket.

Fall was the season for collecting a variety of nuts: acorns (stored in a granary for year-round consumption), buckeye, hazel and bay. Tule was cut and dried for kotcas (houses), boats and mats. Gray willow for baskets and traps was abundant. Winter and early spring were times of shortage when stored acorns, seeds and kelp became important food sources.

The ocean provided food year-round. Crab, clams, mussels, abalone, limpets and oysters were some of the seafood gathered by the women in the tidal zones. Cleaned of meat, the shells were also fully utilized. Abalone shells were made into beautiful ornaments. The Washington clam was one of the most important shells; these were ground into circular, flat disk beads with a hole drilled in the middle. Strings of these beads were the main trade item (money) and were used extensively through Northern California.

The men adopted many different techniques for fishing. Dip nets (bags of netting attached to wooden frames on a handle) were used to scoop up fish, and woven surf nets were used along the open beaches. Cone-shaped traps of woven gray willow were set up in creeks and mouths of rivers. With hook and bait one could successfully catch halibut and rockfish year-round.

Hunting by use of traps and bow and arrow supplied the Coast Miwok with meat, fur and tools. Traps were used to capture such game as quail, acorn woodpeckers and rabbits, which were highly valued for their fur and meat. Deer were usually hunted with bow and arrow, and provided many necessary items. Antler tips were used for shaping arrowheads, sinew (muscle tendon) was used to fasten points to arrow shafts and leg bones were made into awls (needles used in basketmaking) and hair pins. In this way, the Coast Miwok wasted little of the animals they hunted.

In 1953, Congress passed Public Law 280, which turned over law enforcement on California reservations to state and county agencies. By 1958, the federal government "terminated" the recognition of Coast Miwok people as well as many other tribes.

After over 40 years, the Coast Miwok are once again a federally recognized tribe. Legislation was signed in December 2000 granting the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, formerly known as the Federated Coast Miwok, full rights and privileges afforded federally recognized tribes. Currently there are almost 500 members registered with the tribe.

As you explore Kule Loklo, try to imagine the lives of the people who lived so intimately with the land. In the old days, a village like Kule Loklo would have been a busy place... acorns being pounded into meal by women with stone mortar and pestle, basket weavers chatting as they worked under the sun shade, cooking fires smoking with mussels baking or deer roasting, children laughing and playing , new dancers learning songs and steps in the dance house, hunters flaking obsidian for knife blades.

The Coast Miwok people lived in the same village, such as this, for hundreds of years. As we contemplate their existence here, we may learn from them an approach to life and land, which could be sustained for hundreds or thousands of years. As the first caretakers of Point Reyes, the Coast Miwok people continue to teach us much.

Miwok Archeological Preserve of Marin (MAPOM) offers California Indian skills classes at Kule Loklo. The classes are offered in spring and fall. For more information, contact Sylvia Thalman via email or via snail mail at MAPOM; PO Box 481; Novato, CA 94948.



Within the lands of Point Reyes are innumerable archaeological sites which contain clues to the prehistory and history of human use of this place. Coast Miwok heritage sites containing the vestiges of thousands of years of indigenous life on Point Reyes are valued for their cultural, historic, and scientific information. They are major resources which the park is committed to identifying, preserving, and interpreting with the cooperation and stewardship of the descendants of this land's first inhabitants. Historic archaeological sites include one of the key reputed sites of the Pacific Coast landing of Sir Francis Drake in 1579, as well as the Manila Galleon wreck of Sebastian Cermeno in 1595. Remains of Mexican and American period ranches, homesteads, industries, and recreational uses also abound.

These sites are fragile and the information they contain is a part of the historic fabric of Point Reyes' history. Please let them and their contents be.

Lifeboat Station History

Point Reyes Historic Lifeboat Station
How many prayers went unanswered along this prominent point? How many lives were lost and how many tears of sorrow fell for those who drowned in a cold dangerous sea? If you were fated to wreck along the rocky headlands or to beach in the pounding surf of Point Reyes beach, your cries for help and mercy would often be lost among the unrelenting waves of the Pacific.

A Call to Action
Before the establishment of Life Saving and Lifeboat Stations, the remains of vessels littered the beaches and the rocks along the United States coastline. Horrified spectators witnessed the drowning of passengers and crew, helpless to do anything. In the same waves that smashed hulls and took lives of the unsuspecting, some heard a call to action.

Though lifesaving's role in maritime history begins in the 1780's, it was not until 1871 that a coordinated government agency was established to aid distressed mariners. The United States Life-Saving Service (USLSS) provided hope for those whose fate was once sealed by pounding ocean waves and foreboding coastlines of the United States. The USLSS was a model agency and its surfmen would earn a place in the hearts of Americans for their feats of bravery.

A New Hope at Point Reyes
In 1890, alone on the long stretch of empty beach, the Point Reyes Life-Saving Station opened with a crew of eight and a seasoned keeper on a lonely stretch of Great Beach known for its notorious pounding surf and bad weather. Their positions were poorly paid, difficult and full of danger. The surfmen patrolled the beaches of Point Reyes with an ever-vigilant eye, looking for shipwrecks and their desperate crews. They walked the beaches day and night, with the fog chilling them to the bone and the wind blasting sand at the unprotected skin of their faces.

When a wreck was found, the surfmen did what they did best, they saved lives. A shipwrecked mariner you could be assured that the surfmen’s presence gave you close to a 99% chance of survival. Equipped with a surf boat and breeches buoys, a keeper would determine the best way to aid those in distress. Using a surfboat with the eight surfmen rowing and the keeper steering, the crew of the lifesaving station would take the imperiled mariners back to shore. But there were times when the boat could not safely reach a wreck. In those instances the breeches buoy and Lyle gun were used. Using a small cannon called a Lyle gun, a line would be shot to the wreck. The breeches buoy which was a life preserver ring with an oversize pair of canvas legs would then be sent to the wreck to remove crew and passengers one at a time.

A New Name, a New Site and New Technology
As the century turned, The United States Lifesaving Service was combined with the US Revenue Cutter Service to form the Coast Guard. This newly formed agency was now charged with aiding those in distress. Very little changed in the first years under Coast Guard management, but, in 1927, operations moved from Great Beach to the protected waters of Chimney Rock. At Chimney Rock, a new station was built as longer, heavier, motorized lifeboats replaced the old, human-powered, surfboats.

The size and weight of these boats meant that they had to be launched using a pier and a marine railway that descended from the Boathouse to the water. Chimney Rock and the calm protected waters was the ideal place. With the calm waters, its proximity to the headlands, the new faster boats had a greater command of the Point Reyes Peninsula.

In the early years of lifesaving at Point Reyes, the surfmen knew of danger. But it was not the isolation of the beach or the vast open ocean that they feared. It was the unrelenting, pounding surf that lay between. Strong surf could keep a rescue operation at bay for hours or capsize a surfboat, taking a man’s life in a cold sea. In the first three years of operation, three surfman lost their lives while they honed their lifesaving skills in drills. These experiences resonated throughout the Life Saving Service in its motto “Ye have to go out but ye don’t have to come in.”

The move to Chimney Rock in 1927 relieved many who faced the dangers of the Great Beach surf but lives risked and lost in the pursuit of saving others were not a thing of the past. After only two months at the new site, the men of the station responded to their first rescue saving the crew from a burning vessel. As the years passed and the Coast Guardsmen left their marks in the Station’s logbooks, hints of their bravery can often found. Life saving crews risked their lives in rough seas, near the rocky headlands and among towering waves saving the lives of many. In the process they lost two of their own. In 1960, on Thanksgiving Eve two Coast Guardsmen were lost in an ordinary call for assistance. After securing a disabled vessel in Bodega Bay, the two-man crew radioed their arrival time to the Life Boat Station. That was the last that was heard from the crew. In the morning, their boat was found grounded on Great Beach with the propellers still turning. What happened to the crew? The answer was lost with them, leaving a mystery in its place.

Whatever the answer, there is no question of the surfman’s bravery. Even with all these tragedies, the lives and vessel saved far outnumbered those lost by the duty bound. In the 80 years of life saving at Point Reyes, countless vessels, their crews and passengers and millions of dollars worth of ships and cargo were saved.

Our Maritime Past and Future
Eventually modern technologies eclipsed the need for the Lifeboat Station at Point Reyes. The quick response of larger faster coast Guard Cutters and helicopters have meant the need for fewer lifesaving sites and less staff. In 1969 the Point Reyes Lifeboat Station was closed. Much of this history and these lives lived in service to others are now gone. All that remains in its place is a building. Silent and decommissioned, it embodies all the perils endured, and all the lives saved that would have otherwise be lost forever. The Historic Lifeboat Station at Chimney Rock stands as a monument to their stories of service and sacrifice.

These stations and those who staffed them fulfilled their roles in the development of coastal cities and industries. Today the Historic Lifeboat Station at Point Reyes National Seashore is used as a educational facility for non-profit groups learning about the resources of the natural and cultural resources of Point Reyes. The building is visible from the Chimney Rock Trail and is sometimes open to the public on weekends and holidays from January to mid-March. For more information, please call the National Seashore at 415-464-5100.


Oral History Program
The Point Reyes National Seashore museum collection currently holds over forty interviews compiled by the park historian between 1985-1994. The recordings preserve the first-hand knowledge, memories and ideas of people involved in generations of dairy and cattle ranching, oyster farming, and fishing in the area. Other interviewees speak of Coast Miwok culture, the search for Sir Francis Drake's landing site, service at the Coast Guard station at Point Reyes, and Morse code radio operations at the historic Marconi/RCA radio stations.

Currently, the museum is developing a program to continue collecting and expanding the scope and uses of it's oral history collection. A recent survey conducted by the Seashore yielded an expanded list of oral history programs and collections in Marin relevant to the history of the land and the development of the park. For further information about the oral history collection or program development contact the museum archivist, Carola DeRooy at 415-464-5125 or by e-mail.

Links to other oral history collections about West Marin history, culture, and commerce.
The Bolinas Museum
Tomales Regional History Project
Marin County Free Libraries
Marin County Historical Society & Museum
Anne T. Kent California History Room
Marin Agricultural Land Trust


1887 San Francisco Chronicle Article

San Francisco Chronicle Sept. 25, 1887*
(reprinted with permission all rights reserved by Chronicle Features, Hearst Publishing - the text is reproduced except for small gaps where the edge of the column page frayed with age).

"Sirens That Do Not Tempt" - Tales of Some of the More Memorable Wrecks -
The Diversions of Two Cranky Keepers

From the earliest history the wary mariner, skirting the coast of California to the west of Drake's bay, has known and shunned a certain bold headland, shrouded for the most part in fog, but in clear weather revealed to him in all the awfulness of its rocks and precipices and perpetually churning waters. Punta de los Reyes, Point of the Kings-the Spanish navigators named it, after the two royal Infantes, and they did well to fear it. God help the hapless mariner who drifts upon it.

"Over his deck the sea will leap
He must go down into the deep
And perish, mouse and man

There is not, from Mexico to Oregon a more forbidding or dangerous coast line than that extending from Point Reyes to Tomales bay. It is made doubly dangerous by its proximity to the harbor of San Francisco, many a vessel having gone ashore under full sail believing that it was headed for the Golden Gate.

Such was the fatal mistake of the Oxford, an English clipper ship, wrecked in 1855, the hull of which lies rotting in Tomales bay; and in 1861 the Sea Nymph, another clipper ship, laden with a cargo of merchandise, sailed as fearlessly in and to a certain doom on the beach a little north of Point Reyes. In 1863 or 1864 a Russian man-o-war (the Norvick) was wrecked on the same spot. Several schooners are also known to have been lost off of this coast. Yet it was not until 1870 that a lighthouse was established on the western head of Point Reyes, and still later that a fog signal was stationed 150 feet below it and above the sea level.

A visit to the Point Reyes Lighthouse involves a journey of at least twenty five miles from the North Pacific Railroad station, The road follows the picturesque curves of Tomales Bay for about half its length, then turns and winds laboriously over a wooded mountain into the heart of the far famed Point Reyes dairy district. Suddenly and with almost as distinct an epoch to his sensibilities as if he had plunged from a warm bath into a cold one, the traveler has crossed the unseen boundary where the inland climate ends and the coastal climate begins. The very character of the vegetation is changed. Behind him are mild airs and wooded slopes smiling in the sunshine. Before him he sees miles and miles of grazing land, brown and dry, save in the early springtime, and rugged hillsides covered with chaparral. The ocean is not in sight yet, but one can fairly taste the salt, damp air. Instinctively, he turns up the collar of his overcoat, jams his hat well down and bids the driver make haste.

Henceforth his way lies for fully fifteen miles, from ranch to ranch, through a dreary but not uninteresting country-one might almost say waste as it appears to consist mainly of........... The sight of hundreds of cattle grazing over the vast ranges, domestic as they are, conveys to the mind no impression of their belonging anywhere or to any one, more than the hawks or sailing buzzards that circle above them.

It is a constant surprise to find the land inhabited; to catch the call of a distant herder to his dogs; to see the cows gathering from all points of the common and heading for some mysterious ...soon to burst upon one in the shape of a flourishing rancho with its cluster of buildings and corrals making a little inlet of itself.

From Swain's Flat, long honored in the community as good grass land and a paradise of hare chasing, one just begins to realize what the histories, geographies and most newspaper articles have told him, that Point Reyes is a peninsula, the Pacific ocean on two sides of it, Tomales bay on the third. The ocean already on one side of him, blue, sparkling. He can see the long line of breakers, and hear at close range what haunted him from the distance ever since he has been on Point Reyes- the ceaseless roar of its waters. On the other hand yet there is only an arm of Limantour Bay, but it presently unites with the ....itself and the bay joins the open sea.

"This," says the driver, when the fourth ranch from Swain's Flat has been reached "this" (with a wave of his hand to the right), "is the place where in 1875, the Warrior Queen was wrecked. A noble ship she was, bound from Auckland to New Zealand, to San Francisco, and lost in one of our heavy fogs. There she lay morning, high and dry on the sands with all sails set. You could walk out without wetting your feet. The prettiest sight I ever saw and a nine days wonder to a quiet community like this. A source of considerable profit, too, under the salvage law, to several enterprising ranchers. The bark Erin Star, loaded with railroad ties and valued, with her cargo at $105,000, was lost near here in 1880; and the Haddingtonshire, you will remember, was wrecked in 1885 off this same shore, but nearer the lighthouse."

It is a land of wrecks. One hears of little else as, mile after mile, the horses pull wearily through the rolling sand dunes. Every turn of the road suggests some chronicle of disaster, A main feature of the little garden in front of the last ranch house is the figurehead of the lost Warrior Queen, rising ghost like from the ground and still proud and mournful as when she was bent above the heaving wave.

...the white building, large enough to accommodate several families and get a good square footing on terra firma. One ...visitor has been frank enough to voice that at this stage of the proceedings, he felt a yearning to "lie down and hang...It was, perhaps, all things considered, a not unnatural impulse-one which may often have been felt if not freely expressed. However, it soon yields to the interest in the scene as one looks about him.

He stays only long enough at the keeper's house to note that it is well built and scrupulously well kept, after the manner of Government buildings. All about it-the road, the yards and the dome like tops of the two great cisterns-are one glare of white cement. It is a significant fact that the windows of the house are made double, and even that does not altogether prevent the sifting in of sand. Fair weather though it be, one can well imagine with what terrific force a storm would sweep the headland. Time and again, it is said, the workmen engaged in the construction of the buildings had their tools blown away and once the breeze lifted bodily a carpenter's kit and hurled it over the cliff. A stiffish gale unroofed the keepers house soon after its completion.

Not least among the wonders of the place are the cisterns. The visitor walks over a little bridge to the top of the largest one and the keeper bids him to shout into it. He does so and the sound of his own voice reverberating from its cavernous depths fairly frightens him. This cistern will hold 100,00 gallons and the smaller one 10,000.

Next comes the descent to the lighthouse by a flight of 360 steps. To the right of the stairs is a chute, down which fuel and supplies are sent from the top of the cliff and on the left a guard rail insures comparative safety to the keepers, who, as it is in heavy gales, have occasionally to prostrate themselves during the passage making the best of their way through between gusts, so furious is the sweep of the wind.

The stair terminates near the base of the lighthouse which is a sixteen sided iron structure, built on the ragged edge of a precipice about 300 feet above the sea level. The lamp, which is one of the finest on the coast, is a first order Funk's Mineral Float. Until recently it was a hydraulic float and consumed lard oil. There were two oil chambers and four wicks, the largest of which was three and one half inches in diameter. The improved mechanism has five circular wicks, varying in diameter from one and one-eight to four and one-half inches. The flame is of dazzling brilliancy, it being impossible to look at from the tower without smoked glasses, and the heat inside the lantern is intense. From the single reservoir the oil is forced up by the "plunger" a weight of 120 pounds through a tube into the wicks. The care of the lamps-thanks to the new apparatus-is a comparatively simple matter. In the morning the keeper has only to fill the reservoir with the mineral oil, raise the plunger to the top of the reservoir and close the faucet in the tube. At night he opens the faucet, the plunger descends, the oil is forced up through the tube into the float chamber and from thence to the wicks. The lamp requires no trimming.... moves the chimney,..........wipes the ash from the wicks and all is done.

Revolving around the light once in two minutes are twenty four focal lenses emitting as many flashes at intervals of five seconds. These flashes, by means of a wonderful reflecting arrangement, illumine an arc of 285 degrees and can be seen at sea a distance of twenty four nautical miles. There are forty two series of reflecting prisms, horizontally disposed, varying in length as they approach the apex of the cone and the whole reflecting apparatus, including the lenses, is nine feet in height by six feet in diameter. It is revolved by clockwork with a weight of 175 pounds as the driving power and there is a governor by which the motion of the reflector is regulated. The lenses are of the La Pute patent and the gearing is made in France by Barbiere and Fenestre in 1867. The original cost of the whole-light, gearing, and reflecting apparatus-is estimated at $25,000.

A little before sunset the great lamp begins its work, and from that time until the sunrise the keeper and his assistants relieve one another in turn at intervals of three hours. It is a lonely vigil, disposing one to serious meditation. The various ways in which the different watchers beguile their time, the books they read, the impressions made upon them by the weird and awful nature of their surroundings, are matters of interest to the philosopher. The first assistant has embodied his emotions in verse. It was the writer's good fortune to hear these poems read by their author under peculiarly favorable circumstances and to the little group of listeners their quaint charm will long remain an impressive memory inseparable from the scene.

One hundred and fifty feet further down the cliff is the fog signal station where two steam sirens in full blast make night and day alike hideous. At the time the writer visited this spot the sirens had been in operation for 176 consecutive hours, and the jaded attendants looked as if they had been on a protracted spree. The blast alone, which lasts five seconds and recurs every seventy seconds is enough to drive any ordinary man mad, and must, it seems, exert a wearing effect upon even the hardened nerves of a keeper. It is objected, and with apparent reason, that both sirens face westward where the greatest danger lies, to the north, the fog settling with peculiar density along the portion of the coast known as North Beach, where nearly all the great wrecks have occurred, and from which the sound of the signal is in a measure excluded by the formation of the cliff.

The first signal station was a rather primitive affair. It was built close against the cliff and had only a steam whistle, not a siren which is a huge funnel shaped thing, reminding one of a musical instrument (which it emphatically is not) and pointing outwards instead of up. Once a fragment of the cliff came crashing through the roof, demolishing the keeper's bed, which fortunately he had vacated shortly before. To insure against future catastrophes of this kind, the whole face of the cliff has since been cemented. A gentleman who witnessed the progress of this work says it was simply bloodcurdling to see the men swinging in mid air, where a misstep, a moment's dizziness, or the breaking of a rope would have sent them down hundreds of feet to a certain and horrible death.

The descent to the present fog-signal is quite as long as that to the lighthouse and far more abrupt and hazardous. When one has completed it he is still 150 feet or more above the ocean. Far, far below him the sea, foaming and roaring, breaks on the jagged rocks and bobbing serenely about in the very midst of it, as if all this were simply no affair of theirs, are numerous sleek-headed seals. Heaven knows what they are there for, whether for fish or merely for the fun of churning up and down dodging the sharp corners which continually threaten to pierce them, but it is a relief to watch their aquatic gambols as an offset to the terrors of the deep. Even at this height during the heavy storms the keepers feel the spray from the great waves, which roll in mountain high and fling themselves half way up the cliff.

To the left are the Farallones, simply outlined in the distance, but a magnified image of them has been seen in a mirage where they appeared in detail, the lighthouse upon the largest island being distinctly visible from Point Reyes.

Not far from the keeper's house and..where the name of a former assistant,an ..Englishman whose vagaries in their time an attraction to visitors and a source of some uneasiness to his associates. It was evident that he was a man of more than ordinary attainments, that he had journeyed widely and was inclined to scientific pursuits. His room was filled with curiosities from all parts of the world and to the elect he confided modestly that he had traveled with Agassiz; also that he had been employed by the British Museum in the furnishing of marine specimens. Among his treasures were a pair of immense dueling pistols and some strange fish from the Caribbean sea, a curious skull formation found in a Hindoo cemetery, etc. and last, not least and ordinary wooden box curtained and fitted up as a bed. This he explained had been occupied by a remarkable cat, lately deceased, the rearing of which had been conducted upon an experimental basis, so as to speak, illustrating the baneful effects of civilization and luxury upon the physical system. He had for years, devoted himself to the education of the lower animals, with unvarying results. As the soul and intellect expanded, the mortal part declined; witness the departed feline who wore dresses, slept in a curtained bed, ate rich food, shared the constant companionship of her master (with whom she went to and from the lighthouse) applied herself to the getting of wisdom and died. He had named this prodigy Josephine, and upon her tomb, following the date of her death, was this touching line: "I loved Jodie." But his experiments were by no means confined to cats. That they were prone to higher flights was evidenced by the peculiar conditions under which the place was assigned to him-ie that he should refrain from tampering with any of the appliances of the station. It leaked out in time that at his former post he had (presumably in the interests of science) removed on a bright day the covering from the reflector, thus converting it into an immense burning glass and melting the side of the lighthouse. For this he was in temporary ill repute, so much so that the eligibility of "cranks" for Government appointments became a mooted question at several stations which he subsequently occupied. But it was long before any action was taken in the matter, and only lately that news of the poor fellow's death in an insane asylum was brought to Point Reyes.

J.A. McFarland, the keeper at Alcatraz was for some time an assistant at Point Reyes and well and favorably known in the community. He also was an Englishman; indeed, the British element has greatly predominated at this station-so much as to cause general surprise and comment.

Another local celebrity in his way was a late (and happily deposed) keeper, notorious for his love of the flowing bowl. It is said the even regaled himself when out of whiskey, with the alcohol furnished for cleaning lamps, and a familiar sight to the ranchman was this genial gentleman lying dead drunk by the roadside, while his horse attached to the lighthouse wagon, grazed at will over the country. It was no unusual thing for him to be drunk for days at his station.

Meanwhile thousands of human beings whose lives hung upon the flashes of the great light sailed secure in the trust that it would never fail them. Whether from negligence on the part of inspectors or the misguided reluctance of employees to "tell tales out of school", this state of affairs so long existed is not known, but it is terrible to reflect that it did exist and to think of all that might have happened in consequence.

However, "it's an ill wind that blows no good" the awakening connected with this man's removal seems to have had a salutary effect, the present corps being quite exemplary throughout.

The keeper receives $800 per annum and rations; the first assistant $600 and rations, and the second and third assistants each $500 and rations. This seems a mere pittance (in fact it is not lavish), but, considering all that the term "rations" includes, it might be worse. House rent and repairing, stove fixtures, fuel, coal oil, beef, pork, flour, rice, beans, potatoes, onions, sugar, coffee, and vinegar are among the articles furnished by Government, with a privilege of exchanging any of them for an equivalent in something else.

Two pretty cottages for the assistants families have been built nearly opposite the keeper's house and lend a social air to the place. There is also a blacksmith shop, and the oilhouse and tank (the latter holding 40,000 gallons of water) are objects of....................It is a great mistake to attempt it in that time. One is surfeited with grandeur and retains for a while only a confused memory of precipices and the roaring of many waters, houses and keepers, and lights and signals, machinery and stairs, and seals and caves, in a kind of mental vertigo: and not until he is fairly rested, if ever, will these blurred images be shaped to distinct impressions of the scene.



Human history at Point Reyes extends back about 5000 years. The Coast Miwok Indians were the inhabitants of what we now call Marin and southern Sonoma Counties when European explorers first arrived at Point Reyes in the late 1500's. By 1850, dairy ranchers had arrived on the scene, lured by the near-ideal conditions for raising cattle. As maritime commerce increased in the San Francisco Bay area in the late 1800's, a lighthouse and lifesaving station were constructed at Point Reyes to, respectively, alert ships' crews of the trecherous point and to save the passengers of those ships that didn't safely navigate past the point. In the early 1900's, Guglielmo Marconi sited and commissioned the building of wireless telegraphy transmitting stations in the area which formed the foundation for the most successful and powerful ship to shore and land station on the Pacific Rim. Point Reyes National Seashore preserves historic sites so that modern-day visitors may hear the stories of and form connections to the people who have previously lived at or visited Point Reyes.