Patos Lighthouse Register of Visitors!

Register of Visitors at Patos Island Light Station

In June of 2009, thanks to KOPL member and Orcas Museum volunteer Edrie Vinson, we learned that the Orcas Island Historical Museum was in possession of the Patos Light Station Visitor Register. What a find! To have a record of the visitors and Coast Guard on Patos from August 1903 until May 1978 is invaluable. The Orcas Island Historical Museum kindly allowed us to photograph the pages, and links to each can be found listed on our webpage at    The pages are identified by page number and by month and date of signatures. This should help to narrow down your search.

So, explore a little. Maybe you’ll find a relative or someone you know. On one page there are signatures of a couple of the Durgan’s, of “The Light on the Island“. Billie Coutt’s is there somewhere, too. Look around, you never know what you might find.

Please be advised that these are large files and may take longer to download.

Do you want to know more about the Orcas Island Historical Museum? You’ll find a link to their website on our Contact Us/Links page.

Visitors enjoying a visit to the Patos Lighthouse today

A Short History of Patos Island and Lighthouse

The Northwest Native American  tribe, The Lummi was one of the  earliest inhabitants of Patos island. Their name for it is “Klu-whit-eton”, which means “abundant native oyster”. Spanish explorers, arriving in 1792, named this northern most island in the San Juan group “Isla de Patos”, the island of ducks. Due to its many coves and caves, Patos Island became a haunt of smugglers.

In 1893, after the island came under the control of the United States, the first light station was established under the US Lighthouse Service. The original station was a post light and third class Daboll trumpet fog signal, used as a navigational aid to ships traveling from Nanaimo, British Columbia to Alaska through the Boundary Pass.

A small white and red building was erected on the site in 1898. Improvements were made in 1908 when a 38 foot tower, housing a new fog signal was built and a fourth order Fresnel lens was installed in the tower.. A 300mm solar powered lens was later installed and in 1974 the light was automated. Today the light flashes white once every 6 seconds with 2 red sectors covering dangerous shoals. The Fresnel lens is now in private ownership in Oregon.

The original light keeper’s house was torn down in 1958 and quarters for U.S. Coast Guardattendants were built.

The tragic destruction of the original Keepers' house in 1958

These quarters were abandoned after the light was automated. When the Bureau of Land Management gained possession of Patos Island in 2005, they contracted with the Orcas Island Fire Department to remove the Coast Guard quarters, which had become a safety hazard due to winter weather and roof damage. The original 1898 fog signal building with the 1908 tower is the only structure still standing on the island.

The best known lighthouse keeper, Edward Durgan, moved to Patos Island with his wife and 13 children in 1905. He served there for approximately 8 years, until 1913. The Light on the Island, written as fiction but based on fact, by his daughter Helene Glidden, is a delightful and sometimes harrowing account of life on a remote island, as seen through the eyes of a young girl.

Ancient Agriculture on Patos Island

On last year’s Earth/Arbor/May Day trip toPatosIsland, we were amazed at the fields of blue Camas flowers near the Lighthouse. Seems that after years of blackberry removal by the Boy Scouts, Keepers, Orcas Fire Department volunteers and our other great supporters, the original native Camas fields have returned to our island! As Ranger Nick Teague says, the spring Patos Camas flowering is now “reportedly, the best display of Camas bloom in the San Juans.”

Camas flower on Patos Island, Washington

Here is an article on the history and traditional uses of the Camas plant by the early Coast Salish native peoples by local experts, Madrona Murphy and Russel Barsh.

Ancient Agriculture

Farming has been a way of life in the San Juan Islandsfor a long time: perhaps as long as 2,500 years! Like peasant communities in Europe, native Coast Salish peoples of the islands not only fished, but also raised crops and livestock. Early European explorers observed cultivated fields and flocks of “woolly dogs,” but by the late 19th century, when serious study of Coast Salish languages and cultures began, native peoples had lost most of their land, and exchanged their traditional crops and dogs for potatoes and sheep.
            Camas  (Camassia leichtlinii and Camassia quamash), a member of the Liliaceae or Lily family, was the staple of Coast Salish agriculture. Spring hoeing encourages this plant to reproduce asexually: its bulbs split and form clusters like shallots. Camas fields were weeded aggressively to remove competing grasses and poisonous bulbs of “death camas” (Zigadenus venenosus) and were burned every few years to suppress shrubs and recycle nutrients – light burns do not damage the deeply buried camas bulbs.
             Like Jerusalem artichokes, camas bulbs store energy as inulin, a polysaccharide that breaks down into fructose (“fruit sugar”) when sufficiently cooked, traditionally for a couple of days in a pit with heated rocks and wet packing. Mildly sweet, cooked camas can be enjoyed at once, or dried into cakes and used later.
            Coast Salish peoples grew camas in wetlands, on small islets, and on soft bluffs overlooking the sea. Settlers also targeted wetlands, and the rich soils formed by years of camas cultivation, for farming here, so most of the evidence of camas in our wetlands has been lost. Camas gardens were located near good summer salmon fishing sites, so that fishing and farming activities could be carried out simultaneously. Deer were probably also hunted when they tried to browse in camas fields: venison for a camas-sweetened stew!

  You can still see camas growing wild throughout theSan Juan Islandson rocky outcrops and unplowed meadows from which sheep and deer have been excluded. Don’t look for an easy feast, however. Most uncultivated camas produces bulbs the size of lima beans!
This information provided by Russel Barsh and Madrona Murphy of the Lopez-based nonprofit conservation biology laboratory KWIÁHT. If you’re interested in growing and/or protecting native camas varieties here in the islands, join Kwiáht’s camas growers network! Contact KWIAT at

Kittens and Mama Find Homes!!!!

Great news! The adorable kittens and Mama that Nora and I have been petting/socializing have all been adopted. Our litle CP kitty Mac has been adopted by himself and the other girl and boy AND their mother went to the same home. What wonderful news!

Here is the Lopez Animal Protection Society update: