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.


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