Patos Lighthouse FAQs

I haven’t been posting for a while because I have been writing and assembling our first ever Patos Lighthouse Docent Notebook…

Here is an assemblage of our Patos Lighthouse Frequently Asked Questions:

Patos Island Lighthouse  FAQs for Docents:

How old is the lighthouse?

The main building was built in 1893. The tower was added in 1908.

Inside the Lighthouse:

Was there a Fresnel lens in the tower? Yes, it was a 4th order lens which is now in private ownership in Yachats, Oregon.  Many sources state that the Patos lens is “on display at the Admiralty Head Lighthouse” on Whidbey Island. This is incorrect. The lens is now owned by the estate of nautical writer and lighthouse collector, Jim Gibbs. Jim Gibbs died in 2011.

What was used to light the Fresnel lens? Fuel for the lens was often kerosene or perhaps an animal oil, such as whale oil.

How far could the light be seen? We have been told it was 14 miles.

Why is there a door in the round part at the bottom of the stairs? The door gave access to the working of the Fresnel lens, much like a grandfather clock, the works needed to be wound by the light keepers at frequent intervals.

Does the light still work today? What powers the light? The light does still work and is a guide to navigation in the waters of Haro Straight. The light is powered by a solar panel and a photovoltaic battery which can be seen in the lighthouse’s south room.

Did people live in the lighthouse? No, it was very rare for light keepers and their families to live in a lighthouse. Most light keepers lived in residences which were built to house them and their families nearby.

What are the metal channels in the floors? In the 1950s, there were 4 generators in the main room of the lighthouse. The channels are associated with the generators.

What were the two side rooms used for? The room to the left as you enter was the Officer-in-Charge room when the US Coast Guard was in charge. We have pictures of a desk and communication devices in this room. There is evidence that a stove was placed in this room, which was most likely used for heating. We have not identified what the right room may have been used for. There is evidence of a stove in this room also. It is possible that the keepers ate and slept in this room during their shifts.

Outside the Lighthouse:

Why is there a sidewalk leading from the dock remains to the lighthouse? In the 1950’s, the well near the lighthouse was polluted by a fuel spill; kerosene or diesel?  As a result, all drinking water, (in addition to food and supplies), for the families living in the lighthouse complex had to be delivered by a Coast Guard (ship) “Tender” on a regular basis. To ease the transportation from boat to lighthouse, a sidewalk was built to replace the original boardwalk.

Why are there sidewalks leading to no where? Over the years, many building have come and gone in the light station area. The walkways once lead to buildings that have since been removed.

What were the foundations on the north side which consist of 4 parallel concrete slabs? From the old pictures, we believe these to be the foundations of the water towers.

Where was the old house featured in Helene Glidden’s book, The Light on the Island? The beautiful old Victorian house, which was destroyed by the Coast Guard in 1958, was on the left hand side of the sidewalk as you face the lighthouse. There is a Pacific Madrone shrub growing near the actual location. The house faced south towards Orcas Island.

Why was the house destroyed? Was the house in bad condition? New Coast Guard triplex residences were built in 1958. We believe that in those post war years, it was “out with the old and in with the new”. The older Victorian house was in very good condition and was well maintained since it was part of a USCG station. We are lucky to be able to see identical residences at both Turn Point and Burrow’s Island (off of Anacortes) light stations today.

Where were the Coast Guard Triplex residences? What happened to them? The residences, built in 1958, were located on the right side of the sidewalk as you leave the trees approaching the lighthouse. After the Coast Guard left the island in 1973/4, the houses fell into disrepair and were burned down by the Orcas Island Fire Department as a training exercise in 2005. You can see a partially burned tree to the east of the site.

What is the name of the other lighthouse which can be seen across Haro Straight towards Canada? The lighthouse is called “East Point” lighthouse and it is located on Saturna Island in the Canadian Gulf Islands. We have recently been contacted by the East Point lighthouse people and expect to find out more about the history of the light and any interactions between the light keepers in the past.

Helene Glidden’s, The Light on the Island

Author Helene Glidden (nee Durgan), lived on Patos Island in the early 1900s with her Lightkeeper father and her mother, Edward and Estelle Durgan and her 12 brothers and sisters. Many people come to visit the lighthouse because they have read the book. If they have not, they want to read the book after hearing the story. Many have questions. The location of the house is answered in the above FAQs.

When did Helene Glidden write the book? In her fifties, Helene Glidden took a creative writing class. In the class she wrote about her childhood spent on Patos Island. Her teacher encouraged her to publish her stories as a book. The book was first published in 1951. The second edition was published in 2001 as a Fifty-Year Anniversary edition.

Are all the stories in the book true? Why did she change her name to “Angie” and the family’s last name to “LaBrege” in the book? When authors are writing about real events which concern their families or those they know, they often change names so that readers do not recognize the ‘real” characters. We do know that Helene used variations of her family’s real names: “Rene” was “Cecile Rene” and the many girls’ names were variations on their real names as well. We know that her brother in law, Al, was named “Noah A Clark” with “Al” possibly being his middle name.

After speaking with members of Helene’s family we are estimating that about 90% of the book is true with Helene using a writer’s artistic license with some of the stories. We do know that Helene’s mother was a relative of Teddy Roosevelt, so it is possible that Teddy did make a visit to Patos Island.

Where was Helene buried?  From her family we have been told that Helene asked for her ashes to be spread on Patos Island. We think that this is a nice ending to her story.

And last but not least….

What’s with all the ducks?  “Patos” means “ducks” in Spanish. Many accounts of the naming of Patos Island say that the early Spanish explorers named the island for the ducks they saw in the water. We think that after seeing this rock formation at the end of the island they were inspired to call the island “Patos”!