Alaska — Eldred Rock Lighthouse

On February 5, 1898 the three-masted ship Clara Nevada was fighting hurricane force winds on its passage from Skagway to Seattle. She was loaded with 800 lbs of gold, an illegal shipment of dynamite, and more than 100 passengers. The Clara Nevada struck Eldred Rock and burst into flames; her entire crew and all passengers were presumed lost. Curiously, a skiff belonging to the ship was found hidden in a grove of trees on the mainland weeks after the accident. The ship’s captain, C.H. Lewis, was later discovered to have resumed his profession on riverboats in the interior of Alaska and the ship’s fireman was also later found working in the gold fields in Nome. The wrecked ship is now a popular dive site.

Congress viewed the accident as sufficient evidence of the necessity of a navigation aid on Eldred Rock and the Lighthouse Board approved plans in May 1905. The lighthouse became operational in June 1906.

The Eldred Rock lighthouse consists of an octagonal two-story (rather than the more typical one-story) living space with the 56 foot lighthouse tower protruding from the center of the structure. The first floor is concrete while the second floor and tower are wood construction. A wooden boathouse was built 300 feet north of the lighthouse itself; a carpenter shop was later added between the two. A tramway ran from the lighthouse to the boathouse.

The light itself used a fourth-order Fresnel lens with a sheet of ruby glass that allowed the light to produce alternating red and white flashes every 20 seconds.

During the evening of March 12, 1908, a violent gale struck the lighthouse. When the keeper ventured out afterward, he was astonished to find the Clara Nevada washed up onto the northern shore of the island. The storm regained strength later in the evening and forced the Clara Nevada back into the watery depths.

Eldred Rock lighthouse was automated in 1973 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 (Eldred Rock, Cape St. Elias and Cape Spencer lighthouses were the first Alaskan lighthouses placed on the registry).

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