Alki Point: Kerosene Lantern to Lighthouse

In 1868 Hans Martin Hanson and his brother-in-law Knud Olson purchased the 260 acres of land from Dr. David Maynard. The purchase price was $450. Later Hanson and Olson divided the property with Hanson’s portion being the point.

Legend has it that sometime during the 1870s farmer Hanson hung a brass kerosene lantern from a post. He did this in order to mark the dangerous shoals of Alki Point for the mariners of Puget Sound who were increasing in numbers.

In 1887 the Federal Lighthouse Board decided that Alki Point was extremely hazardous to marine traffic and they replaced Hanson’s kerosene lantern with a “post lantern”. “Post lanterns” were used at many locations until a lighthouse could b e built.

Because the lantern was on his property, Hanson was appointed light keeper. His salary was $15.00 a month. For this he filled the fuel tank, cleaned the glass, trimmed the wicks and lit and extinguished the lamp daily. He was helped by his son, Edmund, his six daughters, and his niece Linda Olson.

Mr. Martin’s children inherited his 320-acre farm when he died on July 26, 1900. They also inherited the light keeper’s job which still paid only $15. a month. Edmund and his cousin Linda Olson along with Edmund’s children kept the lamp burning for another 10 years.

In 1910 the U. S. Lighthouse Service purchased the 1.5 acre pie-shaped piece of land at Alki Point for $9,999. A 37-foot-tall octagonal concrete and masonry tower with an attached fog signal building was built on the point. Behind the lighthouse was build two large homes for the lighthouse keepers and their families. In order to protect the buildings from heavy swell during storms and high tides the contractors brought in about 7,000 yards of sand and gravel an d added to the point.

This required the service of two lighthouse keepers doing 12-hour shifts seven days a week for which they were each paid $800 a year plus housing.

Over the years various improvements were made in the lighthouse system and changes in personnel were made until in 1970, Albert G Anderson, the last civilian lighthouse keeper retired after spending 20 years at Alki Point.

All of the light keeping was done manually at the point until the 1980’s. Coast Guardsmen stood guard on eight-hour watches, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The keeper turned the airway beacon on one-half hour before sunset and turned it off one-half hour after sunrise. The Chief Lighthouse Keeper’s house was occupied by the Commander of the 13th Coast Guard District.

The Alki Point Lighthouse was fully automated in October 1984. The modern VRB-25 marine rotating beacon operates 24 hours a day, flashing once every five seconds.. An emergency light located on the outside of the tower is operated by 12 volt batteries. Two electric fog horns are activated when visibility drops below three miles.

The Coast Guard Museum, Pier 36, 1519 Alaskan Way S in Seattle is where you can see, on display, the old post lantern that was placed on Alki Point in 1887 by the Lighthouse Service.

The Alki Point Lighthouse, 3201 Alki Avenue SW, is one of eight lighthouses on or near Puget Sound open to visitors.