Over the years, the treacherous entrance to the Columbia River has been marked by a number of lighthouses and a lightship:  Cape Disappointment (1856) and North Head (1898) to the north and Point Adams (1871) and Desdemona Sands (1902) to the south.  In addition, between 1892 and 1979, four different lightships were stationed off shore to guide vessels across the Columbia River Bar, an area known as the Graveyard of the Pacific

            Extending southeast from the entrance to the river is a shoal that often forms a sandy islet in the river.  On January 1, 1857, the bark Desdemona tried to cross the bar and enter the river without a pilot.  It has been reported that the captain did so because he was promised a new suit if he entered the Columbia by January 1.  Unfortunately, he didn’t make it as he ran aground on the sandy shoal.  The cargo was recovered, but the ship was lost.  The shoal took on the name of the bark and in the years following the wreck it was marked by a buoy.  However, in 1898 when plans to replace the Point Adams lighthouse stalled, a new light was proposed to be built on the western end of Desdemona Sands.  Set atop a cluster of straight wooden piles, the lighthouse itself was a 1 ½ story octagonal building topped with a lantern room containing a fixed white, 4th order lens.  The design was identical to the one used several years later at Semiahmoo Bay in Washington.  Attached to the lighthouse, completed in 1902, were a small structure for the fog signal and a one story annex.   The station had a water cistern and a boat to reach the mainland.  The station was for keepers only and their families lived on shore. 

            Electricity arrived in 1935 and the light and fog signal were operated from shore, eliminating the need for a keeper.  The building was removed in 1942 and replaced by a minor aid on top of a pyramidal structure.  Eventually, the foundation was removed and the light extinguished in the mid 1960’s.  The last lightship to mark the bar, WLV-604, was replaced by an automated navigational buoy in 1979.  Both the lightship and buoy, as well as the original fog bell from the station, are on display at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon.  The lens from the lighthouse can be seen at the Mukilteo Lighthouse in Washington.


References and for further information about the Desdemona Sands Lighthouse:

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