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Jan-30-2007 05:42printcomments

History of Oregon's Shortest Lighthouse And The Legend of The Octopus Tree

Like Yaquina Head, Cape Meares has been stalked by persistent rumors that it was built on the wrong site.

The Cape Meares Lighthouse
All photos by: Kevin Hays
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(TILLAMOOK) - The Cape Mears lighthouse at 34 feet is one of the shortest on the west coast.

The lighthouse is located is on a high rocky cliff placing the light 217 feet above the ocean.

The first order Henry Lapaute lens and 800,000 candlepower light is visible 21 miles at sea.

The Cape Meares LighthouseThe light was originally intended to be located on Cape Lookout but due to a map maker's mistake in reversing the two names, the construction was started on Cape Mears.

Since the lighthouse was already partially completed at the time of discovery of the error, there was an obvious problem. To settle the dilemma, President Benjamin Harrison stepped in and settled the matter with his approval of the Cape Meares site.

The Cape Meares Lighthouse was constructed in 1890, just south of Tillamook Bay. The stubby, octagonal tower is only 38 feet tall, but sits on the edge of a towering 200 ft. cliff above the ocean.

On January 1st, 1890, Cape Meares was lit by Anthony Miller (the first principal keeper) and his two assistants.

At the time, the lighthouse consisted of a fire-wick kerosene lamp and an eight-paneled lens that had both red and clear panels to create a red flash every minute.

The light was decommissioned by the Coast Guard in 1963, replaced by a powerful beacon mounted on a bleak concrete blockhouse.

The lighthouse structures were immediately subject to severe vandalism.

The Cape Meares LighthouseThe keeper's quarters had to be destroyed, and the four bullseyes from the First Order lens were stolen.

Cape Meares Light was eventually turned over to the Oregon State Park system.

Over the years three of the four bullseyes have been recovered -- one in a drug raid in 1984, one returned to a local museum, and one anonymously left on the assistant park manager's front porch.

A must-see when driving the Three Capes Scenic route, Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint is situated on a headland 200 feet above the ocean.

Cape Lookout and Cape Kiwanda are the other two capes on this route, they are both south of Cape Meares.

Cape Meares provides an excellent view of the largest colony of nesting common murres (the site is one of the most populous colonies of nesting sea birds on the continent).

Bald eagles and a peregrine falcon have also been known to nest near here.

The Legend of the Octopus Tree at Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint


Tradition handed down by the Indians is that the eerie giant is a burial tree shaped when it was young to hold canoes of a chief's family.

Octopus Tree Sitka SpruceSuch deeply-rooted lore passed from generation to generation is likely to be founded on truth, and much of it is corroborated by historical research.

Archaeologists have found evidence that Indians lived along these shores for 3,000 years.

In looking back through this dimly lit past, we have learned that the tribes here placed their dead in the trees in canoes.

The tribes in this area for generations back through the dim past placed their dead in the trees in canoes.

But the trees had to be prepared to hold them.

Branches of a forest tree normally reach straight upward, toward the light, but those on a burial tree were forced, when pliable, into a horizontal position beyond which they grew upward.

Once the pattern was set, the tree might grow to a great size but always kept the shape, as did the Octopus Tree.

Sitka Spruce SignBurial trees (the oldest trees) for many years could be spotted here and there in the virgin forest.

The Octopus Tree (which the Indians revered and called The Council Tree) is more than 60 feet at its base.

No one can tell its age without counting the rings.

Some theorize it could have been a young tree at about the time of Christ.

No matter what the actual age of the tree may be, a visit to this prehistoric tree of mystery is truly an enjoyable visit.

The Octopus Tree is a short walk south of the parking lot, and the improved trail is wheelchair accessible.

Cape Meares Lighthouse

Open April 1st through Oct. 31st, 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM daily.

Admission is free.

The park features tours of an 1890s lighthouse, the Sally Jacobson Interpretive kiosk and interpretive panels at key viewpoints.

Cape Meares has over 3 miles of hiking trails and a mile-long walking trail that winds through old-growth spruce trees (including the uniquely-shaped Octopus Tree).

In winter and spring, this park is an excellent location for viewing whale migrations.

See more photos in the photo album

Comments Leave a comment on this story.

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Tom Vill, Tillamook, OR June 21, 2008 5:46 pm (Pacific time)

I wonder why no one has taken a guess as to the age of the tree. I would venture a guess at around 1500 years or more. It is very unusual. I honor the memory of my ancestors.

Bill Wilson Seattle, WA January 31, 2007 5:17 am (Pacific time)

There is some really good information in this story. Thanks.

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