The Yaquina Bay Lighthouse was built in 1871, soon after the City of Newport was established as a local fishing and fur trade outpost on the north shore of Yaquina Bay. Newport grew rapidly, as trade in the new Oregon Country exploded during the late 1800s, fed by gold rushes in California and Alaska, and the arrival of settlers along the Oregon Trail.

The lighthouse was sited on a wooded bluff above the mouth of the Yaquina River, overlooking the Newport bayfront and a broad expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

During it's brief period in service, whale oil, not electricity, was used to fuel the lighthouse lamps, and thus a full-time job for the lighthouse keeper to simply keep the lamp lit from sundown to sunrise. The Yaquina Bay lighthouse had a visibility of 12 miles from shore.

The Yaquina Bay structure is the only lighthouse in the state in which the living quarters are housed in the same building as the light. Only a few of this type were built on the entire Pacific Coast.

In 1873, the Yaquina Head Lighthouse was built just three miles north of the Yaquina Bay station. The orders for the new lighthouse were for the structure to be built on Cape Foulweather, some 15 miles north. But a local Army colonel decided that Cape Foulweather presented too difficult a challenge, with it's steep cliffs, and chose Yaquina Head instead, easily accessible from Newport.

The Yaquina Head's more powerful lamp could be seen 22 miles away, nearly twice the distance as the Yaquina Bay light.

The power of the new lighthouse in such close proximity to the "old" Yaquina Bay light proved to be problematic for ships navigating the Yaquina bar to reach the growing Newport harbor. The confusion between the two lighthouses resulted in a decision to decommission the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse 1874, just three years after it was constructed.

After lighthouse keeper Charles Pierce, his wife and six children moved away, the building stood empty for 14 years.

In 1888, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began to use the lighthouse as a living quarters while it built the North and South Jetties at the mouth of Yaquina Bay.

The US Coast Guard later used the lighthouse as lookout and living quarters from 1906 to 1915, before moving to their more central (white buildings an left) quarters just above the busy Newport bayfront. During this period, the Coast Guard also built the eight-story steel observation tower that continues to stand next to the original lighthouse.

In 1931, the Oregon Highway Department began construction of the spectacular Yaquina Bay Bridge (an early design sketch is shown to the left), which, upon completion in 1933, brought Highway 101 to the bluff beside the 50-year old Yaquina Bay Lighthouse.

The new bridge was one of a string of architectural and engineering masterpieces designed by Oregon's visionary bridge engineer, Conde McCullough. Most of these bridges are still in place today, and continue to carry traffic along Highway 101.

Though the Yaquina Bay lighthouse was deteriorating rapidly at this point in it's history, tourists traveling the new coast highway rediscovered the lighthouse grounds, with its sweeping views of the ocean, Newport harbor and Yaquina Bay Bridge.

The bridge helped set the stage for a renewed interest in the lighthouse for its historic value, as Newport began to grow northward along the new highway, and neighborhoods grew around the old structure.

The completion of the Yaquina Bay Bridge (visible on the horizon in this photo) also created a bypass of the Newport bayfront district, and the city's commercial center moved to the top of the bluff, along Highway 101. The bayfront district entered a period of decline in the decades that followed, until tourism brought visitors to the historic storefronts in the 1970s.

Today, the bayfront district is a major tourist destination, yet continues to support a thriving fishing industry.

In 1934, the Oregon State Highway Division bought the property around the lighthouse for a state park. The park site included the lighthouse, coast guard observation tower, and acres of forested bluff and ocean dunes and beaches, as seen in the photo to the right.

The photo also shows teh loop road that was built through the new parking, giving visitors better views of the lighthouse, Yaquina Bay Bridge and access to the beaches and new picnic grounds in the park.

 The Yaquina Bay State Park facilities were immediately popular with the public. Two picnic areas were constructed. The west picnic area was built on the exposed face of the bluff among windswept coast pin. The east picnic area was built around a meadow immediately below the lighthouse, in a hollow protected from prevailing winds. Here, massive sitka spruce tower above the picnic tables and lawns.

The park facilities have since grown to include restrooms and an interpretive building.

 By 1946, the lighthouse was seen as a blight on the park by the Highway Department, and was scheduled to be razed by the Highway Commission. To save it from demolition, some local residents formed the Lincoln County Historical Society, and with the help of the Oregon Historical Society, they were successful in saving the structure.

The structure was dedicated as a significant historical landmark in 1956, and modest repairs to the roof and siding slowed the deterioration of the lighthouse.


Despite its poor condition, the lighthouse was used as a museum for 18 years, from 1956 to 1974. The photo to the left shows the structure in 1962.

During this period, the windows were boarded up to protect the interior of the structure, and local residents began to plan for a full renovation that would reverse the effects of nearly 100 years of neglect.

The building was closed again in 1974, and full restoration began to return the structure to its original condition.

During the renovation that followed in the 1970s, many floor joists had to be replaced, rotten exterior siding was replaced and the north wing was completely rebuilt and expanded. The interior was plastered and repainted. The basement was converted into a gift shop, and a small theater was built to screen short films about the building's history.

 Local volunteers also managed to persuade the Coast Guard to allow an electric light, visible from five miles out to sea, to be lit on Dec. 16, 1996.


Today, the historic lighthouse is administered jointly by Oregon State Parks and the Yaquina
Lights organization. The lighthouse averages 350 visitors per day, and is one of the most popular stops along the popular Pacific Coast Highway. The grounds are also heavily visited, providing a welcome respite to coast tourists.

The wood structure is the oldest in the picturesque City of Newport, and also the only wood lighthouse in Oregon. The lighthouse is now listed on the National Historic Register.

All images courtesy Salem Public Library, except Yaquina Bay design sketch, courtesy Oregon Department of Transportation.

< Back to Main Page