I recently wandered by the U.S. Coast Guard operated Alki Point Lighthouse in West Seattle and noticed they were running tours. I joined one for a great little tour run by members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.
The original light station was established here in 1887. Back then it was literally just a small lamp hanging from a post! The lighthouse you see today was built in 1913 and was one of a series of similar looking lighthouses that dot the Puget Sound. The Alki Lighthouse is still in use as a navigational aid today.
When the lighthouse was built, the old lamp system was replaced by a wonderful looking Fresnel Lens. Frenchman Augustin Fresnel discovered in the 1800’s that by stacking glass prisms in a certain manner you could significantly magnify the brightness of light and allow it to be cast further (the Alki light could be seen from anywhere up to 24km / 15 miles away). The Fresnel Lens was first used in French lighthouses in 1823 and were soon in use in England and the United States.
The original Fresnel Lamp was replaced by a modern version many years ago. They have a similar version to the original on display within the lighthouse but the original is in the museum at the Admiralty Head Lighthouse on Whidbey Island. The foghorns that used to blare from the tower have been removed too (noise complaints apparently!).
The original Lighthouse Keeper and assistants houses remain on the grounds. They are used today as the residence for the US Coast Guard 13th District Commander who is the senior officer for the Pacific Northwest. Given they are private residences, the houses are off-limits on the tour.
Be sure to go up the tower of the lighthouse for a great view. The lighthouse is small but the tour is well worth it and its free!