St. George Reef Lighthouse – Crescent City, California - Atlas Obscura

St. George Reef Lighthouse

A lighthouse built to save lives that took quite a few with its treacherous location. 


This desolate and foreboding lighthouse still stands in extremely dangerous rocky terrain, despite being constantly battered on all sides by frigid waters and gale force winds. It was the only thing that stood between incoming ships and the dangerous rocks which had swallowed them for years and was the most expensive lighthouse ever built in the region.

Those who were brave enough to man this desolate position put their lives in constant risk and many slowly lost their minds due to the extreme conditions and utter isolation. The lighthouse was built in such an inhospitable place in order to prevent another large shipwreck like that of the Brother Jonathan - a steamer which was dashed upon the rocks in 1865 resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives.

During St. George’s construction, several workers lost their lives, a few went insane, and many more applied for transfers-or just plain walked off the job as soon as they got back to land. The construction was erratic but in the end it stood well over twelve stories tall when its beacon was first lit in 1891. It cost twice the estimated sum to build and was the most expensive lighthouse in the area at the time. This money did not make it safer, though, and throughout its years of operation at least five keepers lost their lives, as did many while traveling to and from the remote location carrying supplies. In 1923, after a huge storm brought waves that reached over 70 feet high and swept the the engine house right off its foundation, the lighthouse gained a reputation for not only being the most expensive in the west, but also the most dangerous.

The unwelcoming post was finally decommissioned in 1975 and replaced by a lit buoy that floats in the water. In 1996 ownership of the lighthouse was transferred to the St. George Reef Lighthouse Preservation Society. Over the next few years, the Society maintained and restored parts of the lighthouse with funds generated by helicopter rides over the island, which was the only way you could see the lighthouse up close. The helicopter rides were halted by the Department of Transportation in 2012 until a helipad can be built on the rocks next to the lighthouse. As you might imagine, few volunteers are lining up to construct it and while you can be put on a waiting list for the rides if they ever resume, there is no date on the horizon.

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6 miles out to sea

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