|History Of Point Sur|
|Over The Years|
Throughout history, Point Sur has been a navigational hazard, to which many shipwrecked captains can attest. In the 1880s, lighthouses and lightships provided invaluable warnings to the many ships that traveled close to shore, especially during rough weather when protruding headlands could provide them with much-needed shelter. It took mariners 11 years of petitioning the U.S. Lighthouse Service Board before money was allocated for Point Sur in 1886. Three years later, on August 1, 1889, the lightstation keys were turned over to the first keeper. He and three assistants staffed the lighthouse and fog signal 24 hours a day.
The four keepers and
their families lived an isolated life. The trail to Monterey
long and often treacherous, so trips were rare. The U.S.
Service provided a horse and wagon to get mail and supplies from
Resort (now Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park). Each family was
a garden area for fresh vegetables. Bulk supplies such as
animal feed, and some food came on a 'lighthouse tender' about every
months. One function of these long, broad ships was to service remote
inaccessible by land. The tender would anchor south of the
and send in a 20-foot whaler towing a skiff, both loaded with
The sacks and barrels were hoisted in cargo nets to a platform at the
of the rock. They were then secured to a flat railcar and
up to the dwelling area using a steam-driven donkey engine.
most remote lightstations, Point Sur was very self-sufficient.
As the years passed,
life became increasingly
less isolated at Point Sur, specially following the completion of
One in 1937. Two years later, the U.S. Coast Guard assumed
for all aids-to-navigation. Lighthouse Service employees were
into the new program, and allowed to become either members of the U.S.
Coast Guard or remain civil service employees.
In the 1960s, the
U.S. Coast Guard began automating lightstations in an effort to make
efficient use of their personnel. In 1974, the last keeper
Sur. Today a U.S. Coast Guard crew services the lighthouse
Until 1927, children at Point Sur were unable to attend school daily. Keepers' children would stay with families on nearby ranches during the week, going home on weekends, or they would live with relatives.
In 1927, head keeper William Mollering requested that the school district provide a teacher for the children at the lightstation. The school district agreed on the condition that there would be at least six students. In order to meet the quota, Mollering's son began school a year early.
Teachers were usually young women, just out of college, hoping to get experience. The teacher lived with the head keeper's family and held classes in a shed behind the dwelling. Like many of the unmarried keepers, teachers usually did not stay long because of the isolation and lack of social life.
Later, a one-room schoolhouse was built near
Highway One. By
the 1940s, another schoolhouse was built in a location more accessible
to a greater number of Big Sur students. Keepers' wives and
children took turns transporting children between the lightstation and
the school in family cars. The school district paid them for
Since the Point Sur Lightstation opened in 1889, navigational methods have changed dramatically. With only a horse trail connecting much of the west coast, cargo was transported primarily via ships. Using "dead-reckoning" and stars to determine a course, coastwise cargo ships often chose to stay within a couple of miles of the coast.
Navigators used charts and publications such as the "Light List" and "Coast Pilot." The "Light List" provided the locations, descriptions, and characteristics of all aids-to-navigation. The "Coast Pilot" supplemented the navigational information shown on charts.
Each lighthouse, lightship, and lightbuoy has a different characteristic, or flash pattern. The difference may be in the length of the flash, the eclipse between flashes, or the color of the flash. Ships are able to determine their exact location by triangulation, using two known points for two corners of the triangle and the position of the ship for the third. By measuring the angles between these three points, the position of the ship can be pin-pointed. Even today, there is no more reassuring sight to a ship returning from sea than the well-known characteristic of a familiar lighthouse.
Until the 1970s, Point Sur also had a fog
signal. The original
signal was made by twin steam whistles. Steam was produced by
which used wood for fuel. Over the years, the steam whistles
replaced by airhorns. The fog signal was used whenever fog
visibility to the degree that ships were in danger of hitting the rocks
off shore. Technological advances in navigational equipment
reporting eventually made the fog signal no longer necessary.
One of the factors influencing the funding for building the Point Sur Lightstation was the wreck of the VENTURA in 1875. According to reports, the captain was drunk and the ship hit a cluster of rocks just north of Point Sur. Everyone aboard eventually reached the shore safely, leaving the ship to break up on the rocks and slowly sink.
While shipwrecks were not a common occurrence, there have been enough to distinguish the Point Sur area as a treacherous navigational hazard. Other ships lost in the vicinity include the LOS ANGELES in 1894, the MAJESTIC in 1909, the SHNA-YAK in 1916, the THOMAS L. WAND in 1922, the BABINDA in 1923, the RHINE MARU, the PANAMA and the S. CATANIA in 1930, and the HOWARD OLSON in 1956.
Although a wreck meant disaster for the shipping companies and sometimes tragic loss of life for those aboard, it also meant a new influx of supplies for the Big Sur coast residents. As ships broke up, the cargo floated with the currents, eventually being deposited along the shoreline. As news of a shipwreck passed along the coast, the local population flocked to the beach to gather lumber, foodstuffs and trade goods.
In 1990, the U.S. Navy and the Monterey Bay
Aquarium Research Institute
discovered and photographed the Macon's wreckage, including her scout
A special exhibit, including recovered parts from the airship, is
in the Point Sur Lightstation visitor center.