• Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, aka Terrible Tilly, is a mystery piece of the Oregon Coast
• This is the most expensive lighthouse ever constructed in the U.S.
Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, also known as Terrible Tilly Lighthouse, is a unique and mysterious piece of Oregon Coast history. Located on the rock about a mile offshore from the Tillamook Head, this lighthouse probably has the richest history of all the Oregon lighthouses. This 62-foot light station towering 133 feet above sea level can be visible from Ecola State Park and Tillamook Head. Tillamook Head Viewpoints offer the best view of the lighthouse. It, however, requires a moderate difficulty hike - 1.3 miles (one way) from Indian Beach Day-Use Area State or 2.9 miles (one way) from Tillamook Head Trailhead in Seaside.
Terrible Tilly was one of the most expensive lighthouses ever constructed on the U.S. West Coast. The project’s final cost was $125,000 at the time, roughly $3.51 million in today's dollars. The name "Terrible Tilly" is the result of the severe weather conditions during its construction that claimed multiple lives.
The idea of building a lighthouse on an offshore rock was born in 1878. The construction survey was first done by H.S. Wheeler, who was highly skeptical about the entire project. He took two trips to Tilly's planned location to see what work was needed. Mr. Wheeler concluded that the project would be prohibitively expensive and even require using explosives to level up the surface of the rock.
The third survey trip was made by John Trewavas. Mr. Trewavas was an experienced stonemason who had previously completed lighthouses in similarly harsh conditions, including the Wolf Rock Lighthouse in England. Unfortunately, this trip was the last one for Mr. Trewavas -- he was swept away by a massive wave and was never seen again.
The third surveyor, Mr. Charles A. Ballantyne, had an even harder task. By then, Terrible Tilly had already gained a horrible reputation -- finding workers for the project was not easy. Nevertheless, Mr. Ballantyne managed to find a crew of men who had not heard of Mr. John Trewavas' death and was finally able to start the work.
In May 1880, the top of the rock was leveled by explosives, and the lighthouse construction began. At the beginning of January 1881, when the light was nearly complete, another tragedy struck Terrible Tilly.
The bark Lupatia was sailing in the area during the dense fog and high winds and got dangerously close to the shore. They were so close that Mr. Wheeler, who was in charge of the construction, could hear the sailors' voices. So he ordered workers to light a bonfire and place the lanterns in the tower to warn the ship crew that they were as close as 600 feet (200 meters) to the rock. Lupatia's crew managed to turn the bark away from the rock, but the ship got wrecked anyway. The next day, 16 bodies were washed on the shore of Tillamook Head. Only the dog fromLupatia survived.
Shortly after the Lupatia wreck, on January 21, 1881, the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse was first lit. After that, violent storms and strong winds became the new enemies of this ambitious project. Waves damaged the lighthouse multiple times; the tower got flooded because large debris brought by the storm broke the window of the lantern room, and so on. In the end, the lens was destroyed by the winds of 109 miles per hour (175 km/h) that launched boulders all the way to the top of the tower. The lens was eventually replaced by the aerobeacon with metal mesh installed around the lantern room to protect it from debris.
Terrible Tilly was decommissioned in 1957 and replaced by a whistle buoy. Ultimately, after decades of service accompanied regular damage inflicted upon the structure and the equipment, the light managed to break the record as the most expensive lighthouse to ever operate in the United States.
After the decommissioning, Terrible Tilly changed ownership multiple times and even became Eternity at Sea Columbarium in 1980. About 30 urns had been brought to Terrible Tilly before the Columbarium license was revoked in 1999. As of April 2022, Eternity at Sea put the property for sale.
Tillamook Rock Lighthouse | Facts
Tower Height: 62 ft (19 m)
Focal Height: 133 ft (41 m)
Operation: Deactivated in 1957
Location: A mile offshore from the Tillamook Head
Open: No public access
Ecola Viewpoint is located:
- 3 miles north of Cannon Beach
- 80 miles northwest of Portland.
Directions to Terrible Tilly Viewpoins
From Highway 101 in Cannon Beach,
- Take N Alternative Route of Highway 101 and travel 0.4 miles southwest to 5th Street
- Turn right onto 5th Street and then slightly right onto Ecola State Park Road
- Drive 1.7 miles north on Ecola State Park Road and then turn left onto Ecola Park Road
- Continue 0.2 miles to the destination.