There was a time when life at the Point Arena Lighthouse required strength, stamina and the discipline to tend to the round-the-clock operational and maintenance needs of the life-saving beacon atop the tower.
Late 19th century “wickies” hauled buckets of whale oil and, eventually, kerosene up 145 spiraling steps to keep the flame alight through the night. They regularly trimmed the large wick and, in later years, hand-cranked a weighted clockwork mechanism at 75-minute intervals to keep the lens rotating and flashing its warning to mariners off-shore.
It was the keepers and their three assistants, as well, who chopped wood to keep the steam-powered foghorn working and who, by day, cleaned soot and oil from the lens.
“It was basically a 24-hour operation,” said Mark Hancock, executive director of the nonprofit Point Arena Lighthouse Keepers Inc., which now owns the former Coast Guard light station and 23 acres of windswept land surrounded on three sides by craggy rocks and breathtaking ocean views.
These days, a trip to the lighthouse is a fun, relaxing affair, though it still offers the opportunity to experience a little of what it might have been like for those stalwarts and their families who lived out on the remote peninsula in service to the 115-foot tall tower that still warns sailors to steer clear of the rocks.
Visitors can actually stay in cottages built for the keeper staff, waking to the crash of waves as they pound upon the shore and redefine the landscape.
Four small houses built in the 1960s to replace aging bungalows have been rented out as vacation retreats since around 1985, including three, three-bedroom, two-bath assistant keeper houses and the head keeper’s house, in its entirety or by units: a one-bedroom house, a one-bedroom apartment or a single, queen-size room.
“We have a huge number of repeat visitors,” Hancock said. “Mainly they like the quaintness and rusticity of the units.”
But even Hancock acknowledges that most of the rentals are in need of updating — all but one that will be proudly on display at a Sunday open house.
The newly remodeled Assistant Keeper’s House 4 is what Hancock calls a “prototype” of what he hopes will eventually be possible in the other units. Perhaps the extensive teardown won’t be necessary next time, given what those involved have now learned, he said.
Completed largely through volunteer efforts, discounted supplies and donations, the refurbished cottage offers an upscale feel with a gourmet kitchen and a native plant garden.
And, as with the other units, renting the place includes free, unlimited admission to the lighthouse and museum, access to gorgeous views and surrounding trails on the lighthouse land and on the adjoining 1,665-acre Point Arena-Stornetta Unit of the California Coastal National Monument.
The lighthouse, rebuilt two years after it was devastated by the 1906 earthquake, already has drawn more than 22,000 visitors this year, and Hancock said he’s hoping buzz about the newly refreshed cottage will highlight the nonprofit’s vacation rentals and the lighthouse itself.
You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.