While enjoying a recent Saturday off, we decided to venture to a part of Tacoma we’ve never been to – Northeast Tacoma.
I’d long seen the lighthouse at Browns Point from the Ruston Way area of Tacoma – which is across Commencement Bay. It is not an attractive lighthouse. In fact, it is just an ugly square monolith with a barbed wire fence around it. Very Tacoma looking, in fact. All it needed was some broken beer bottles and a bunch of graffiti and it would’ve felt right at home.
Despite the ugliness of the lighthouse, the little park accompanying it was gorgeous and well worth a visit.
The original lighthouse was built in 1901 and was operated by Oscar and Annie Brown, who moved to the land in 1903, building and living in a cottage that remains today and is a highlight of any visit to the park.
The cottage can be rented today through a local historical society by the night – and the week – and is open for tours from 1-4 p.m. on summer Saturdays.
When Oscar Brown lived there, the lighthouse could be reached on dry land at low tide, but he had to row to it during high tide.
Brown tended to a light and a battery-operated bell, according to the Metro Parks Tacoma website. At sundown he would light the lamp and at sunrise put it out. The bell rang during foggy nights, but had to be rewound every 45 minutes by a hand-cranked mechanism. If the bell was not working properly, he and his wife would both go to the lighthouse where she would time out 45 minutes and he would hit the bell with a sledgehammer.
Sounds like tiring work.
In 1922 electricity came to the park and he no longer had to light the lamp each night. In 1939, when the Coast Guard assumed responsibility for all lighthouses in America, Brown retired.
Arthur (Shorty) Woods worked the area in the 1940s and Cyril Beaulieu in the 1950s. The lighthouse was automated in 1963 and leased to the parks service in 1964.
The cottage along with the lighthouse, boathouse, oil house and pump house are on the National Registry of Historic Places according to a plaque on site.
When we visited on a sunny, windswept February day, there were lots of people enjoying the park – on the beach digging for clams (we think), throwing a ball for their dog, watching their kids climb on the driftwood, letting their dogs run free in the big field or just soaking up some sunshine and getting some exercise.
The beach offered big views of the Puget Sound, the Olympics, the Tacoma skyline and container ships heading into the Port of Tacoma. I’d imagine on a perfectly clear day, you’d get stunning views of Mt. Rainier – but we couldn’t see the old girl this day.
I’m not sure it is a park that you should go way out of your way for, but if you are in Tacoma and you are looking for a little history with some good views, this could be the one.
Parking is extremely limited, though, so be prepared to look at it from the road and continue on to nearby Dash Point State Park.
– Craig Craker