Wednesday, September 28, 2016

An Inland Lighthouse

There are more inland lighthouses than you might think. Lakes have lighthouses, especially if there is much boating and shipping traffic. The Great Lakes are a good example. There are many, many lighthouses on their shores. The major rivers of the world all have lighthouses too, sometimes in the traditional style we so love.

The Port of Kennewick on the Columbia River has its own lighthouse, a handsome conical tower standing in a river park. What's truly special about this lighthouse is that it's almost new--built and lighted just a few years ago. Although the lighthouse is mostly a decorative accent for the refurbished waterfront, it does have an official Coast Guard-approved beacon, and vessels do use it.

Washington's saltwater shores on the coast, in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the San Juan Islands, and Puget Sound have about 22 lighthouses. Clover Island Lighthouse is the most inland light in the state, and the newest lighthouse in Washington (faux lighthouses aside).

To reach the island, there is a bridge with a modern gateway. Clover Island has undergone a transformation in recent years. The lighthouse is just one of the many new structures on the island. There are hotels, a yacht club, the Ice House Brewery, and the Coast Guard Station for the area. There’s also art. The sculpture below is called “Call of the River” and is a bronze statue by Rodd Ambroson that recalls the pioneer days of Kennewick.

This is Lewis & Clark territory. The nearby Columbia Trail Park meanders along the city waterfront for several miles and incorporates the lovely entrance bridge to Clover Island. The Corps of Discovery stopped in the area in 1803, long before white settlement, and had a meal of Columbia River salmon, prepared by the Yakima. Some of Lewis & Clark’s men were worried the fish were sick and refused to eat them, since they found fish lying dead in the river and on the banks. Lewis & Clark were concerned too. They didn’t know the fish-kill is a natural part of the salmon life-cycle as the fish return to their birthplaces to spawn.

Clover Island Lighthouse also recalls the era of the “Lights on the Palouse,” when farmers put daymarks and beacons on their silos to guide wagon trains over the vast expanse of Eastern Washington. The rolling hills, endless miles of scrubby landscape, dust devils, and heat wearied the traveling pioneers. Their hearts lifted when they saw a farm and a beacon.

The Port of Kennewick itself was not established until 1915. The steamboat era of the late nineteenth century saw plenty of vessels making the trip from the mouth of the Columbia River eastward to Kennewick. Other than by train, passengers could get to Eastern Washington quickest on the river. In winter, when the mountain passes were snowy, riverboats were safer than trains. There was also much cargo traveling the river. Ships carried out salmon, wheat, and other crops and brought in staples for the settlers.

Clover Island was purchased by the City of Kennewick in 1946. Back then, it was just a sandy spot in the river. It was enlarged with fill, and a marina and a shipyard were built on the island. Beginning in 2010, the marina was revitalized and a large building was erected to house offices, shops, and restaurants. The lighthouse was a bonus, adding great appeal. Clover Island became a tourist draw with its park-like ambiance---sculpture, pretty landscaped walkways, places to eat and shop, and the lighthouse plaza.

The lighthouse is not open to the public on a regular basis. Special tours are available, though, that include a climb to the top. The grounds are open year-round. A stroll here won't disappoint!

(All photos by the author except construction of the lighthouse photo and draft blueprint image by John Ferrolf, HDJ Design, and the nautical map from NOAA.)


  1. It's great to hear about a recently built lighthouse in Washington. I'd love to visit this one sometime. Another very enjoyable post, Elinor!

  2. It's great to read about this recently-built lighthouse, Elinor. Another enjoyable and interesting post!


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