Monday marks the 138th anniversary of the official completion — at a cost of $123,493 (more than $3 million now) — of the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, aka Terrible Tilly.
Getting to that point was no easy feat. The basalt rock, about 100 feet high, and 1.2 miles out at sea, wasn’t exactly welcoming to visitors. With no way to land except to jump from a small boat to the rock, lighthouse builder John R. Trewavas, who was tasked with surveying the rock, slipped and was washed out to sea before he could even get started.
In June 1879, after several previous attempts failed, construction superintendent John R. Wheeler managed to get onto the rock to do the survey. Because of the difficulty landing, all he could bring was his measuring tape.
After Trewavas’ death, locals weren’t clamoring to work on Tillamook Rock, so the construction supervisor, Charles A. Ballantyne, had to hire an out-of-town crew. He sequestered them in Washington before the work started so they wouldn’t hear local gossip.
Finally, construction began in October 1879. Ballantyne landed men and gear by using a rope pulley between the top of the rock and a ship’s mast. The crew lived in wooden shacks on the slopes of the rock, enduring bitter winter weather, even being stranded once.
It took until May 1880 to blast off the top 30 feet of the rock to form a level surface. In June, massive derricks were built to bring up the basalt blocks from a Portland quarry (for the walls of the lighthouse), along with equipment and supplies, and even the Fresnel lens.
On Jan. 3, 1881, while the lighthouse was still under construction, the Lupatia ran aground on Tillamook Head, killing everyone aboard except the crew’s dog. The disaster reinforced the need for a lighthouse, and the crew hastened complete the construction in three weeks to prevent a repeat of Lupatia’s tragic fate.