A Historical Look at Browns Point Lighthouse Park

Browns Point Lighthouse Park as seen from the water. Courtesy of Points Northeast Historical Society.

 

By Carly Calabrese

oly orthoLocated in northeast Tacoma, Browns Point Lighthouse Park features many amenities for the public. Some amenities include: swimming, beach, boating and fishing, a challenging historic trail, and the Puget Sound Viewpoint Waterfront. Browns Point Lighthouse is open a half hour before sunrise and closes a half hour after sunset.

According to Sheree Trefry, communications coordinator for Metro Parks Tacoma, Browns Point Lighthouse and its surroundings became a public park in 1964 when the lighthouse station closed and an agreement to convert the site to a public park was reached with the federal government. The park provides the public with beach waterfront access and picnicking opportunities.

Browns Point Lighthouse Park as seen from the water. Courtesy of Points Northeast Historical Society.
Browns Point Lighthouse Park as seen from the water. Courtesy of Points Northeast Historical Society.

It was interesting to find that Browns Point was known as Point Brown until approximately the 1920s. Browns Point Lighthouse Park was originally part of the Puyallup Indian Reservation, as established in 1872. Shortly thereafter, in 1887, a fixed white light lens lantern was placed on a white post on Point Brown to assist ships entering Commencement Bay. By 1901, this simple lantern was deemed insufficient and the US Government purchased the Browns Point Lighthouse property for $3,000 from the original Puyallup Tribal land owners. The first Browns Point Lighthouse, with its large fog bell, replaced the lamp on a post in 1903. The first Caucasian residents of Browns Point Lighthouse were Oscar Brown and his wife, Annie. Both lighthouse keepers, the two arrived on October 26, 1903. Oscar Brown maintained the light and battery operated bell. Every evening at sundown Oscar would light the lamp in the attic. Each morning at sunrise, he would put the light out. When the bell rang all night long due to fog, he had to rewind the mechanism every three quarters of an hour. When the bell would not function properly during a fog, Oscar and Annie used a sledgehammer and timer. Annie would  time the intervals as Oscar struck the bell.

According to Melissa McGinnis, historic and cultural resource manager for Metro Parks Tacoma, “Other structures on the property include: the Keeper’s Cottage [1903], a boathouse [1905], oil house [1906], crew’s quarters [1950s], and pump house [1917]. The original wooden lighthouse was replaced by a modern concrete structure in 1933. The restoration of the Keeper’s Cottage, as well as the other outbuildings, vividly brings the life and times of early 20th century light keepers to the attention of our regional community as well as people throughout the rest of the country.”

Browns Point Lighthouse Park is a great location to watch sailboats while enjoying a picnic. Courtesy of Points Northeast Historical Society.
Browns Point Lighthouse Park is a great location to watch sailboats while enjoying a picnic. Courtesy of Points Northeast Historical Society.

When asked what she liked most or found to be the most intriguing about Browns Point Lighthouse, Melissa replied, “While standing on the front porch of the Light keeper’s home and enjoying the beautiful view, I like to try and imagine what life at the point was like during Oscar Browns tenure as a light keeper before Browns Point developed and how important it was to keep that light burning no matter what the weather was.”

The public can enjoy the Browns Point Lighthouse thanks to the Points Northeast Historical Society. The Points Northeast Historical Society is a local group of volunteer members who have taken on the preservation and promotion of the early historical role the Browns Point Lighthouse played in the development of the Tacoma area of the Puget Sound. The Points Northeast Historical Society provides a unique experience to the public, in an effort to promote the history of the area, by renting out its turn-of-the-century (1903) Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage. The Points Northeast Historical Society also provides tours for school groups and other organizations by appointment.

Sheree Trefry said, “Thanks to the “Adopt a Park” partnership established in October 2000, between Points Northeast Historical Society and Metro Parks Tacoma, visitors can experience tours [where] you can take a step back in time as you tour the History Center, Boathouse, replica surfboat, original fog bell and the Light Keeper’s Cottage. Tours are available Saturdays between 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. from March through November. Admission is free.”

Learning local history in the historic Light Keeper's Cottage at Browns Point Lighthouse Park. Courtesy of Points Northeast Historical Society.
Learning local history in the historic Light Keeper’s Cottage at Browns Point Lighthouse Park. Courtesy of Points Northeast Historical Society.

The public can volunteer and escape from it all and experience life as a lighthouse keeper by signing up for a one-week stay in the three-bedroom historic Light Keeper’s Cottage on the shores of Puget Sound. Lighthouse keepers can learn local history and conduct tours of the lighthouse grounds and facilities. Your “tour of duty” includes requirements to raise and lower the flag, log in weather and shipping traffic and have the Cottage and Museum open for visitors on Saturdays in the summer from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. You also can relax and watch sailboats, walk on the beach, fish from the shore, enjoy sunsets, and read in antique rocking chairs on the porch.

Summer rentals are by the week only: July & August – $950; June & September – $880.

Winter rentals: October – May – $595 per week; shorter stays with 2-night minimum are $175 Friday and Saturday, and $150 per night Sunday – Thursday.

All rates are before tax and there is a membership fee for $25 and damage deposit of $200. Maximum amount of people in a party is six people.

To request an info packet with a complete list of duties and regulations, please click here, email pointsnortheast@comcast.net or call253-927-2536. The Points Northeast Historical Society is located at: 1000 Town Center, Ste 180, PMB 135, Browns Point, WA  98422.

 

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