Have you ever lived in a location as remote, or as difficult to get to for many years, as Point Sur, California? This beautiful but rugged coast has seen many shipwrecks in its day; it probably would have more if not for a successful petition in the late 1880s to have a lighthouse built. It wasn’t until 1974 that this lightstation was finally automated, and the last keeper left Point Sur.
The first keeper moved into his Big Sur home in the lighthouse on August 1, 1889. He, along with three assistants, staffed it 24 hours a day. Their lives were anything but easy. They were isolated. The trip to Monterey was lengthy and treacherous – it wasn’t until the completion of Highway One, in 1937, that the trip became practical. Each family was provided with a garden area where they could grow fresh vegetables. Major supplies such as coal and firewood were delivered every few months. A horse and wagon was provided by the U.S. Lighthouse service so mail and other supplies could be secured from Pfeiffer’s Resort.
Life for Point Sur residents was a stoic exercise. Up until 1927, school was not a daily affair for most children. One of the early keepers, William Mollering, asked the school district for a lightstation teacher – they complied. The teacher lived with the head keeper’s family. In the same way Highway One opened easier access to the area, it also meant that two more schoolhouses were built in the 1940s, each a little more accessible to Big Sur families.
Worth a mention is the key component of every lighthouse: the lens. The original lens, the largest Fresnel lens manufactured, can be seen today in the Allen Knight Maritime Museum of Monterey. It was 18 feet tall, all told. The optic component weighed over 4,000 pounds. Light from this spectacular lens could be seen as far as 23 nautical miles away. It was in use until the 1970s, at which time a modern aero beacon replaced it.
Today, you can tour the Lighthouse, and if you have enough nerve, you can go on one of three ghost tours in the month of October. For more information about the Point Sur area and Lighthouse, please visit their website at http://www.pointsur.org/.