Seaside Stories

Terrible Tilly: Stowing Away the Years

August 25, 2013 | by Veronica Russell

Perched atop solid rock more than a mile offshore from Tillamook Head, the notorious Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, (nicknamed “Terrible Tilly”) is rife with mystery and legend. She still stands today, though battered and bruised, a testament to her storied past.
Tilly’s story began in 1879 when a solid basalt rock was selected as the unlikely location for a lighthouse off the coast of Tillamook Head. Danger and intrigue began almost immediately for Tilly. Before work even began, a master mason surveying the location was swept out to sea, never to be seen again.
Constructing Tilly was grueling work. Just accessing the rock was dangerous, not to mention the stormy weather wreaking havoc on the crew, their supplies and their morale. In January of 1880, four months into construction, a perilous storm sent powerful waves and loosened rocks crashing over the site, sweeping away the crew’s tools, water tank and provisions. According to historical records, all the workers survived, but were stranded for over two weeks waiting for new food, clothing and supplies.
Construction took over 500 days and just weeks before completion in January of 1881, the barque Lupatia wrecked in heavy fog killing all 16 of her crew members. The only survivor of the wreck was the crew’s dog.
On January 21, 1881 Tilly’s first order Fresnel lens was lit for the first time. Light keepers were assigned to duty, but for shorter than typical rotations—42 days on, 21 days off—because conditions proved so harsh, both physically and mentally.
For decades, Tilly and her keepers withstood the ravages of the sea, but in October of 1934, the worst storm on record inundated the entire Pacific Northwest for four days. Tilly’s lantern room and Fresnel lens were smashed by boulders hurled by the storm. It was never replaced.
On September 1, 1957, Keeper Oswald Allik turned off the light for good and made one final entry in the logbook (now on display at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon):
“Farewell, Tillamook Rock Light Station. An era has ended. With this final entry, and not without sentiment, I return thee to the elements. You, one of the most notorious and yet fascinating of the sea-swept sentinels in the world; long the friend of the tempest-tossed mariner. Through howling gale, thick fog and driving rain your beacon has been a star of hope and your foghorn a voice of encouragement. May the elements of nature be kind to you. For 77 years you have beamed your light across desolate acres of ocean. Keepers have come and gone; men lived and died; but you were faithful to the end. May your sunset years be good years. Your purpose is now only a symbol, but the lives you have saved and the service you have rendered are worthy of the highest respect. A protector of life and property to all, may old-timers, newcomers and travelers along the way pause from the shore in memory of your humanitarian role.”
Tillamook Rock Lighthouse was sold to a series of investors over the years, and most recently, she served as the Eternity at Sea Columbarium. She is part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Knowing my fascination with Tilly, my husband (who fishes for salmon off Tillamook Head) snapped a few photos for me on a recent trip. What a gift! It was hard to imagine, on a day when the sea was more like a glassy lake, how tempestuous and murderous the waters surrounding Tilly could actually be. But, it was not difficult to imagine what Tilly has been through. She is certainly showing her age. Pelicans, cormorants, and sea lions are her inhabitants and, they along with the sea, are now her keepers in her “sunset years.”
Editor’s note:  The Tillamook Head Trail between Seaside and Ecola State Park in Cannon Beach offers views of Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, as does the Promenade in Seaside. Pause from the shore, if you will, and reflect, as Keeper Oswald Allik requested, on Tilly’s not-so-terrible role in history. 

Leave a Reply

and so much more!

The Iron Horse Comes to Town

A look at the train that connected Seaside to Portland in 1898

Learn More
Riders of the Storm

Winter weather on the Oregon Coast is the flipside to flipside to golden summers, but it can be just as beautiful.

Learn More
The Tale of the Driftwood Forts

As driftwood forts become more rare along the Oregon Coast, the memories hold strong.

Learn More
Artillery on the Beach

Artillery on Seaside

Learn More
Seaside Skatepark

The Seaside Skatepark (also called the PTR “Hometown Park”) has a unique history. It was opened in June of 2007, and was built by Placed to Ride. The owner of Placed to Ride, Stefan Hauser, lives here in Seaside.

Learn More
Episode Two: the Lewis & Clark Salt Works

Join us on an audio walking tour of the Lewis & Clark Salt Works in Seaside, Oregon.

Learn More
A volunteer assists those watching whales at an unknown location along the Oregon Coast.
Where to Watch for Whales

It’s possible to see gray whales off the Oregon Coast year-round, but one of two peak periods occurs in late March, when some 20...

Learn More
Hot Summer Car Shows help usher in the summer season in Seaside.
Hot Summer Car Shows

Two Seaside car shows help usher in and wind down the summer travel season

Learn More
Paddle Neawanna Creek
How to Paddle Seaside

Spend a little time in Seaside, and you’ll find yourself itching to paddle on the rivers and ponds.

Learn More
Ranger’s Guide to the North Coast

Some of Oregon’s most scenic and history-rich places are located in or around Seaside. In fact, within just a one-hour drive, yo...

Learn More
Seaside Watercraft Adventures
Seaside Watercraft Adventures

Seaside watercraft adventures await visitors of all skill levels. With two rivers and multiple access points, anyone can enjoy the...

Learn More
An early morning kayak ride

One kayaker's take on an early morning ride into the Necanicum Estuary.

Learn More
Beach Blanket Bingo

Going back to the early 1960s, we look at beach culture.

Learn More
A Stop on the Art Walk

Capturing what goes on behind the scenes of a First Saturday Art Walk

Learn More
Shopper’s Delight: Selnes Grocery

The hustle and bustle of Holiday shopping in Seaside circa 1926 was not nearly the same as it today.

Learn More
Oregon Coast Visitor Tsunami Awareness Program

Tsunami awareness resources from the Office of Emergency Management

Learn More
Beach Access for Everyone

Beach Wheelchair Access is Growing on the Coast Seaside is proud to be among a small number of coastal towns in Oregon to offer fr...

Learn More