SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Guard Island Heritage, Inc. Plans Fundraising Las Vegas Theme Dance Party at the Ted Ferry Civic Center



August 06, 2022

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska - On The National Register of Historic Places. Guard Island Lighthouse is located on a small island near the entrance to Tongass Narrows north of Ketchikan. The lighthouse location was prioritized 6th in a 1901 study of 15 Alaska proposed sites to assist shipping along Southeast Alaska's Inside Passage, known as one of the more difficult passages along the route of Klondike Gold Rush-related shipping to Juneau and to Skagway.  

Guard Island Lighthouse, which opened in 1904, is placed on what is actually the larger of two islands, known since the 1880s as Guard Islands and given that name Guard, because of their prominent location of guarding the north west entrance to Tongass Narrows. The larger island is about 9 & 1/2 acres. At one time it also had two very grandiose homes, along with a boathouse and carpenter's shed.

jpg Guard Island Heritage, Inc. Plans Fundraising Las Vegas Theme Dance Party at the Ted Ferry Civic Center

Guard Island Lighthouse, 1904
Photo courtesy United States Coast Guard

On January 4, 1901, then U.S. President William McKinley issued an executive order reserving the islands for lighthouse purposes. Preparation for construction of the original lighthouse began in the fall of 1903. The U.S. Lighthouse Service crews completed the building and first lit the light on September 15, 1904. This lighthouse was a truncated, wooden pyramidal shaped structure that held the light 79 feet above mean tide. All the trees on the island were cut down to allow the light to be seen. This no doubt eliminated whatever eagles nests that were on the island ant that time. No record can be found as to whether the trees were willed on site to construct the first light tower or if they were cut up for fire wood or simply discarded. Trees are still occasionally cut back to allow the light to be seen as Guard Island Lighthouse remains an active aide to navigation.

The original wooden structure did not hold up well in the area’s severe climate. In 1922 construction began on what we see before us today, a solid concrete structure, that from this vantage point looks a lot more like a miniature white house rather than a lighthouse.

The first light keeper was John O. Karlson and his assistant was Guss Hall. They lived in a story and a half framed house that can be seen in our black and white photos as the smaller of the two island homes. Besides maintaining the light, they had a fog signal apparatus, considered unusual at the time, also to maintain. It struck a bell every 20 seconds. That sounds like some sort of torture treatment to me. During the early 30’s a second dwelling was built. It was a two and a half story home thus allowing two families to share the islands and have enough additional room to host light keepers in training.

Guard Island was an official light keepers training station for a number of years. In 1938, radio telephones and radio beacon monitoring systems were installed. By 1949 a radio beacon synchronized with the fog signal devise warned mariners in determining their distance from Guard Island. Modern vessels, equipped with radar and GPS now make such antiquated distance signaling devices obsolete.

The U.S. Coast Guard personnel maintained the light station for periods of one year at a time. When young single men were assigned to Guard Island, it would be particularly frustrating for these light keepers to be close enough to Ketchikan to see the glimmer of the city lights but without a real possibility to enjoy any of the night life there. On some calm weather nights they were known to row their shore boat on clandestine trips to the near by Mecca Bar. Family life on the island included children, and schooling, gardening, fishing and sharing the island with pets. The most notable pet was a Sitka Black Tail Deer that arrived at the island on its own power, swimming. Unfortunately it succumbed to an untimely death by an incident with the lifeboat tramway system. Ken Lindner & Stan Oaksmith, having heard of the deer’s mishap, that same year, happened upon an orphaned fawn in the woods and captured the little deer. These men were float plane pilots and made a special delivery by float plane to the children of Guard Island. It was soon discovered that the deer took a liking to green grapes and so extra bunches of grapes had to be delivered with each weeks groceries. The deer lived on the island until the lighthouse became unmanned in 1969. At that time, the fully grown female deer was taken to Revillagigedo Island and released in the woods above Ketchikan.

Shortly after the island homes were abandoned by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1969 young men and women began living there. It was rumored that these young people were perhaps cohabiting without license and perhaps growing some things in the gardens that had never been grown there before. When the U.S. Coast Guard caught wind of this they inhaled quickly and deeply several times. No, that’s not right after all Bill Clinton was not in the coast guard was he. Now we may joke about Bill Clinton a bit but our community needs to go on public record for thanking President Clinton for a very good deed. It was then, President Clinton, one month before he left office, signed the Lighthouse Preservation Act. This federal law allows local nonprofit organizations to apply for and attain ownership of lighthouses for educational, historical and public access purposes. In 2001 a local organization was formed in Ketchikan for that very purpose. The Guard Island Heritage, Inc., is a 501(C)3 organization. Plans call for: repairing the lighthouse, repairing the boat house to become an overnight shelter for Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and church youth groups to enjoy overnight outings on the island, building a boardwalk around the perimeter of the island so that all foot traffic on the island will be on the boardwalk thus protecting the plant and animal life there. Plans including constructing an amphitheater and a marine dock facility. The lighthouse will become a maritime museum and gallery while the boardwalk will become a self guided nature trail, identifying all the plants and animals that make their homes at or around Guard Island.

What became of those historic homes on Guard Island? Well, when the Coast Guard found out what was going on out there they decided to evict those young people. After having evicted them they did a rather sinister and dastardly deed in this writer's opinion. They dowsed the homes with gasoline and burned those houses to the ground. They later returned with dynamite and dynamited those foundations into oblivion. The only record we have of those homes having existed are the pictorial records that we have examples of. When I’ve been out on the island I have seen the piles of foundational rubble there.

Guard Island Heritage, Inc. now has a membership of 2,500 members, from all 50 states and around the world. No fundraising has been done for the group's efforts since well before COVID pandemic.

Now the group plans is planning a fundraising event at the Ted Ferry Civic Center on August 27, 2022. Guard Island Heritage, Inc. will provide a community wide Las Vegas Theme Dance Party with a large dance floor, featuring the Stephanie Patton Jazz Sextet and the 16 member Frank Sinatra Tribute BigBand for a full evening of community celebration. Creek St. Cabaret will provide a full service bar and Guard Island Heritage, Inc. will provide light snacks and bottled water for all those in attendance.

Lifetime Memberships into Guard Island Heritage, Inc. will also be available at the event for $25 and each new member will receive an embossed and matted artwork of Guard Island Lighthouse by Brenda Schwartz.

Tickets to this event are available wherever you see a poster with a QR Code or click here to purchase tickets online:

The group is looking for a few volunteers to take tickets, usher guests, etc. If you are interested in volunteering, text to: 907-617-2262.

Admission is $25. Tables for 4 are $120 and tables for 8 are $240.

Edited By: Mary Kauffman, SitNews

Source of News:

Guard Island Heritage, Inc.

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