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The Trials of Lighthouse Keeping

In 1792 the island of Patos was named Isla de Patos (Island of Ducks), by the Spanish explorers Galiano and Bazan, perhaps because of the many ducks that inhabited the island. Interestingly, the island was a hideout for smugglers due to its proximity to the Canadian border and its many trees and caves.

The first light of the island was at Boundary Pass just across from Canada’s Saturna Island. The island of Patos is located at the northern entrance to the Canal de Haro. This was a very dangerous passage due to strong currents and fog. In March 1891 Congress appropriated $12,000 for the construction of an aid to navigation consisting of a double dwelling, a fog signal building, water tanks, and a lighthouse at the west end of the island. The actual building was completed in late 1893.

So there was a white light on the Canadian side of the channel and a red light on a ten-foot white pole on Patos Island.

By 1915 several improvements had been made resulting in a new fog signal and a fresnel lens beacon. Harry Mahler was paid $700 per year as head goalkeeper and Edward Dargan was paid $500 per year as assistant goalkeeper.

After serving as lighthouse keeper at several different locations on the West Coast, Durgan returned in 1905 to the island of Patos as chief light keeper. He arrived in Patos with his wife Estelle and their thirteen children where he became well known. Although it had a mild climate, the island of Patos was very isolated. The Durgan family traveled twenty-six water miles once a month to Bellingham, Washington for supplies. Their nearest neighbor was Saturna Island in Canada, which was just over three miles out in the water.

Seven of the children came down with smallpox, and keeper Durgan, to signal for help, threw the lighthouse flag upside down. Help eventually came, but one account says three of the children died. While another account was that a child succumbed. A third account states that the child who died probably died of appendicitis rather than smallpox

Helene Durgan Glidden, one of the surviving children later wrote a memoir entitled “The Light on the Island”. In this writing she talked about her conversations with God, how she played with her pet cow and wandered the shores of the island she called “the petticoats” of the island of Patos.

George Loholt replaced Durgan as manager with Mary Durgan’s husband Noah Clark remaining as assistant goalkeeper.

Traveling over the rough waters to visit or shop was dangerous. In 1911 Noah Clark went to Blaine, Washington to pick up his wife Mary and their young son who were visiting the Durgans. On the return trip the boat’s engine failed as it approached the island of Patos. The boat began to fill with water and Clark jumped overboard for help to save his family and was never seen again. His family, after drifting in the water all night, finally crawled over the cabin when the boat filled with water. Luckily they were rescued after landing in a flock.

In August 1912, a distress signal came from the island of Patos. Captain Newcombe of the Canadian fisheries protection tug noticed the signal and stopped at the island to investigate. The assistant lighthouse keeper, William Stark, told the captain that Keeper Lockholt was showing signs of insanity. That Lockholt had left the station in a boat two days earlier without any explanation leaving Stark to carry out all the duties alone. Captain Newcombe notified the lighthouse keeper at Portland, who proceeded to Patos Island.

Inspector Beck arrived at Patos and discovered that the two men had been fighting and that one had threatened to kill the other and kicked him off the island. Eventually the assistant was dismissed and Keeper Loholt continued as head lighthouse keeper for another ten years or more. During which he rendered assistance to many vessels in distress.

These accounts are reported in the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Lighthouses.

Telephone service came to the island in 1919 and took care of much of the communication issue.

The lighthouse is now part of Patos Island State Park and has been restored and cared for by a group of selfless volunteers.

You can visit the lighthouse by boat either from the port of Paraskevi or from the port of Roche. In recent years there have been scientists to open the lighthouse to visitors in the summer months.

The lighthouse is owned by the Bureau of Land Management. Grounds.open, lighthouse closed

The lighthouse is best visited by boat. Roche Harbor or Friday Harbor on San Juan Island are two of the closest harbors to the Patos Island Lighthouse. The Keepers of the Patos Light have had cadets on the island in recent years to open the lighthouse to visitors during the summer months.

Orcas Island Eclipse Charters has previously offered Lighthouse Tours that pass through Patos Island. Outer Island Excursions offers tours to the island of Patos that include a hike to the lighthouse.

The lighthouse is owned by the Bureau of Land Management. Grounds.open, lighthouse closed

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