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Tillamook Rock Lighthouse - the Legend of Terrible Tilly

Have you heard of the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse?


Have you heard of Terrible Tilly, one of the haunted places in Oregon??

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse
Terrible Tilly - the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse

When hiking Ecola State Park or the Hwy 101 lookout near Cannon Beach, Oregon, you may have noticed the lighthouse on an isolated rock out in the distance.

Or you may have seen the dramatic photos of one of the most iconic Oregon lighthouses - Tillamook Rock Lighthouse.

Did you know the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse is also know as Terrible Tilly?

Follow along and we'll tell you the bleak, historied tale.

In 1880 construction began on the most expensive lighthouse of all of our Oregon coast lighthouses - and at one time was the most costly west coast lighthouse built. But the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse was expensive not only in cost, but in human lives.

In September 1879 John Trewavas was surveying Tillamook Rock in preparation for construction when Trewavas was swept off the rock by the huge waves which often hit the rock. His body was never found.

The first casualty of the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse.

Terrible Tilly and Tillamook Rock Lighthouse
Construction of Terrible Tilly

The construction lasted more than 500 days and was completed early in 1881.

Unfortunately Trewavas was not the last fatality.

In January 1881, the sailing ship Lupatia was nearing Tillamook Rock in heavy winds and fog. The construction crew on the Rock heard the panicked voices from the sailing ship and, as the Lighthouse was not yet completed, placed lanterns in the tower and lit bonfires on the Rock to warn the ship.

The Lupatia was able to turn away from Tillamook Rock, disappearing into the fog, never to be seen again.

All 16 bodies of the crew washed up on Tillamook Head the next day.

Terrible Tilly at Tillamook Rock Lighthouse
Up Close View of Tillamook Rock Lighthouse

Conditions for workers at the Lighthouse were treacherous. Tillamook Rock was frequently battered by violent storms, often breaking windows, and flooding the Lighthouse.

A head keeper and four assistants were assigned to work Tillamook Head Lighthouse. They worked shifts of three months followed two weeks off, with four workers always at the Lighthouse. Families lived on land.

Workers suffered cramped quarters, wild storms or fog with incessant fog horns, causing extreme tension amongst the workers. The Lighthouse soon was nicknamed Terrible Tilly.

On August 2, 1911, Second Assistant Keeper Henry Jenkins became the 18th death on Terrible Tilly. While painting, Jenkins slipped and fell 35 feet onto the rocks and sustained fatal injuries.

Building the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse
Postcard - Building the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse

In 1957, after over 77 years in operation, the infamous The Tillamook Rock Lighthouse was decommissioned, replaced by a red whistle buoy anchored one mile west of Tillamook Rock.

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse was later sold to private buyers and changed hands many times.

Until 1980, when group of investors bought the Lighthouse for $50,000, turning the building into Eternity at Sea Columbarium, a building to house client's remains in urns for $1000 to $5000 each.

After housing 30 urns, the Oregon Mortuary and Cemetery Board shut the business down for bad bookkeeping and improper urn storage. Asked about the improper storage and concerns about what would happen during violent storms, one of the owners responded:

People ask me what if a tsunami hits the lighthouse, and I tell every person their second choice better be to be buried at sea.

Hike to view Terrible Tilly
Hike to the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse Viewpoint

Unfortunately neither the conditions or storage were suitable - urns were kept on concrete blocks or boards - and Eternity at Sea Columbarium closed for good.

Today the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse remains privately owned yet abandoned. The light is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is also listed as an Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

You can read tales of the haunted Terrible Tilly around the internet, including this story.

The best way to view the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse

Hike to view Terribly Tilly! Head to Seaside Oregon, and go to the end of Sunset Blvd. Here you'll find a free parking lot. Look for the Tillamook Head trailhead in Elmer Feldenheimer Forest Preserve. To view the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse you'll have a medium challenging hike. The first part of the hike has an elevation gain of 900 ft. and switchbacks. That's the most challenging part.

The trail will then be fairly level, and follows the headland. Walk past the four mile marker, and you’ll pass camp sites and a WWII concrete bunker used for radar equipment. A short side trail leads to the Tillamook Lighthouse viewpoint where you’ll spot Tillamook Rock about one mile offshore.

The Tillamook Head trail is not the only wonderful local hike. There's lots more!

Hike Hug Point to view the seasonal waterfall and the original coast highway remains.

Enjoy the beautiful Arch Cape beach, and hike over to Hug Point.

Did you know there's a hike in the middle of Cannon Beach? Try the Haystack Hill State Park trail.

You'll find a lot of things to do at Oswald West State Park, One of the favorite family friendly hikes is up Neahkahnie Mountain to enjoy the incredible views.

Head south to the Kilchis Point Reserve for another family friendly hike. Then head over to the Tillamook Cheese Factory afterwards for some yummy Tillamook ice cream.

Happy Haunted Lighthouse everyone ~

We hope you enjoyed learning more about our Terrible Tilly, the Tillamook Head Lighthouse.

Interested in learning more about our Manzanita vacation rentals (they're not haunted!). Be sure to drop us a line.

The Houses On Manzanita Beach

Oregon Coast Vacation Rentals
Tillamook Head Hiking to View Terrible Tilly

The more the merrier! Please feel free to share our Manzanita Beach Life post with the social media links, below ~



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