Tillamook Rock Lighthouse

Nicknamed “Terrible Tilly”, the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse is built on an isolated rock in the ocean almost one and one-half miles offshore from the Oregon Coast.  Because of the difficult access and swirling ocean currents, its construction in the 1880s was a marvel of engineering.  And because of its exposure to fierce storms and waves, the men who manned the light were a marvel of rare courage.

The coastal storms that beat against the rock island upon which Tillamook Rock Lighthouse was constructed are legendary.  During a storm in 1896, a rock weighing 135 pounds crashed through the roof and into the kitchen of the keeper’s quarters.  And storm waves were known to toss rocks into the protective glass around the light’s Fresnel lens.

The Tillamook Rock lighthouse is one of the most weather exposed lighthouses in the world. Thus earning the name of "Terrible Tilly".

Construction of Tillamook Rock Lighthouse

Construction began in the late 1870s.  During the building of the station a lighthouse engineer lost his life during an attempted landing on the rock.  The first order Fresnel lens was first lit in 1881.  The lantern is 133 feet above the surface of the Pacific Ocean.

Tillamook Lighthouse – Difficult Years

For almost 80 years, the beacon served maritime shipping, until the light was deactivated in 1957.  During that time, storms would buffet the tiny rock, and the isolation and exposure took its toll on the light keepers.  Remember, the light was kerosene, and every few hours, cans of kerosene would be hauled up to the top of the tower, and the reservoir refilled.

In one particular storm, the lighthouse was severely damaged.  During repairs to the lighthouse, a light keeper and workman became ill as a result of exposure to the elements while trying to repair the lighthouse.  But because of the fierce storm, they could not land a boat on the rock island to rescue the injured men.  The men where finally removed from the island by a lighthouse tender using a breeches buoy.

A breeches buoy is a crude rope-based rescue device used to extract people from wrecked vessels, or to transfer people from one location to another in situations of danger. The device resembles a round emergency personal flotation device with a leg harness attached. Hauling people over the line is similar to a zip line.

After the light was decommissioned, the lighthouse was abandoned for 20 years.

A New Home for the Dead

In 1980, the lighthouse was purchased and renovated to become a columbarium cemetery by Eternity at Sea Columbarium.  What is a columbarium?  It is a repository for the ashes of the dead.

Yes, after you die, you can have your ashes stored forever with “Terrible Tilly”!

And no, the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse is not open to the public, so you cannot just show up on the island and explore.

The rocky island is now a designated federal wildlife refuge.  Nesting cormorants and common murres use protected island to raise their young.


You cannot visit the light, but you can view it from land.  The Tillamook Rock Lighthouse can best be seen from either Ecola State Park, or from Highway 101 just south of Cannon Beach.

If you really want good pictures of the lighthouse, bring a camera with a long distance lens.

Just For Kids

Kids like stories of danger and heroism and of creepy things.  The story of Tillamook Rock Lighthouse has all these things.  My recommendation is to take a short 15 minute stop at Ecola State Park (so you can stretch your legs), tell the story of “Terrible Tilly”, and take some pictures.

Your kids will especially be fascinated by the idea that the tower is now full of “dead people”...

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