Digest>Archives> November 2010

One of the Best Decisions I Ever Made

By Thomas Pine

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The first order Fresnel lens from the Destruction ...
Photo by: Thomas Pine

When visiting the Gray’s Harbor Lighthouse in Westport, WA, a fellow-visitor recommended that I visit the Maritime Museum in Westport, where they have a display of a first order Fresnel lens from the Destruction Island Lighthouse. Since I had driven over three hours to get there from where we had our RV parked in the Seattle area (Sultan, WA) and I had two other lighthouses to visit that day (North Head and Cape Disappointment), I felt reluctance, but made the under two-mile trip anyway. It proved the best decision that I made that day! By the way, the Gray’s Harbor Lighthouse is interesting in its own right. It’s a fine restoration of Washington’s tower, which has a half-bivalve, or clamshell, third order Fresnel lens that you can climb to see up close.

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The Westport Maritime Museum in Westport, ...
Photo by: Thomas Pine

Upon arrival at the Maritime Museum, I was informed that there was a nominal five dollar fee to tour the museum, which also included a ticket to view the lens which is in a separate building.

Now I’ve seen displays before, but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw when I entered the lens building. There, in an area surrounded by white walls, stood the magnificent first order lens, revolving slowly on its polished brass “chariot wheels,” with a light inside radiating onto the walls in a rotating fan of light! A handicapped-accessible ramp around it allows you to see it from various levels. The only thing that could exceed the scope of this display would be to see an operating first order Fresnel lens from above, at night.

I stood there, looking on in awe at the magnificence of a one-ton, basket-style, first order lens, doing what it had been created to do—send out beams of concentrated light. As impressed as I had been to see Fresnel lenses up close, for the first time I could see the genius behind those icons of science and art.

Seldom have I seen a museum so adroitly display a Fresnel lens in operation. And to think I almost decided not to see it! If you consider yourself any kind of lighthouse aficionado, you owe it to yourself to see this display at the humble Maritime Museum at Westport. As the title of this article proclaims, it’ll be “one of the best decisions you ever made.”

The Westport Maritime Museum is located at 2201 Westhaven Drive in Westport, WA 98595. Phone: (360) 268-0078. Their web site is: www.maritimemuseum-ghlighthouse.org

This story appeared in the November 2010 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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