Trials of Lighthouse Keeping
In 1792 Patos Island was named Isla de Patos (Island of Ducks), by Spanish Explorers Galiano and Bazan maybe because of the numerous ducks which inhabited the island. Interestingly, the island was a hiding place for smugglers because of its nearness to the Canadian border and its many trees and caves.
The island’s first light was on Boundary Pass just opposite Canada’s Saturna Island. This was a very dangerous passage due to strong currents and foggy weather. In March of 1891 Congress appropriated $12,000 to erect an aid to navigation which consisted of a double dwelling, fog signal building, water tanks and a pole light in the western end of the island. The actual building was completed late in 1893.
Thus there was a white light on the side of the station and a red light on a ten foot tall white stake on Patos Island.
By 1915 several improvements were made with the consequence of a new fog signal and a lighthouse with a fresnel lens. Harry Mahler was paid $700 per year as head keeper and Edward Durgan received $500 per year as president.
After serving as lighthouse keeper in a number of distinct places on the West Coast Durgan returned in 1905 to Patos Island as the head light keeper. He came at at Patos with wife Estelle and their thirteen children where he became very renowned. Despite the fact that it had a mild climate, Patos Island was very isolated. Their nearest neighbor was Saturna Island in Canada that was just over three miles away by water.
Seven of the kids came down with smallpox and keeper Durgan, so as to signal for assistance flew the lighthouse flag upside down. Finally help did come but one account says that three of the children died. While another account was that one child succumbed. A third accounting states that the kid who died likely died of appendicitis, not smallpox
Helene Durgan Glidden, one of the living children later wrote a memoir titled”The Light on the Island”. In this writing she told of her talks with God, how she played with her pet cow and wandered the shores of this island which she called”the petticoats” of Patos Island.
George Loholt replaced Durgan as headkeeper with Mary Durgan’s husband, Noah Clark, staying on as assistant keeper.
Trips over the rough waters for visiting or purchasing were dangerous. In 1911 Noah Clark motored to Blaine,Washington to pick up his wife, Mary and their young son who was visiting the Durgans. The ship started filling with water and Clark jumped overboard for help to save his loved ones and he was never seen again. His loved ones, after drifting in the water all night, eventually crawled on top of the cottage once the boat full of water. Luckily they had been rescued after grounding onto a shoal.
In August 1912, a distress signal was coming from Patos Island. Captain Newcombe of the Canadian fishery protection tug noticed the signal and stopped at the island to investigate. The assistant lighthouse keeper, William Stark, told the captain that Keeper Loholt was exhibiting signs of insanity. This Loholt had left the station in a ship two days earlier without any explanation leaving Stark to perform all the duties alone. Captain Newcombe notified the lighthouse inspector in Portland, who proceeded to Patos Island.
Inspector Beck arrived at Patos and discovered that the two men were fighting and one had threatened to kill the other and drove him from the island. Ultimately the assistant was suspended and Keeper Loholt continued on as head lighthouse keeper for another ten years or longer. During which time he rendered assistance to many vessels in distress.
Those accounts were mentioned 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 is being cared for by a group of selfless volunteers.
The lighthouse can be visited by boat from either Friday Harbor or Roche Harbor. In recent years there are docents to open the lighthouse to people during the summer months.
The lighthouse is best seen by boat. Keepers of the Patos Light have experienced docents on the island in recent years to open the lighthouse to visitors during the summer months.
Orcas Island Eclipse Charters has offered Lighthouse Tours previously that pass by Patos Island. Outer Island Excursions offers trips to Patos Island that include a hike to the lighthouse.
The lighthouse is owned by the Bureau of Land Management. Grounds.open, lighthouse closed