Burrows Island Light Station, the oldest virtually intact wooden light station in Washington State, has the potential to be self-supporting, with high-season residential visitors providing enough income to cover continuing restoration and maintenance costs. With those expenses covered, the Northwest Schooner Society (NWSS) can further its mission of offering low cost or free experiential education opportunities to students of all ages, as well as opening the historic facility to the public.
Thus, NWSS is undertaking its first capital campaign. After nearly two decades of supporting historic schooner restoration and sail training education by scrounging, selling donated cars, boats and the occasional airplane, the Society is looking at a restoration project with a price tag approaching half a million dollars in cash and in-kind donations before that "self-supporting" goal can really begin. Fortunately, the Society's volunteers are ready and willing to work as money comes in to cover materials and professional expertise. Thus far, grants totaling nearly $10,000 from the Washington State Lighthouse Environmental Program, the Washington State Trust for Historic Preservation, and Pacific Medical Centers, have allowed NWSS to stabilized the buildings and make them safe for more extensive reconstruction.
By breaking down the overall restoration effort into manageable separate projects, the NWSS Board and the Burrows Island Lighthouse Advisory Group are working to make the Station day-use friendly by installing a mooring buoy and landing float, stabilizing the buildings, providing sanitary facilities and concentrating restoration efforts on the north unit of the duplex - which is in substantially better shape than the south unit. Once these areas are visitor-friendly, Burrows Island Light Station may see a trickle of revenue and a significant rise in public awareness that will help push restoration along.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer noted the opening of Burrows Island Lighthouse and Fog Signal Station on May 2, 1906. The Lighthouse Board arranged for its construction in response to the loss of several vessels on nearby Dennis Shoal and Lawson Reef. The station was transferred to the Lighthouse Board, a larger, national entity a few years later and in 1939 the United States Coast Guard absorbed the Lighthouse Service and its keepers.
The light station buildings were electrified and plumbed in later years, but the exteriors of the splendid Victorian/Craftsman buildings were virtually unchanged when the Coast Guard automated the light and fog signal in 1972 and the last lightkeeper/residents left the island. The USCG tore down the Officer in Charge house, built in 1952, and the 1906 Coal & Oil building. The USCG, being denied permission to similarly demolish the keepers quarters, boarded it and the boathouse up and turned their entire attention and limited budget to keeping the lighthouse operational.
The light station was deemed excess property in 2005, and in 2006, NWSS and five other non-profits applied to the US Department of the Interior to receive title to the three extant buildings, cisterns, and all other facilities on the 8.2 acres that comprise the station. NWSS, being characteristically low on funds and high on skilled volunteers, listed their assets in terms of tools-tugboats to table saws-and skill sets-carpenters, electricians, plumbers- rather than cash. The Society's experience in offshore work and many of its volunteers' involvement in restoration and renovation aboard Schooner Zodiac (1924), Schooner Martha (1907), Schooner Adventuress (1913) and Schooner Lavengro (1927), convinced the Department of the Interior, including the National Parks Service, that NWSS was suited for the task of restoring and rehabilitating buildings that had been vandalized for nearly 40 years. In 2011, the USCG licensed NWSS to become caretakers of the Station. After the final abatement of lead-based paint contamination is completed, title will be turned over to the Society.
Lighthouse - The lighthouse and fog signal building suffered little damage over the years and little or no vandalism. A few panes of glass are cracked or broken and a leak in the tower deck has led to moisture and insect damage above the stairs, but the building is generally sound. The light, now a small bulb in a plastic housing, remains in service, powered by a solar panel which also provides electricity to the electronic fog horn seaward of the lighthouse.
Boathouse- The boathouse and shop is a curious building, having been jacked up three feet and extended ten in length in the 50s. It was set afire sometime before 1972, probably by a lantern hung from a nail, and the three foot raised wall nearly rotted away in the new millennium. During NWSS' first field season at the light station, studs and rafters were replaced or sistered and new siding added to cover gaping old holes.
The boathouse is on track to become a bunkhouse and workshop, as well as the station's energy hub through Phase I of the restoration. A donated 20kw, 3 phase diesel generator installed in the south end of the boathouse will provide electricity to the light station until quieter options become available.
Keepers Quarters Duplex - The 47,000 square foot residence dominates the landscape on the western toe of Burrows Island and damage to the south unit's roof commands the viewer's eye. Damage to the roof and south entry porch was caused by a tree crashing down on that part of the residence.
Each side holds two large bedrooms, the original third bedroom in each unit having been converted to bathrooms in the 50s. The main floors consist of a door in/door through entry hall to keep out the cold, sitting room, dining room and spacious kitchen with a large pantry. A second entry on the east wall of the kitchen provides a mud room and access to the wood room that may have held firewood for the long gone kitchen and sitting room stoves. The wood rooms have their own exits facing the small courtyard formed by the facing duplex units.
Vandalism has been severe in some places and mild in others and appears in large part to be driven by the local notion that the building was to be demolished. No vandalism has occurred on the property since NWSS posted signs and began restoration work. Over the forty years since USCG Keepers left the island, all but four of the hundred and fifty or more window panes were broken, and five of the six exterior doors were removed, along with all six interior doors with glass in them. Brass door and window hardware has been stripped throughout the duplex.
The once grand banisters are gone from both units and several interior doors appear to have been kicked apart, the straight-grained cedar shattering into shake-like sections. The lath and plaster shows similar signs of attack through both units on all floors. In addition, water incursion from the damaged roof caused plaster to collapse over the stairwell and in one area of the ceiling in the south unit.
Each unit has a full basement and massive attic in which all windows were broken or stolen. In addition, the safety railing around the attic stairwell was stripped. The NWSS Board and light station volunteers are confident in their ability to bring the station back to productive life.