How I Discovered Volunteering for the Burrows Island Light Station Restoration

Today we have something special to share with you, a guest post by Debby Lee Jagerman-Dungan of Debby’s Departures. It’s especially fun to share Debby’s post with you, as it shows how lighthouse fans inspire each other — Debby’s adventure with Burrows Island was sparked by the work of fellow lighthouse fans, writer Elinor DeWire and artist Janet Orso, of the Washington Lightkeepers Association. Although the WLA is unfortunately no longer active, the individual members continue to champion local lighthouses and the broader history of lighthouses, such as on Elinor’s blog,, and website, Janet’s artwork also graces the Washington State Lighthouse license plates. Thank you so much, Debby, for sharing your experience, your writing and your photos with us, and many thanks to Elinor for allowing us to share an image of the WLA map (below). If you’d like to see more of Janet’s artwork, please click here.

How I Discovered Volunteering for the Burrows Island Light Station Restoration

Souvenir-Lighthouse-Map (2)To make a long story short, I discovered Burrows Island Light Station on a map that has been pinned to my wall, the “Souvenir Lighthouse Map of the Washington Lightkeepers Association.” It is to my left as I am typing this on my computer, and has been there for years. It shows where the 25 or so lighthouses are located in the state of Washington. I live near Seattle, and the map lives on my wall because, well, I have a fascination with lighthouses. I can’t remember exactly when or where I got this map, but needless to say, because of my love for lighthouses, my husband and I were married at the Mukilteo Lighthouse last year. And now I plan on volunteering to help restore the Keepers’ Quarters and Boathouse at Burrows Island Light Station.

To make a short story long, prior to discovering Burrows Island, my interest with lighthouses began, well, I don’t remember exactly when or why. Part of me is intrigued with the thought of wondering what it would have been like to be a child growing up at a lighthouse, where your father is working hard to keep people safe at sea. I have wondered what it would have been like to have been a wife of a lightkeeper, perhaps living in an isolated island, such as Burrows Island. The career itself of being a lightkeeper also seems exotic to me, especially as a woman. Perhaps I was a lightkeeper in a previous life.

Burrows-Island-Lighthouse (2)And then there is the beauty of lighthouses themselves, the architecture, the flash patterns of the lights, the Fresnel lenses, the landscapes they sit on, and the views they see overlooking the lakes, bays, seas, straits, sounds, and oceans of the world.

And so my story goes on. With my love of lighthouses, last year my husband and I spent two weeks traveling from the southwest corner of Washington State, down the Oregon Coast, to visit 12 lighthouses. We’ve walked the 10 miles round trip to the lighthouse on Dungeness Spit, one of my favorite spots on this planet is the lighthouse at Discovery Park, and as I mentioned, we got married at Mukilteo Lighthouse.

Burrows-Island-Light-Station-Keepers-Quarters (2)But the point of this story is how I discovered Burrows Island. After visiting those 12 lighthouses along the Washington and Oregon Coast, I wanted to visit more, hoping to someday see all 25 lighthouses in the State of Washington. And well, since there are 17,200 lighthouses in the world, then I’m on a start to see them all!

I wanted a sort of “staycation” and glanced over at that map on my wall, looking for where there was a concentration of lighthouses in one area, and zoomed in on the San Juan Islands, knowing that this was also a great location for hiking and other opportunities for travel and exploration. Patos Island, Turn Point, Lime Kiln, Cattle Point, and while one wasn’t technically in the San Juans, it was near Anacortes, the gateway to the ferry system to get to the San Juans, Burrows Island Light Station!

I did some research on how to get to each of these five lighthouses, and to make a long story short, found a boat company that transported us to Burrows Island. We spent an hour on the island walking around the grounds of the Lighthouse, Boathouse, and Keepers’ Quarters, eating a picnic lunch on a bench overlooking the Rosario Strait, taking pictures, and enjoying the peace and quiet of being the only ones there at the time. My mind wandered, as it always does when visiting a lighthouse, about what it would have been like…

Burrows-Island-Keepers-Quarters-Lighthouse (2)I will say now a bit about myself. I am an avid traveler, and I write travel blogs under the name Debby’s Departures. So upon returning from our trip to the San Juan Islands, in anticipation of writing a few blogs about the lighthouses, I did some further research on all the lighthouses, including Burrows Island, and excitedly found Northwest Schooner Society’s website on the Burrows Island Light Station Restoration. After clicking around for a bit, it seemed that they were still in the midst of restoring the Keepers’ Quarters and Boathouse. I contacted them right away, and voilà, this summer I am volunteering to help restore buildings at a lighthouse!

So thanks to that map on my wall, this is the story of how I discovered volunteering for the Burrows Island Light Station Restoration.

But wait there’s more…I have also volunteered to write for this “Notes from the Lighthouse” blog, including of my experiences volunteering. Until the next post, here are a few links to the blogs that I have written about various lighthouses. Thank you for reading!

Lighthouses of the San Juan Islands: Burrows Island, Cattle Point, and Lime Kiln

Lighthouses of the San Juan Islands: Patos Island and Turn Point

Lighthouses of the Oregon Coast

Walking Ten Miles Round Trip to the New Dungeness Lighthouse

West Point Lighthouse at Discovery Park in Seattle (and almost a Wedding)

The Mukilteo Lighthouse near Seattle (and a Wedding)

Please note that the artwork for the “Souvenir Lighthouse Map of the Washington Lightkeepers Association” was created by Coupeville, Washington artist Janet Orso. Although the Washington Lightkeepers Association is no longer active, you can learn more about it and the history of lighthouses on former president Elinor DeWire’s blog, and website Elinor can also be found on Facebook as Elinor DeWire, Author.

Debby Lee Jagerman-Dungan, Debby’s Departures

I’m on Facebook as Debby’s Departures!

Lighthouse, 1929

Burrows Island Lighthouse, 1929

Gorgeous, right? In this official Coast Guard image, the lighthouse is shown against a backdrop of Puget Sound. If you look carefully, you can see the kelp bed just below the light station was just as vigorous back then. It seems there is an owl perched on the chimney, too. I love that the door is open, offering a tantalizing glimpse inside.

Compare that image (courtesy of the US Coast Guard) to one taken in September 2012.


The lighthouse looks remarkably similar today, with very little having been changed on the exterior aside from the doors and the whitewashing of the trim, which were originally painted a light gray to contrast with the walls. Over the course of time, however, neglect has left the lighthouse in less-than-perfect condition:


Gutter Grass

We are looking forward to getting the lighthouse and the rest of the light station back into shape. It will take the help of many volunteers as well as cash investment of as much as $500,000. If you’d like to learn more, peruse our very detailed to-do lists or read a summary of the restoration process. You can also jump right in and help by making a donation on our secure FirstGiving site.

Burrows Island, 1912

The U.S. Coast Guard Museum in Washington, D. C. came up with this amazing shot of the Light Station in 1912. Compare it to the picture from September 2012 in the header  — isn’t it amazing how the trees have closed in on the light station over the last hundred years? In fact, the Northwest Schooner Society has already removed a few trees that were too close to the historic buildings.

Burrows Island Light Station, 1912

Photo courtesy of the United States Coast Guard. Click the image above to check out a larger version on our Flickr stream. You can also see many more pictures of the lighthouse and outbuildings there.


Window Replacement

The importance of windows is easy to overlook, but out at Burrows Island Light Station, the Northwest Schooner Society has been learning all about it.

The keepers’ quarters are housed in a charming yet spacious 1906 duplex designed by Carl Leick. The units originally had many beautiful large double-hung windows looking out onto Rosario Strait and Lopez Island, not to mention the picturesque lighthouse, but, sometime between the automation of the lighthouse in 1972 and the beginning of restoration work in 2011, vandals kicked out nearly every pane of glass. The windows had to be boarded up to keep out the elements, leaving the entire building in the dark.

Here’s the front of the keepers’ quarters. As you see, most of the windows are still covered:
Keepers' Quarters

For obvious reasons, the Northwest Schooner Society has made the repair of the windows a priority. It’s quite a project to replace windows at the light station; damage that took only a few seconds to do takes an incredible amount of time, effort, and money to fix. Each wooden frame must be removed from the building, brought to shore by boat and then taken to a volunteer’s home workshop, where it is carefully disassembled, cleaned, and repaired before new glass is inserted into the openings and the frame is reassembled and painted. Finally, the new window is driven back to Anacortes and ferried across the harbor to Burrows Island.

The strategy has been to do a single window in each room of the north unit to ensure enough light to work on other projects. So far, we have 12 windows done and 60 to go. Volunteers have been generous with their time and expertise, but there are still costs associated with this project, about $100 per window for supplies and transportation. If you would like to help restore this piece of local maritime history, consider donating the cost of window. If you’d like to give in someone’s name, we can arrange a pretty card with an image of Burrows Island for your recipient. Imagine what a nice surprise that might be for your favorite ‘lightkeeper’ this upcoming holiday season.

Here you see volunteers preparing to take newly finished windows out to Burrows Island:
Window Replacement

Window Replacement

Window Replacement

Window Replacement

Window Replacement

Window Replacement

When the boat arrives at the island, the windows must be carried up the steep stairs along the rocky shore to the boathouse and across the field to the keepers’ quarters.

Keepers' Quarters (Interior)

It’s exciting and gratifying to remove the plywood from a newly restored window and see the light to flood back in as it did over 100 years ago. Here are some of the windows that have already been reglazed.

The living room:
Keepers' Quarters (Interior)

The kitchen:
Keepers' Quarters (Interior)

An upper bedroom:
Keepers' Quarters (Interior)

Burrows Island Views

The Light Station on Burrows Island is as picturesque as any lighthouse — the dramatic rocky shore and the wall of trees behind it perfectly complement the 1906 buildings by Light-House Board architect, Carl Leick. The Northwest Schooner Society has taken on the historical preservation of the light station, a massive task that requires many hours of volunteer labor and the donations of the broader community. Please consider helping the Northwest Schooner Society preserve this important and beautiful part of Pacific Northwest maritime history.

This is a closer view of the lighthouse with the keepers’ quarters duplex in the background.

Burrows Island Light Station

Burrows Island Light Station

To see more pictures of the lighthouse, check out our Flickr stream.