The cargo ship Carrier Pigeon bound for San Francisco from Boston ran aground on the shores of Pigeon Point, just 50 miles south of the Bay area. The ship had painted on its bow a carrier pigeon in flight but it was of no good fortune that day in June 1853. The ship had been built in Bath Maine in 1852 for $54,000. It had taken three months sailing around Cape Horn and was headed to San Francisco with foodstuff and supplies for California's gold rush fever. As thick dense fog lingered for days off the coast, the ships young captain grew impatient and headed in toward shore for safety thinking he was still a safe distance off. The ship fell prey to the projecting promontory outcroppings of the point. Within the hour, hundreds of town folk from nearby Pescadero ran to the seashore to help those on the ship. With the aid of their small row boats, all crew from the ship were saved as were much of the supplies. All for the keeping. . . thought the towns' folk. A few days later the floundering ship sank on the rocks of the point. The captain renamed this protruding rock formation Pigeon Point in honor of his lost ship and the name stuck. Again in the 1860's two merchant ships, the Coya and the Hellespont ran aground several hundred yards off the point but this time the crew and passengers were not so fortunate. Only 37 crew and passengers were saved while all others perished. So outraged were the local towns' people of the government's lack of concern for navigational safety at this coastal point that they petitioned the U.S. Lighthouse Service Board to build a lighthouse at Pigeon Point. Monies totaling $90,000 were appropriated and in 1872 the lighthouse was completed and officially lit. It is among the tallest lighthouses on the west coast, rivaling Point Arena further up the coastline in California and Yaquina Head in Oregon. The lighthouse had actually been finished in 1871 except for the interior spiral stairway fabricated by a firm in San Francisco. Weather and difficulty in erecting the spiral stairway had delayed getting the stairway installed. The first use of fuel was premium lard oil, derived from pigs. The lantern was that of a first order Fresnel lens that had been originally used at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in North Carolina. It had been salvaged during the civil war when that lighthouse lantern had been extinguished and removed. The lens came into good use at Pigeon Point. In 1888, the fuel of choice became kerosene, no longer pig oil. Today, the Fresnel lens has been removed and stored in an adjacent museum building. The light is still active by use of an aerobeacon which can be seen in this photo at the top mounted to the exterior railing. The estimated cost to renovate the lighthouse in its current state of disrepair is $11.1 million.
Shipwrecks continued at Pigeon Point despite the lighthouse until 1953. In 1974, the Coast Guard automated the Light and soon found that the lighthouse was falling victim to severe vandalism. It was then that they stationed Seaman Albert S. Tucker and his wife to fend off vandals. However, they continued to have intruders until they acquired a pet pig that within a year had grown huge tusks and weighed 800 pounds. His name was Lester, the family pet and he had become the "watchdog" over the Lighthouse. He successfully kept at bay all intruders from that point forward. One day while cleaning and maintaining the lantern room atop the 115 foot high tower that had 147 steps to the top, Seaman Tucker turned around in surprise to see Lester beside him ! Perhaps Lester was expressing his fondness for pig oil no longer being used. . . .wonder how Lester ever got back down ?