Exploring Oregon’s Tillamook Rock Lighthouse — The Legend of Terrible Tilly

In Tillamook, Oregon, there is a legend quite popular among paranormal enthusiasts. Outside of town, just a mile off Oregon’s North Coast, sitting atop a plateau rising from the sea, lies the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, nicknamed “Terrible Tilly” by those who indulge in the mystery of the place.

Although aged by time, weather, and waves, the monument still stands as one of Oregon’s most famous landmarks. It sits on a pillar of basalt, rising 133 feet and surrounded by the crashing waves of the ocean. It’s easy to spot, but good luck trying to reach her. Geo coordinates of the lighthouse are 45.9373, -124.0188.

The lighthouse has a storied past, beginning more than a century and a half ago, filled with misfortune and rumors of hauntings.

Unfortunately for all you paranormal enthusiasts out there, Tilly is not open for visitors. The area she rests on isn’t even attached to the mainland, requiring one to sail a mile out in order to get to her. Not to mention, the island is dangerous for visitors to stand atop of year round. Lighthouses are famous for stories of folks being swept away by a crashing wave, and Tillamook Rock Lighthouse is no different.

 

The Tale of Terrible Tilly

Tillamook lighthouse
Tillamook Rock and lighthouse, circa 1891

Our story begins before Tillamook’s lighthouse was even built. In 1878, a pillar of basalt a mile off the coast of Tillamook Head was selected to be the location of a new lighthouse. The location was an unlikely and unlucky one. It was while surveying the area that a master mason was swept out to sea. When you’re taken out to sea by a crashing wave, surviving is unlikely, and so he was never seen again.

Constructing a lighthouse is one of the most difficult projects you could get involved in back in the day. Not only do you have to worry about unsteady rock and crashing waves, but the stormy weather can certainly do a number on one’s resilience, as well as their supplies, and stormy weather tends to happen often.

It was in January of 1880, four months into construction, that another stroke of bad luck hit the crew. As a storm raged, the crashing waves took out the construction crew’s provisions, water tank, and tools. Thankfully, everyone survived, but they were left waiting for supplies like food and water for two weeks.

These weren’t the only incidents before the lighthouse was finished. A few weeks before the Tillamook Lighthouse was supposed to finish construction, Lupatia, a sailing barque, crashed. All 16 of her crew were killed, all except their dog.

Finally, on the 21st of January, 1881, the lighthouse was lit.

After 500 days of construction and $123,000 of funding for such a monument, the costs made it the most expensive lighthouse in that era. Of course, a large part of this was due to the difficulty of even building it, and having large amounts of supplies washed away doesn’t help any.

Despite having just been built, Terrible Tilly had a reputation to maintain. Because the harsh weather was constantly weathering people both physically and mentally, lighthouse keepers were allowed shorter rotations, which had a standard of six weeks on, two weeks off.

Thankfully, Tilly laid off the lighthouse keepers for a good five decades, until October of 1934 brought about the worst storm ever recorded, lasting four days. So bad was it that it hurled boulders, with one crashing into the lantern room and smashing the Fresnel lens, which is used to amplify the light and make it noticeable from miles away. The lens was never replaced.

 

Terrible Tilly’s Retirement

Tillamook Rock Light
Tillamook Rock Light, one mile offshore from Tillamook Head

After 77 years of working for the Oregon coast, Keeper Oswald Allik, on September 1st, 1957, snuffed out the light for good. His final journal entry, which is now on display at the Columbia River Maritime Museum, summed up the lighthouse’s legacy in a surprisingly beautiful way with one of its more memorable lines.

For 77 years you have beamed your light across desolate acres of ocean. Keepers have come and gone; men lived and died; but you were faithful to the end.

 

Afterwards, the lighthouse was sold off to various investors, with the first buying it two years later for $5,600 at an auction. The property changed hands several times since then, many of whom would pass it off for one reason or another. Even though she’d been out of commission for decades, she’s still considered an important piece of Oregon’s history. She is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

It was very recently that she was gutted and served as the Eternity at Sea Columbarium, which is a repository for the ashes of the dead. It only adds to the rumors of the lighthouse being haunted. The repository had to be shut down after 30 urns had been placed inside. This is because of poor upkeep and bad bookkeeping. Thus, the lighthouse has been abandoned once again, with the deadly monument not even able to hold the remains of those buried at sea (though to be fair, this mistake was a people problem, not the fault of the area).

 

The Hike to View Tillamook Rock Lighthouse

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse Views

Hiking trails tend to have beautiful views of nature in all its forms, but not all of them overlook a lighthouse, nor do they pass by old WII bunkers.

Technically there are two trails you can go down, with one of them being Oregon Coast Trail. Not only do you get a good view of the lighthouse, but you’ll be passing through thick forests, able to appreciate the diversity of plant life all around. It’s a nice time and is easy on your feet, but because of the beds of mud and decayed matter you may need to carry a walking stick.

Despite Oregon Coast Trail being full of stunning sights, Tillamook Head Trail is definitely the most popular.

Tillamook’s popular trail is certainly a calming adventure to go on, but somewhat difficult. Sandwiched between Seaside and Cannon Beach is Tillamook Head Trailhead, ready to lead you to your ultimate destination.

To get to the trailhead, you need to head to Seaside, Oregon and to the end of Sunset Blvd, where there is free parking. The trailhead is located in the Elmer Feldenheimer Forest Preserve. Once you’re there, you can start your journey.

If you’re looking to get a good view of Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, you have your work cut out for you. Tillamook Head Trail is approximately 8 hours long. It’s a long walk, that’s for sure, but when you’re about four hours in, you’ll come across one of the best platforms to properly admire the monument.

 

Hiking to the Tillamook Lighthouse

While there’s many things you can learn from books and articles, there’s so much more to be gleaned by going yourself. However, you’re going to need to check the weather. Terrible Tilly is often hit by ruthless storms, and the chances are you might be caught up in it. That’s why I always suggest getting good shoes and checking the weather before you go. Tilly may be able to get through these storms with ease, but you are not a lighthouse, so do be careful.

The first part of the hike has an elevation gain of 900 feet and plenty of switchbacks. This is the most challenging part of the hike, so if you’re able to get through this, then the rest of the trip is smooth sailing. Just know that because of its moderate difficulty, it’s considered to not be family friendly.

Past the WWII bunkers you will see along the way, you’ll find a side trail, which you can use to see and admire that pillar breaching the water. This view will be the best you can get of Terrible Tilly. At that point, you can already get a clear view of it, but I always suggest bringing a pair of binoculars in order to get the full experience.

From there, you can either keep going or double back. If you decide to keep going, you’ll find yourself at Indian Beach Trailhead. Either way, you’re going to have another 4-mile hike ahead of you, so make sure you’re well-prepared. Bring water, good hiking shoes, and a couple of snacks.

The trail is mostly packed during the summer and can become mildly crowded, so be sure to plan around that. The trail is open all year long, but going during winter can be a little worrisome, as that is when the lighthouse can get some of the worst winter storms.

 

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse: Current Weather

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Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, OR
8:58 am, May 13, 2024
overcast clouds 53°F
Low: 52° High: 55°
overcast clouds
Humidity Humidity 85 %
Pressure Pressure 1017 hPa
Wind 4 mph NW
Wind Gust Wind Gust 8 mph
UV Index UV Index 1.52
Precipitation Precipitation 0.01 inch
Dew Point Dew Point 48°
Clouds Clouds 100%
Rain Chance Rain Chance 31%
Snow Snow 0 mm/h
Visibility Visibility 6 mi
Air Quality Air Quality Fair
Sunrise Sunrise 4:45 am
Sunset Sunset 7:39 pm
Weather Condition Comport Precipitation
Day Condition TemperatureTemperature PrecipitationAmount Rain ChanceRain Chance Wind HumidityHumidity PressurePressure
Today 12:00 pm
light rain light rain
52° | 55°°F 0.01 inch 31% 15 mph 84 % 1019 hPa
Tomorrow 12:00 pm
broken clouds broken clouds
52° | 55°°F 0 inch 0% 15 mph 75 % 1023 hPa
Wednesday 12:00 pm
broken clouds broken clouds
53° | 56°°F 0 inch 0% 14 mph 85 % 1021 hPa
Thursday 12:00 pm
light rain light rain
54° | 55°°F 0.02 inch 63% 13 mph 87 % 1019 hPa
Friday 12:00 pm
light rain light rain
50° | 54°°F 0.04 inch 100% 15 mph 63 % 1022 hPa
Saturday 12:00 pm
few clouds few clouds
52° | 54°°F 0 inch 0% 15 mph 67 % 1025 hPa
Sunday 12:00 pm
broken clouds broken clouds
51° | 54°°F 0 inch 0% 15 mph 72 % 1020 hPa
Monday 12:00 pm
light rain light rain
50° | 52°°F 0.04 inch 100% 15 mph 93 % 1014 hPa
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Weather Condition Comport Precipitation
Day Condition TemperatureTemperature PrecipitationAmount Rain ChanceRain Chance Wind HumidityHumidity PressurePressure
Today 8:00 am
light rain light rain
53° | 0°°F 0.01 inch 31% 6 mph 87 % 1018 hPa
Today 9:00 am
overcast clouds overcast clouds
53° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 8 mph 85 % 1017 hPa
Today 10:00 am
overcast clouds overcast clouds
53° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 9 mph 86 % 1018 hPa
Today 11:00 am
overcast clouds overcast clouds
53° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 10 mph 86 % 1019 hPa
Today 12:00 pm
overcast clouds overcast clouds
54° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 9 mph 84 % 1019 hPa
Today 1:00 pm
overcast clouds overcast clouds
54° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 11 mph 82 % 1019 hPa
Today 2:00 pm
overcast clouds overcast clouds
55° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 12 mph 83 % 1020 hPa
Today 3:00 pm
overcast clouds overcast clouds
55° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 14 mph 81 % 1020 hPa
Today 4:00 pm
overcast clouds overcast clouds
54° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 13 mph 83 % 1020 hPa
Today 5:00 pm
broken clouds broken clouds
54° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 15 mph 82 % 1020 hPa
Today 6:00 pm
broken clouds broken clouds
54° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 12 mph 81 % 1020 hPa
Today 7:00 pm
broken clouds broken clouds
53° | 0°°F 0 inch 0% 12 mph 82 % 1020 hPa
1 to 8 of 0 results

 

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse For Sale

That’s right, if you have the means, you can own this spectacular lighthouse for yourself. The lighthouse has been sold off several times, and the current owners would like to take a stab at it again. They are ideally looking for an owner who would expand the Columbarium business by giving it another go. The asking price? $6.5 million.

You wouldn’t be getting a beaten and battered abandoned shack, though. Recently, five people went out to give the place a nice cleaning. They flew in by helicopter (the only way it can be accessed and camped out for three days to make sure the place was ready for sale. They also collected any relics they could find and sold them off to raise funds for maintenance.

If you don’t think you can afford the enormous asking price, then never fear. It’s not going to disappear once it’s sold off, so you can still hike up and take a look at its beauty for yourself.

 

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