Peek into Alaska’s naval history with a visit to the Five Finger Lighthouse, the first lighthouse in Alaska.
The lighthouse takes its name from the islands that were aptly named because sailors often said the rocky islets, some only visible during low tide, looked eerily like fingers reaching out to snatch up their boats out of the icy waters. The lighthouse was built to help the flood of the Klondike Gold Rush prospectors and early explorers navigate the seas of Fredrick Sound. It was first lit on March 24, 1902. The white walls were a small beacon of safety on the horizon for those emerging from the raw, unforgiving wilderness of the Alaskan frontier.
The original structure burnt down in the desolate winter of 1933, after the keepers of the lighthouse tried to thaw frozen pipes with a blow torch during a particularly rough bout of weather. The two-man crew made it out safely, but the structure was completely gone. It was rebuilt in 1935 during the Roosevelt administration with an art deco influence, unique to Alaskan lighthouses during the time.
Turnover of the lighthouse keepers and crew members was often very high, with most lasting only a season or two. The closest town of Petersburg was 40 miles away and human contact was limited to those inhabiting the lighthouse. Life was very solitary on the island and contact with the outside world was only during the weekly delivery of food and mail. One crew member calculated that running around the helicopter landing pad thirty-three and a half times was equivalent to a mile – time moves slower living in the vast, isolated wilderness of Alaska.
The lighthouse became automated in 1984 by the United States Coast Guard, making it the first and last lighthouse to be manned by a crew in Alaska. Biologists and researchers currently use the lighthouse to study the thriving population of humpback whales that migrate to Fredrick Sound. Volunteers of the Juneau Lighthouse Association maintain and preserve the lighthouse’s history and visitors can catch a glimpse into the early maritime exploration of Alaska.
Interested in visiting Alaska? We offer a variety of trips in the raw, pristine wilderness of Alaska. Give us a call at (928) 440-1916 and we’ll help you find the best Alaskan adventure for you.
Photos: Lighthouse Friends