Standing on the site of the first U.S. lighthouse built in Alaska, the present Five Finger Light Station was completed in 1935, only two years after the original lighthouse completely burnt to the ground. Funding was made possible by monies allocated by Public Works under the Roosevelt administration during the “Great Depression”. The Art Deco design of the new lighthouse is typical of a 1930’s lighthouse architectural style apparently unique to Alaska. The original 1902 boathouse and carpenter’s shed survived the fire and are reminiscent of classical lighthouse out buildings. They are wooden structures painted white with red shingled roofs.
The discovery of gold in Southeast Alaska in the 1890’s, and the subsequent surge of ships carrying prospectors, minerals, and tourists to and from the territory, accentuated the need for an increase in the number of aids to navigation along the Inside Passage. The fishing industry also increased traffic along the inland waterways. With the establishment of large canneries, cannery workers and the fish products they produced, plied the waters of Alaska. Mining companies and merchants concerned for the safety of their workers, wares and customers, along with territorial officials seeking to insure the safety and development of Alaska’s waterways, pushed for the development of lighthouse in American waters. One of the areas receiving the most attention was Stephens Passage leading to the quickly developing mining town of Juneau. In 1901, $22,500 was commissioned for the establishment of a lighthouse on the southern most island in the Five Finger group. The light was lit on March 1, 1902, one of the two lighthouses to begin service that date. This station operated for 21 years before the lighthouse building burnt to the ground in 1933 and was replaced with a temporary light. The new lighthouse, built 10 feet away from the original lighthouse, was completed in 1935. There are still two original 1902 buildings remaining at this light station.
The current Five Finger Lighthouse built in the Art Deco style, is known for its accentuation of verticality and use of geometric forms. The style was used on all Alaskan lighthouses established in the 1930’s and its use in lighthouse architecture was prominent only on the coast of Alaska. The reinforced concrete design employed in the construction of Five Finger was chosen for its ability to withstand the harsh climate of the Alaskan coast.
The site became significant in 1902, when the first Five Finger Lighthouse was established. The fact that a light station has been maintained on this site since 1902, combined with the fact it was rebuilt during the Depression and further was the last station to be unmanned in Alaska indicates the historical and contemporary importance of this site. The lighthouse currently provides visible historic representation of construction significant to 1902 and 1935.
Five Finger Lighthouse is currently owned by the Juneau Lighthouse Association, a non-profit organization established to preserve and maintain this historical site. The lighthouse is an active aid to navigation and is automated by the use of solar panels. It is also a weather reporting station for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
This historic navigational aid is now enjoying another chapter in Alaskan maritime history. The Juneau Lighthouse Association’s intent is to preserve, maintain and make accessible this site to the public. As a renewed presence in this area, JLA plans to promote economic development in this region that has been affected by changes in the fishing and timber industries. When the site is restored, our goals include; a marine research site and a public educational facility focusing on the marine and maritime significance of this area. Visitors to the island will experience the workings of a lighthouse on a remote site while enjoying the unparalleled beauty of this area.
Notes from Crew that Served at Five Finger Lighthouse
My name is Tim Heily, I was stationed on Five Finger LS. from 1972-1973. I see you have listed the head keepers of light station on the Five Finger web site. In 1972 the head keeper was BM1 Chuck Lott, Chuck was the NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge), when I arrived in July at the age of 19 straight from USCG Training Center Alameda, CA, (Coast Guard Boot Camp).
Chuck Lott was relieved in late 1972 by BM1 Dave Creed. Also serving in 1972 were MK2 Ole Hedin, and FA Guy C. Sheets, and myself. Our dogs name was "Trash".
Timothy J. Heily
I am compiling list of head lighthouse keepers to add to my website: www.lighthousefriends.com.
This is what I have found so far for Five Finger Islands using various government documents:
Head Keepers: Herman G. Halkett (1902 – 1903), Charles W. Kennard (1903), Alfred W. Robertson (1903 – 1905), George L. Lonholt (1905 – 1909), Benny M. Hall (1909 – at least 1912), A. B. Hall (at least 1920), William S. Hamilton (at least 1930), James H. Scriver (at least 1940).
I came across your website today and found it interesting as I had been stationed on Five Finger in 1964. In fact I was there during the Good Friday earthquake although we never felt any of the shock.
The reason I am writing is in reference to the photo of the light house mural. There seems to be a discrepancy as to the date it was painted. It was not there in 1964 and I was there between November 1963 and 64 on my tour.
The telling point is that the new electric powered steel crane shown in the painting was erected during my stay the summer of 1964. In the photo I have enclosed, made in April of 1964, the older wood boom is still in operation.
While in the Coast Guard I was stationed at Five Finger from September of 1974 through August of 1975 (1 year). I was there the day those pictures were taken of the Sweetbrier which came to bring fresh drinking water and diesel etc. I have my own pictures that I took that day of the big event.
I originally made my first journey to the light house on the Sweetbrier from Juneau when it was headed that way to begin my twelve months of being stationed there.
I took at least a roll of film every two weeks I was there and sent it to Seattle to get developed and come back two weeks later. We got mail and supplies every two weeks back then mostly delivered by helicopter, I think a couple of times by the Sweetbrier.
Anyhow I have a lot of pictures of and around the lighthouse, the crews at that time etc., and various events that took place during that year. You probably would not want them all but maybe some. When I have shown my slides to people I think they get kinda bored with them seeing the same lighthouse over and over from every possible view and every possible part of it to take a picture etc. I was pretty excited about being there and really didnt want to leave when my year was up.
Unfortunately most of the pictures are slides and I need to find a way to transfer slides to the pc. I have some that were also printed pictures but I haven't been able to find them lately.
Also, I remember this "folk art" painting on our living room wall. At that time it also had a big fancy work rope around the picture sort of as a frame for it. I am sure I must have a picture of that too probably more than one.
I wondered who painted that. I never knew until now seeing it on your site. That's interesting. Thank you very much for posting it.
I was the seaman on the lighthouse at the time and the Boatswain's mate (whom we called "Boats") had me working 8 hours a day five days a week and sometimes weekends too, painting every damm thing on that light house. I think I painted everything there at least once and some of it more than once.
I thought that he had me paint over that "folk art" light house. I guess I didn't if it's still there and you found it. That's good. Maybe he and me had a discussion about it. I seem to recall something about painting over it. Maybe he wanted me to and I didnt?
I dont recall winning too many arguments with him. I thought he was kind of a butt hole at the time making me work all the time just like a regular du
I could tell you more etc. but I dont know if anyone is reading your emails these days. It looks like your web site has not been updated recently. You have a post for a position you wanted to fill in 2009. Hmmmmm.
I would be very interested in traveling up there and seeing the lighthouse again after all these years. I could paint some of those things again. lol