pt fermin lighthouse

Pt. Fermin Lighthouse, San Pedro, California

our tour guide

Women in long dresses

My friends shake their heads, stating “there is no way they went up and down those stairs all day and all night in long dresses.” I disagree. The first two and the last two keepers to navigate the 4-story Pt. Fermin Lighthouse, San Pedro, California, were women in long dresses. My soul sisters. I have been wearing long dresses exclusively for over 15 years. No more jeans. No more shorts. I have milked cows, herded goats, built fences, ridden horses, camped, hiked, cut and split wood, and everything else in long dresses. Yes. Women lived life and performed their endless daily chores in long dresses for centuries. But I digress.

Pt. Fermin Lighthouse

is located in Pt. Fermin Park, on the rocky bluffs of San Pedro Bay in sunny Southern California. It is a beautiful example of early Victorian architecture and is furnished as it might have been when Mary and Ella Smith, the first keepers, resided here. A truly off-grid site, there was no fresh water available nearby. So rainwater was captured into cisterns and used frugally. When it ran out, water had to be brought in from the wells of San Pedro, 3 miles away. By horse or mule and wagon. Groceries and supplies the sisters could not furnish themselves were sent by ship every 3 months. In addition to coal for the fireplaces and cook stove, and whale oil for the light.

Off-grid life

I shiver as I imagine relying on the tiny coal burning fireplaces to stay warm. Even though this is California, the coast is always windy and often chilly. The ocean moisture makes everything damp. Staying warm would be a job. I suppose the endless cycle of making and doing everything without the assistance of, say, a clothes washer and dryer, or a refrigerator, or microwave – not to mention a coffee maker – would keep one warm.

On a weekend, after making the day’s bread and all the other meals from scratch, I could crank up the ice cream maker and cool off with a yummy, cold confection. After milking the cow. Or goats. And separating out the cream. Probably adding some eggs I gathered from the chickens. Then deciding if I really need to add sugar or if I want to save it for company.

Beyond imagining what the keeper’s life must have been like, I really love the views from all parts of the structure. Except for the crane right smack in front of the ocean view to Catalina Island. But that is not a permanent fixture. Climbing three flights of ever-narrowing stairs, I demonstrate how to negotiate with hands full of whale oil and lantern and no handrail, by bracing my hip and shoulder against the walls. My friends still don’t buy it, “you’d set fire to your skirts.”

Wild times at the lighthouse

What is now a picnic area, once held a gazebo and was a popular place for dances. Thelma and Juanita Austin (the last keepers) would often sneak off to socialize while they were still teenagers and their parents were the lighthouse keepers.

The daily cleaning, trimming and refilling of the enormous lens must have been tedious, and dangerous, work. The small ledge outside the lantern room does not offer modern safety features for the person cleaning the windows on a daily basis. And yet, none of the keepers fell to their death in the course of their duties. The only shipwreck that occurred during the lighthouse’s service involved suspicious circumstances and was later thought to be caused by the ship’s captain.

seals lazing on a whistling bouy

On a less cloudy, less windy day our group would enjoy a picnic lunch and a walk along the beach after our tour. But today was cold, wet and windy. So we went to Alpine Village. Not nearby but that’s another story.

For more info on planning your visit click Pt. Fermin Lighthouse, San Pedro.


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