Tillamook Rock Lighthouse “Terrible Tilly”

By Visit Oregon

By Visit Oregon

May 28, 2019 / 7:32 pm

Share this article on social media!


Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, also known as “Terrible Tilly”, is a historic lighthouse located off the coast of Oregon, USA. The lighthouse is perched on a rock formation about a mile offshore from Tillamook Head, near Seaside, Oregon. The lighthouse was constructed in the late 19th century to aid mariners navigating the treacherous waters of the Pacific Northwest. Today, the lighthouse is no longer operational, but it remains an iconic symbol of Oregon’s maritime history.

The History of the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse

The history of Tillamook Rock Lighthouse dates back to the 1870s, when the U.S. government recognized the need for a navigational aid on this stretch of the Oregon coast. The rock formation on which the lighthouse was built was known for its perilous conditions, with strong waves and high winds making it difficult for ships to navigate safely. In 1878, construction of the lighthouse began and the structure was completed in 1881. The Tillamook Rock Lighthouse sits about 1.2 miles offshore and is approximately 20 miles South of the Mouth of the Columbia River. Although the lighthouse doesn’t serve boaters directly at the Mouth of the Columbia, it does provide an important historical marker for ships navigating in the area off the shore of Tillamook Head. Tillamook Head is a 1,200 foot high rocky bluff that protrudes out into the Pacific Ocean. 

What was the purpose of the Tillamook Lighthouse?

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse was designed to withstand the harsh weather conditions of the Pacific Northwest. The lighthouse stands 133 feet tall and is made of solid masonry construction, with walls that are up to 12 feet thick in some places. The lighthouse was equipped with a first-order Fresnel lens, which was capable of producing a bright, steady beam that could be seen for over 20 miles.

Historic Challenges on the Oregon Coast

Over the years, the lighthouse had its share of challenges. The rocky terrain and rough waters made it difficult to transport supplies and personnel to the lighthouse. In 1934, the lighthouse was damaged by a severe storm, and repairs were required to make it operational again. However, with advances in technology, the need for the lighthouse diminished, and it was decommissioned in 1957.

In the years following its decommissioning, the lighthouse was used for a variety of purposes, including as a museum, a private retreat, and a destination for helicopter tours. Today, the lighthouse is privately owned and is not open to the public, but it remains a popular attraction for tourists who come to view it from the nearby shoreline or from a distance on a boat tour.

Proud Symbol of Oregon’s Maritime Heritage

Despite its nickname “Terrible Tilly,” Tillamook Rock Lighthouse is a remarkable feat of engineering and a testament to the dedication and perseverance of the lighthouse keepers who manned it over the years. It is a proud symbol of Oregon’s maritime history and a reminder of the importance of lighthouses in keeping seafarers safe in treacherous waters. The Tillamook Rock Lighthouse remains an impressive display of engineering .Today, the lighthouse is a popular tourist attraction, with visitors able to take boat tours to view the structure up close.

In addition to its historical significance, the lighthouse is also notable for its natural surroundings. The surrounding coastline is home to a variety of wildlife, including seabirds and sea lions, and offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. Visitors can hike along the coastal trails or take a picnic on the beach while admiring the lighthouse in the distance.

Here are a few frequently asked questions about the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. 

Why is it called Terrible Tilly? 

The Tillamook Rock Lighthouse earned the nickname “Terrible Tilly” due to the harsh conditions that the lighthouse keepers had to endure while living and working on the rocky island. The lighthouse was built on a small, rocky island off the coast of Oregon, which was subject to intense storms and high waves that often made it difficult for ships to navigate.

Can you visit Terrible Tilly? 

It is not possible to visit the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, also known as Terrible Tilly, as it is located on a small island off the coast of Oregon and is not open to the public.

Who owns The Tillamook Lighthouse? The Oregonian published an article in May of 2022 that the lighthouse was for sale for $6.5 million. The article detailed how in 1978 Max M. Shillock, Jr  and Joy Goolsby purchased the lighthouse for $27,000. In 1980 they turned around and sold the historic lighthouse for $50,000 to real estate developers Cathy Riley and Mimi Morissette.

Can you visit Tillamook lighthouse? Unfortunately, the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse is not open to the public and cannot be visited.

Does the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse still work? 

No, the lighthouse has been decommissioned for years and abandon. Since its decommissioning the lighthouse has slowly fallen into decay and is now inhabited only by seals and other marine life. 

Overall, the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, or Terrible Tilly, is a unique and fascinating piece of Oregon’s maritime history. Its story serves as a reminder of the bravery and resilience of those who built and manned it, and its imposing presence continues to captivate visitors today.

Here’s a few great videos of the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse:

Get Your Free Oregon Travel Guide

Get Your Free Oregon Travel Guide