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Five Finger Lighthouse

Then and Now


The original Five Finger Island Lighthouse Station was completed and manned, warning mariners of the dangers along the Inside Passage (photo from the 1920s).

The Five Finger Lighthouse Station was rebuilt after a devastating fire destroyed the first lighthouse. That structure still stands today (photo from 2019).

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The First Lighthouse in Alaska

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. 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 burned 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 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. 

Historical Timeline








Five Finger Lighthouse Station was commissioned and completed! Making this the first lighthouse in Alaska.

A terrible winter storm hits, and while attempting to melt the frozen pipes, the crew accidentally sets the lighthouse ablaze, burning it to the ground. The carpenter shed and boathouse remain standing.

The new lighthouse is built during the New Deal, in the popular 'art deco' style of the time.

The USCG automates the light, making this the last lighthouse in Alaska to be automated.

The Juneau Lighthouse Association (JLA) is formed, and assists the USCG with care of the lighthouse and island 

Five Finger Lighthouse and Island listed as a 'National Historic Place'. The USCG transfers the ownership and care of the lighthouse and island to JLA (while still maintaining the navigation light

Care of the Five Finger Lighthouse and island transferred from Juneau to Petersburg and the Five Finger Lighthouse Society. USCG maitainsownership are care of the navigational light.

The Details

Along with the discovery of gold and the start of the goldrush in the late 1890s, 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 lighthouses in the waters. One of the areas receiving the most attention was an area along the Inside Passage marine traffic had to pass through to reach the quickly developing mining town of Juneau. The Stephens Passage and Frederick Sound confluence. The idea for the Five Finger Lighthouse Station was born.


In 1902, the original lighthouse was completed. 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 burned to the ground. Funding for the rebuild was made possible by money 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 lighthouse is known for its vertical lines and the use of geometric forms. The style was used on all Alaskan lighthouses established in the 1930’s and Art Deco use in lighthouse architecture was prominent only on the coast of Alaska. The reinforced concrete design employed in the construction of the Five Finger Lighthouse 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 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.


Currently, Five Finger Lighthouse is currently owned by the Five Finger Lighthouse Society, 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 still serves as a beacon with a distinct light signature and also a weather reporting station for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a waypoint for the vessel location service, AIS by Marine Exchange, and a seasonal scientific research station.

Other Interesting History

-Five Finger Island and Sentinel Island lighthouses were both lit on the same day, but, Five Finger is credited as being Alaska’s first lighthouse as its structures were completed before Sentinel Island's buildings. The lighthouse was originally staffed by three keepers. Unsurprisingly, most keepers left after serving only a short time on the small island. Usually a season or two before transferring to another station. One exception was Benny Hall, who spent fifteen years at the station. 

-In January of 1903, the steamer Amur was headed northbound past the light, when it was signaled by the keepers. Two keepers came out to the Amur in a small skiff on the verge of starvation, having survived for over a week on flour and what fish they could catch. One of the keepers had left a month prior, hoping to procure food in Petersburg, but had not been seen since. The keepers were given twenty pounds of meat, potatoes, and tobacco, by guests and crew of the Amur.

-In December of 1933, a winter storm came in. Dense icy fog was reported for a week straight. The icy fog was so intense that visibility was less than 10ft/3m.  When the fog finally lifted the fur farmers on the neighboring Akusha island looked out toward the lighthouse but couldn't find it. All that was left of Five Finger Lighthouse was a pile of ashes, tangled pipes, and a portion of the foundation. In a rush the fox farmers boated over to the Five Finger Island, “I’ll never forget climbing up that cold metal ladder and stepping on the big rock. Shivers go up my spine even now.” is a quote from Dorothy, one of the farmers. The extreme cold and ice had encapsulated the lighthouse and frozen the water pipes. Two keepers attempted to thaw the pipes with a blowtorch. Unfortunately while the pipe did start to heat up, so did the walls of the lighthouse, engulfing the lighthouse in flames. The boathouse and carpenter shop were spared. One of the keepers reportedly ran back into the burning lighthouse to retrieve the station’s logbook. When he was safe from the heavy black smoke and flames he realized he had grabbed a Sears Roebuck shopping catalog instead. A temporary, unattended light was put up.


-The new lighthouse was built to be almost completely fireproof and was completed for $92,967 in December of 1935, two years and a week after its predecessor burned.


-In 1939 the USCG assumed control of all U.S. lighthouses, and a four-man crew was stationed at Five Finger Lighthouse.

The crew’s connection to the outside world was made up of a weekly delivery of food/mail via ship or helicopter from the Coast Guard station in Sitka.


-In 1982 a long winter storm blew in, with thirty foot swells and 85mph winds. Ice covered the lighthouse and trapped the crew inside for days. No contact with the outside world to be had for weeks. It is reported that the lighthouse was one of the few USCG stations where the crew enjoyed receiving the mail more than they did their paychecks.

-The last crew to spend a full year at the lighthouse left behind their signatures on a basement wall (1984). That final crew was manning the only non automated light left in Alaska. Making the Five Finger Lighthouse the longest manned lighthouse in Alaska, the first to be built and the last to be automated.

-Every lighthouse has a unique light signature, labeled on the charts. This is so mariners who are lost can find where they are based on the flashing pattern of that lighthouse. There is also a unique fog horn pattern for the same purpose when the light cannot be seen. Five Finger Lighthouse no longer has an operating fog horn, but the light signature remains the same. Eight seconds off, two seconds on.

-There is a murder mystery novel written by author Sue Henry, Murder at Five Finger Light, which takes place at Five Finger Lighthouse. The author visited the lighthouse in 2005 while writing her book, and due to bad weather was stuck in the lighthouse for many days longer than she prepared for. 

Historical Photographs

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