Roswell C. Heins wrote of his experience of life at West Point in a letter to the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle (Metro). Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation, Discovery Park Photographic Archive. Courtesy of Roswell C. Heins. 1974.
The West Point Beach was dealt an unknown blow when Reginald Thompson decided the city of Seattle would dump it’s sewage there in 1911 through the North trunk Line. (See Magnolia News, “How Magnolia Got Seattle’s Sewage”, May 30, 2012).
It seems Thompson never imagined the city population of today or envisioned West Point Beach would be a place that thousands would visit yearly as part of their trek to Seattle’s biggest urban park - Discovery Park. At the time, it was a very remote and hard to get to place. The explorations of Bell and Denny to this location were frustrating and they lost their way circling in the same 3-mile radius of dense forest until they were rescued. The stories of the lighthouse keepers and their families — the only inhabitants of that real estate in the late 1800’s — tell stories of idyllic times and peaceful isolation at the beach and the forests above.
George F. Fonda became the second full-time keeper in 1883. Fonda was a horseman,
and he loved to blaze trails through virgin forests from the top of the Bluff to the lighthouse. He ventured downtown this way, climbing the Bluff on horseback.
Families like the Rouse family gathered there for holidays and took trips by boat to Ballard. They lived in the company of the other keepers in the two lighthouse keeper dwellings and passage to civilization was by water to downtown past Four Mile Rock or Ballard for socialization and supplies. They had sandy beaches to roam, wade and explore or beautiful forests in which to play and picnic. Wildlife and sea life were abundant to study or gather for supper.
“1918 while Roswell Heins’ family was at the lighthouse; all of Seattle’s sewage was strewn onto the beach up to the lighthouse and beyond. Roswell recalled the impact the sewage had during his time at the Lighthouse: “We could hardly use the beach on the North side. In the summer, when the tide was out we had to keep our doors and windows closed when the wind was north, as the smell was terrible . . .” Heins talked a lot of the inconveniences and troubles at the lighthouse—not the usual sentimentality of other lighthouse keepers and their families who fondly described their years there. It seems those who worked at the lighthouse before the period when the sewage of the burgeoning Seattle was dumped directly onto the beach recalled a more romantic time.
Heins called the area around the lighthouse “. . . the best mosquito bog Seattle ever had as we had to wear nets around the houses and yards…” For Heins, the sewage treatment facilities built by the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle (METRO) by the lighthouse provided a “nice and clean” beach, one he was not used to seeing: “It was nothing to see four to six inches of sewage on the beach and two inches of fuel oil . . .” “There was a big clam bed on the north side halfway to the Bluff. After a lot of cases of typhoid from the clams at the Post (Fort Lawton) Hospital, Colonel Charles, post commander, put it out of bounds, and the doctors at the Hospital named the Beach ‘Typhoid Acres.’ ”
In 1966, Seattle’s sewage was diverted through the trunk line beneath Fort Lawton to a new plant on the West Point beach which was mandated by law to perform primary treatment of the sewage. Raw sewage was no longer dumped on the West
Point Beach. By 1995, the Metro facilities, which had expanded under secondary waste-water treatment law to treat the sewage two times before dumping it into the
Sound, rather engulfed the lighthouse. With mitigation funds it has been tucked away from sight and the north beach has been developed once again into a sandy spot.
The happenstance history that put these two operations together is often mourned because the lighthouse and The West Point Beach as an attractive property has been somewhat compromised in the view of some Magnolians who fought valiantly and lost to get the treatment plant off the beach entirely. Today beach clean up is part of Discovery Park’s programs and the beaches are sandy and clean once again. There is no clamming. METRO has worked with citizens through the years, sometimes more successfully than others, to dispel any lingering odors of the treated sewage and much of the impact of the Sewage Treatment Plant.
Sources: Magnolia Making More Memories, “One Light White, One Light Red” by Monica Wooton, 2007; Roswell Heins, anecdotes and photos that have become part of the West Point Lighthouse historical record, Discovery Park Archive. In The Magnolia News on July 24, 1974, Heins’ return to the beach where he once lived is described.
Magnolia’s History Books are available at magnolihisotricalsociety.org