Story written by Mary Nulty, Head Historian of the The Keeper’s House Interpretive Center
With the assistance of researcher Sharon Waite of the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum.
May 16, 2020 — Here’s a blast from the past from Heceta Head Lightstation, located between Florence and Yachats on Highway 101, and one of the most photographed spots on the Oregon coast.
Let’s step back in time into the year of 1910, into the lives of Heceta Head’s lightkeepers and the third annual Rhododendron Festival.
One of the duties of lighthouse keepers was to write daily in the logbook. The original Heceta Logbooks are stored at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. They answer some of the questions we have regarding life at Heceta Lightstation.
Head Keeper Olaf Hansen and his family spent almost 20 years at Heceta Head as lightkeepers.
Olaf and Annie Hansen were married in 1896 in Portland, Ore. Prior to that, Annie lived in West Virginia and owned her own dressmaking shop where she designed, made and sold ladies hats. The children wore lots of hand-me-down clothes, but Annie must have done a lot of sewing over the years for her large family.
The logbook entry for May 24, 1910, said that Olaf left the station at 8 a.m. to attend the third annual Rhododendron Festival in Florence. The two assistant keepers were left in charge of Heceta.
The entry for May 27 says that the Hansens returned to the lightstation at 4 p.m.
Can you imagine traveling with eight children from age three to 10 for hours in a horse drawn wagon, from Heceta Lightstation to Florence, in 1910?
They followed the wagon road that was originally a trail, used by the local Siuslaw Indians and their ancestors, south over the headlands. The wagon road led them down to the ocean beach, where they traveled on the hard-packed wet sand at low tide. Then it was back on the rough, and often muddy, wagon road into Florence.
Eugene people who had left for Florence early in the morning, arrived at Mapleton having made the trip in about six hours. They were met at Mapleton by boats and brought to Florence that evening.
Where did the Hansen family spend the nights of May 24, 25 and 26 while attending the Rhododendron Festival?
According to The Eugene Guard newspaper on May 9, “A force of men began work yesterday morning at remodeling the old Florence hotel building and will fit it up for a storeroom. W.H. Boak, who has been landlord at the Bay View since January 1, has given up the hotel and moved across the river to Glenada. He has rented the Colter hotel and will engage in business there.”
The Hansen family may have crossed the Siuslaw River by ferry and stayed in the Colter hotel in Glenada.
As for the third annual Rhododendron Festival, activities included the Queen’s Banquet held at noon and afternoon foot races, pole vaulting and a boat race. There were 30 boats in the boat parade on the Siuslaw River and a short street parade.
In addition to the coronation, there was a free dinner, and a Grand Ball in the room over the Kyle Store. The dancing lasted all night. The room was so large that everyone in Florence could dance in it and not be crowded.
It is estimated that 2,000 people in attendance, made it the largest crowd at a festival at that time.
This photo of the Hansen family was recently donated to the Heceta Interpretive Center located at the Heceta Keepers House, by two ladies whose mothers were born at Heceta and are in this photo. According to the Heceta Logbooks, the Hansens also went to Florence during the 1912, 1914 and 1915 Rhododendron Festivals.
This 1910 photograph also shows Florence Martin Dietz, Annie's sister, and her daughter Leona. We know little about her, but the 1910 Census lists Florence and Leona living with the Hansen family at Heceta. It was a single three-bedroom house that was reserved for the head keeper and his family. The house was torn down in the 1930’s but the duplex housing the two assistants still stands.
As we celebrate the 113th Rhododendron Festival this year, let us not forget the history of its past.
Research compiled from the Heceta Logbooks, Hansen family members, “Florence in Full Bloom: a Chronicle of the Rhododendron Festival 1908-2018” (copies may be purchased at the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum), newspaper articles, U.S. Census records, birth records and marriage, and death certificates. For more information on Keepers of Heceta Head Lightstation, visit www.hecetalighthouse.com/history#the-non-profit.