In 1792 Patos Island was named Isla de Patos (Island of Ducks), by Spanish Explorers Galiano and Bazan maybe because of the many ducks that inhabited the island. Interestingly, the island was a hiding place for smugglers due to its nearness to the Canadian border and its many trees and trees.
The island’s first light was on Boundary Pass only opposite Canada’s Saturna Island. Patos Island is at the northern entrance to the Canal de Haro. This was a very dangerous passage because of strong currents and foggy weather. In March of 1891 Congress appropriated $12,000 to erect an aid to navigation which consisted of a double dwelling, fog signal building, water tanks and a pole light at the western end of the island. The actual building was finished late in 1893.
Thus there was a white light on the side of the station and a red light on a ten foot tall white stake on Patos Island.
By 1915 several improvements were made with the consequence of a new fog signal and a lighthouse with a fresnel lens. Harry Mahler was paid $700 per year as head keeper and Edward Durgan received $500 per year as president.
After serving as lighthouse keeper at a number of distinct locations on the West Coast Durgan returned in 1905 into Patos Island as the head light keeper. He arrived at at Patos with wife Estelle and their thirteen children where he became really renowned. Despite the fact that it had a mild climate, Patos Island was very isolated. The Durgan family would travel twenty-six water miles once a month to Bellingham, Washington for supplies. Their nearest neighbor was Saturna Island in Canada which was just over three miles away by water.
Seven of the children came down with smallpox and keeper Durgan, so as to signal for assistance flew the lighthouse flag upside down. Eventually help did come but one account states that three of the kids died. While another account was that one kid succumbed. A third bookkeeping states that the child who died likely died of appendicitis, not smallpox
Helene Durgan Glidden, one of the living children later wrote a memoir titled”The Light on the Island”. In this writing she told of her talks with God, how she played with her pet cow and wandered the shores of the island which she called”the petticoats” of Patos Island.
George Loholt substituted Durgan as headkeeper with Mary Durgan’s husband, Noah Clark, staying on as assistant keeper.
Trips over the rough waters for visiting or purchasing were dangerous. In 1911 Noah Clark motored to Blaine,Washington to pick up his wife, Mary and their young son who had been visiting the Durgans. The ship started filling with water and Clark jumped overboard for help to save his loved ones and he was never seen again. His loved ones, after drifting in the water all night, eventually crawled on top of the cabin when the boat full of water. Fortunately they had been rescued after grounding onto a shoal.
In August 1912, a distress signal was coming from Patos Island. Captain Newcombe of the Canadian fishery protection tug noticed the signal and stopped at the island to investigate. This Loholt had left the station in a boat two days earlier without any explanation leaving Stark to carry out all the responsibilities alone. Captain Newcombe advised the lighthouse inspector at Portland, who proceeded to Patos Island.
Inspector Beck arrived at Patos and discovered that the two men had been fighting and that one had threatened to kill the other and drove him from the island. Ultimately the assistant was suspended and Keeper Loholt continued on as head lighthouse keeper for another ten years or more. During which time he rendered assistance to many vessels in distress.
Those accounts were mentioned in the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Lighthouses.
Telephone service came to the island in 1919 and took care of much of the communication issue.
The lighthouse is now a part of Patos Island State Park and has been revived and is being cared for by a group of selfless volunteers.
The lighthouse can be visited by boat from either Friday Harbor or Roche Harbor. In recent years there are docents to open the lighthouse to visitors during the summer months.
The lighthouse is best visited by boat. Keepers of the Patos Light have experienced docents on the island in recent years to open the lighthouse to visitors during the summer months.
Orcas Island Eclipse Charters has provided Lighthouse Tours in the past that pass by Patos Island. Outer Island Excursions offers trips to Patos Island that include a hike to the lighthouse.
The lighthouse is owned by the Bureau of Land Management. Grounds.open, lighthouse closed