Staff Report

The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, home of the giant First Order Fresnel lens from the Point Conception Lighthouse, will celebrate the 164th anniversary of the lighthouse’s first lighting on Feb. 1, 1856, with an afternoon reading and discussion of the lighthouse and its lens followed by a special birthday cake.

Willard Thompson, an award-winning historical fiction author, lecturer and historian, will lead the free event and read from his book, “Keepers of the Light: The History of the Point Conception Lighthouse.”

 “For me,” Thompson said, “writing history and historical novels is not just about telling stories in historical time settings; it’s about bringing to life the people who lived, loved, and strove for meaning in their lives during those historical times. I hope we will have a good turnout of parents bringing their kids to learn about this aspect of our local history.” 

 The event is free and open to the public, and families are welcome. Parents are encouraged to bring their children to learn the history of the lighthouse and the men and women who braved the rugged terrain, heavy fog, and strong winds of Point Conception to keep mariners safe. 

Point Conception, considered sacred ground by the Chumash, is the headland where California’s coast goes from a north-south orientation to east-west, making a natural division between Southern and Northern California. Ever since the Gold Rush days, the Point Conception Lighthouse has guarded the treacherous Pacific waters where the Santa Barbara Channel and Pacific Ocean meet on the western edge of Santa Barbara County. 

Because it was such a dangerous place for mariners, Point Conception was dubbed The Cape Horn of California. 

In 2019, Thompson donated all rights to his book and proceeds from its sales to the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.

The museum’s current exhibits are The History of Oil in Santa Barbara Channel, and Fishing with Paper and Ink.