Thursday, September 6, 2012

Westport's Masterpiece by Karen Groth

By now you may have heard that our chapter has its very own published author. A few months ago Karen Groth stood up in front of us and told us about her book, Westport’s Masterpiece: Building the Grays Harbor Lighthouse, 1897 – 1898. It is my pleasure to present her work here on her behalf!

Westport’s Masterpiece is a 164 page nonfiction account following Carl W. Leick, an exceptional architect responsible for the construction of several lighthouses in the northwest. The Grays Harbor Lighthouse is considered to have been his masterpiece, and so the book follows its construction.

Karen drew her inspiration from the journal she discovered at the National Archives in Seattle. She then unearthed several letters in Washington DC, and copies of the original plans at the Coast Guard’s archives in California. She even obtained family photographs. Clearly Karen had done her homework with a resourceful tenacity akin of an investigative journalist.

Karen provides us with a brief synopsis:

In 1897, the Yukon gold rush rages as a superb tower is constructed on Washington's coast.  Outstanding Portland lighthouse architect, Carl W. Leick, records his arguments with Seattle contractor, Charles J. Erickson, in a daily journal kept during the construction at Westport, Washington.

     Westport’s Masterpiece describes how nineteenth century masonry lighthouses were built using horses and hand tools.  Interviews with stonecutters, tinners, horseshoers and others explain building terms and procedures that are no longer used.

     The local papers gleefully report every misstep from the huge stone that fell onto the dock, to the plaster that fell off the newly cemented tower.  Nor is there a lack of colorful personalities, from the judge who who a pony express rider to the French clockmaker who moved into a palace.  

Excerpt: Aberdeen Herald of December 9, 1897

The peace and quietness of this burgh has been disturbed by a 'little unpleasantness' between the lighthouse superintending architect and Contractor Erickson. The trouble has been brewing for sometime. Those two skilled workmen didn't see all things with one eye, and the misunderstanding culminated last week in the superintendent, who is a large and powerful German-American with a quick temper, squeezing the windpipe of the contractor, who is an undersized Swedish-American, and a peacerful man. Result; a case before His Honor T. F. Thompson, and a fine of $3 and costs; rather a high priced temper for these hard times. . .
Westport’s Masterpiece: Building the Grays Harbor Lighthouse, 1897-1898 by Karen Groth can be purchased online at Powell’s Bookstore and AbeBooks, and is being sold at prices ranging from $12.50 - $24.95.

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