Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2012-05-12.
Contributor Dick Kasnick has sent in pictures of the original Cape Mendocino first order Fresnel lens. He has also sent along this story:
The Ferndale First Order Lens Story
A lighthouse was established in Point Mendocino in the 1800's and by 1949, the lighthouse was unused and in great disrepair. The county fathers with great foresight sought to save the First Order Fresnel lens that was at the time in the lighthouse and receiving Coast Guard permission to conserve the light, they moved it to a new replica lighthouse building on the Humboldt County Fairgrounds. This all occurred prior to 1950 or so.
A little about the lens. All first order lenses were made in France and shipped to the United States. During the mid-1800's the cost of a first order lens was about $25,000, in today's dollars roughly a million dollars. One light in Washington State requiring repair has prices quoted as high as a million dollars, just for the dismantling and repairs.
There are only a half dozen or so first order lenses in the United States, and of course are not manufactured any more. Most were decommissioned by 1950 as electronic horns and strobe lights were much less costly to maintain and did not need personnel stationed at the light. The First Order Lens weighs about 8,000 lbs, with prisms, supports, turntable and gears, so a very substantial structure was required to support one. With a 100 watt light bulb, the beam thru the bulls-eye could be seen for up to 26 miles on clear nights.
So this light sat at the Humboldt County Fair, in its special house until 2009, used only on ceremonial occasions. The light had to be covered in the day time as the building was a wooden structure and sunlight thru a prism (there are 700 in this light) could set the building on fire.
One day, a Coast Guard Officer saw the light and asked County Officials where they had obtained it. As they had taken care of it for about 60 years, Humboldt County considered that it was theirs, and they told the Coast Guard that. However, the Coast Guard decided that it really was the Federal Governments, and wanted it back for unexplained reasons.
Over the past several years, the Coast Guard has relented and intimated that if the County found a Museum that would conserve it and keep it on display for the public to see, they may be able to keep it. At present (April 2012) the County has raised $100,000 for that effort and are still fundraising to conserve the light. It would be moved to a museum less than a mile from its present location. If this occurs, it will be one of four first order lenses that I know of that can be observed by the general public.
If you would be interested in conserving one of only a small handful of these beautiful works of art, you can send donations to:
Humboldt County Fair Association
1250 5th Street, Ferndale, CA 95536
Directions: The replica lighthouse is located at 1250 5th Street in Ferndale, California. View more Cape Mendocino (Replica) Lighthouse pictures