Food/Photography Friday: A Photographic Tale of Two Cities, Part I

MV C8381 Pre Trail Eugene OR-680

As 2019 draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the travels my partner and I took this year to two very different cities in search of our next home in the western United States. In March we spent about two weeks living like locals in Eugene, Oregon. In July, we did the same in Tucson, Arizona.

We’d visited each of these cities before and found many things to like, so we wanted to take a closer look. We went to Eugene in winter to see if we sun-loving Southern Californians could handle the cold, wet, often gloomy weather. For Tucson, we chose the height of summer to test our ability to thrive in the unrelenting seasonal heat.

I’m grateful for the time we had to explore each town, visit with friends, enjoy several side trips and have wonderful opportunities for photography. In this post and Part II, I’ll share some of my favorite photos from each trip, starting with Eugene.

Eugene, Oregon

“Track Town USA” is Eugene’s nickname, and the running community was among the things that attracted us to the city. That’s Pre’s Trail in the photo above, a broad path four miles long that commemorates legendary University of Oregon runner, Steve Prefontaine. Located in Alton Baker Park, it draws numerous runners and walkers every day.

Hiking in the scenic outdoors, close proximity to the Oregon coast, and university-town cultural/educational offerings also attracted us to Eugene.

A fascinating part of the city’s history is the Shelton McMurphey Johnson House, a Victorian-era mansion that sits on a hill overlooking downtown.

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In the front garden to the right, notice the bright yellow daffodils that we saw everywhere in Eugene this March as winter moved toward spring.

Built in 1888, this commanding landmark, now a museum, is named for the three successive families who lived there. Learning about their daily lives and the antics of the spirited children who grew up in the house is a fun part of the tour.

The facade exemplifies the ornamental details of Late Victorian Queen Anne Revival style architecture.

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Side Trips

The Pre’s Trail photo dates from our summer 2017 visit to Eugene. Winter 2019 was a different experience, but we still had some sunny, if damp and chilly, intervals. Our luckiest weather break was the day we headed to the coast to see the Heceta Head lighthouse, which I wrote about earlier here.

This historic lighthouse, circa 1894, is a magnet for photographers, and you can see why.

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Even the approach is special as you walk up the hill with the buildings in the distance among the trees.

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We were so fortunate to be able to photograph it on a bright, dry day in a week of rain!

On our country-roads drive back to Eugene, we spotted this old railroad bridge and stopped to take some shots.

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We learned it’s the Cushman swing-span railroad bridge, Mapleton, which crosses the Siuslaw River near Florence. One of its three spans rotates to allow boats to pass under it. Built in 1914, the bridge has keepers’ quarters on top for those who operate its rotating drawbridge.

I enjoy photographing industrial landscapes and got another chance when we visited our friend Lori in Portland. After brunch and the Saturday Market, she gave us an energetic tour of the surrounding area that ended up with dinner in Oregon City.

That’s where I got these shots of the industrial area on the Willamette River near landmark Willamette Falls.

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George Abernethy Bridge, spanning the Willamette River between Oregon City and West Linn.

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Oregon City’s Blue Heron paper mill, site of various operations since the 1830s, closed in 2011.

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West Linn’s landmark paper mill, closed in 2017 after 128 years in business.

Other meetups with friends took us to Phoenix (near Ashland) and Jacksonville, Oregon, and Centralia, Washington. In Jacksonville, I spotted this sweet, petite historic home with its multi-story birdhouse.

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That ends the Eugene, Oregon tale. Stay tuned for Part II, Tucson, Arizona.

What were some of your favorite travels this year?

Copyright M. Vincent 2019.  All photos copyright M. Vincent 2017-2019.

The Traveling Lighthouse Library

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It’s National Library Week in the United States, and I’m pleased to join the celebration by sharing a part of our library history I recently discovered on a visit to the Heceta Head Lighthouse near Florence, Oregon.

That’s the lighthouse pictured above, viewed from a highway lookout point. While easily accessible by car today, you can imagine its remoteness from the time it began operation in 1894 to the time modern transportation and technology made it no longer a solitary outpost inhabited by hardworking lighthouse keepers and their families.

Many U.S. lighthouses were similarly isolated, with difficult access to the outside world and few options for leisure and entertainment. For lighthouse keepers and their spouses life was constant work — a serious, often monotonous regime of maintenance, watching for something to happen, and meticulously recording events.

Heceta Head light and its surroundings are striking. Some say it’s the most photographed lighthouse in the U.S., and I was lucky to capture it on a bright sunny day in a week of rain. Here is a closeup among the trees:

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When I’d taken full advantage of the photo opportunities and needed a break from the brisk sea wind, I took shelter in a small building with various lighthouse history exhibits. A set of books in a hinged wooden case labeled “Replica Lighthouse Library Box” caught my attention, and I learned about a special library system I’d never come across before.

Circulating Libraries Created for Lighthouse Keepers

Small portable libraries like the one below in the Heceta exhibit were distributed to lighthouses across the U.S. in the 19th century. Used to improve morale at solitary stations, they became an important part of life for keepers and their families. 

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As Natalie Zarrelli speculates in an article for Atlas Obscura (cited with link below), one of these sturdy wooden boxes filled with books was “possibly the most awaited item” when a boat arrived with a shipment of supplies. Her article tells us the boxes were made of thick, heavy wood and, as you can see in the exhibit, did double duty as carrying cases and bookshelves.  

Each library box could hold 50–60 books. The contents varied with a box’s origin. At least some of the books were bought or donated by private groups.

The Heceta exhibit indicates the steady growth of these mini libraries: In 1876, 50 were created. By 1885, more than 400 were in circulation, with 40–60 volumes each. By 1893, over 700 boxes were in transit along U.S. coastlines, delivering much-appreciated reading material to lighthouse families.

Per the exhibit, the libraries moved from station to station via lighthouse inspectors who exchanged the boxes during quarterly inspections. According to Zarrelli, these district inspectors coordinated among themselves which library went to whom. As they swapped one library for another, the libraries traveled the entire circuit of U.S. lighthouses. 

How Did These Lighthouse Libraries Arise?

Clearly, lighthouses and their keepers were crucial to safe navigation, and keeping them both in good condition was important. Accordingly, in the mid 19th century, the United States Lighthouse Board (USLB), the federal agency  responsible for lighthouse construction and maintenance, began improvements to stations around the country.

Along with changes like new, more powerful Fresnel lenses and fresh paint, came amusements to help lighthouse keepers handle the monotony and isolation of the job. Most significant were the traveling libraries which appeared around 1876.  

By then, portable libraries for naval and merchant ships had existed for decades. A religious organization –– the American Seamen’s Friend Society –– provided many library cases for Navy vessels, and they worked with the USLB to bring books to lighthouse keepers as well.

The End of the Journey

The lighthouse libraries were widely used until the radio, telephone and improved transportation made them less important. Most were phased out by the 1920s as the stations became automated.

What special or unusual libraries have you discovered? Please share one of your favorites.

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References and Resources

Zarrelli, Natalie (2016, February 18). “The Most Precious Cargo for Lighthouses Across America Was a Traveling Library.” Retrieved on April 11, 2019 from:

Zarrelli’s article provided much useful background for this post.

Heceta Lighthouse and Bed & Breakfast:

Copyright M. Vincent 2019.  All photos copyright  M. Vincent 2019.