Looking back on the history of the lighthouse

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The photo shows the Canyon Lake lighthouse as it was being built. The lighthouse is a scale replica of the Nantucket lighthouse at Brant Point in Nantucket, Massachusetts (inset photo). Photo provided by Elinor Martin

The Friday Flyer looks back at the history of Canyon Lake’s iconic lighthouse, from its beginnings and the inspiration behind it.

Back in the fall of 1968, Corona Land Company, the company that developed Canyon Lake, announced in its periodic publication, Canyon Lake News, that “Riverside County’s first lighthouse would make its debut shortly in picturesque Holiday Bay.”

Built on a 40 ft. in diameter man-made island made of Santa Ana slate, the lighthouse is a scale replica of the famed Nantucket Lighthouse at Brant Point in Nantucket, Massachusetts. Enclosed at the pinnacle of the lighthouse is a 360-degree circulating beacon. The lighthouse was not intended to be a warning guide for Canyon Lake boaters, rather it was to create more of an atmosphere and add to the picturesque views of Canyon Lake.

As the POA was preparing to celebrate its 40 year anniversary in 2008, Gordon Heath, president of the Corona Land Company, visited the community and contacted The Friday Flyer to discuss the community’s iconic landmark.

“While I was planning the development of Canyon Lake and during its construction, I made numerous trips to Boston, Massachusetts, for business meetings regarding the project. Invariably I took the ‘red-eye special,’ leaving about midnight and arriving at daylight. The meetings were always early morning and then I sometimes had the rest of the day free before taking the evening plane back to California,” recalled Gordon.

“I usually used this rare free time to visit different historical sites in the Boston area. One of these occasions, I took an extra day and drove to Cape Cod and took the ferry to Nantucket Island. The small lighthouse at the harbor was a beautiful sight as the ferry pulled in to the island. As I recall, after we landed I walked to the lighthouse and took several photos of it. I later learned there are three lighthouses on Nantucket Island, but the one I visited was located at Brant Point.”

A few weeks later when Gordon was at Canyon Lake reviewing construction and excavation progress, the idea came to him that a lighthouse like the one he had seen on Nantucket Island would be a picturesque and unique feature to add to the lake.

“It was obvious to me that the location should be a point where the newly excavated east branch met the main body of the lake. That was the most prominent site and the best to aid in nighttime boating,” Gordon said.

“Soon after, I gave our Superintendent Dale Eckert one of the photos I had taken of the lighthouse at Nantucket Island and instructed him to build it. I do not recall that we had any plans prepared for it, he just built it from the photo. He did a great job, it turned out well and I was very pleased with it.”

The original photo Gordon gave Dale has been lost with the passage of time.

“When the lighthouse was finished, I believe it was the first and only lighthouse in Riverside County. From the beginning of construction, it was a much-photographed landmark. I hope the community will see that is well maintained and preserved. It would be wonderful if, in the future, someone in the community would lead the way to it being designated as a Historic Landmark so that it will remain for future generations of Canyon Lakers to enjoy,” said Gordon.

As Gordon hoped, the lighthouse has become a symbol for Canyon Lake. Since the beginning of construction, the lighthouse has been photographed from every angle in many types of weather and water levels.

In May 2018, the iconic 50-year-old lighthouse underwent major changes. The aged red top was replaced by a new blue top and other aesthetic repairs were made to the structure to restore its prestige.

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