The Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno named Point Pinos (“Point of Pines”) in 1602 because of the pine trees that blanketed the area. Today, the oldest standing lighthouse in California is surrounded by the Pacific Grove Golf Course, but it remains a spectacular location.
Point Pinos is renowned for two women keepers: Charlotte Layton, who replaced her husband Charles — the first keeper — after he was fatally shot while on a posse in pursuit of an outlaw, and Emily Maitland Fish, who earned the nickname “Socialite Keeper” because of her regard for fashion and style as well as her habit of entertaining artists, writers, and other guests at the lighthouse. Fish populated the 92-acre station with French poodles, Holstein cows, thoroughbred horses, and chickens during her more than two decades (1893-1914) at Point Pinos.
Ownership of the property was transferred to the City of Pacific Grove in 2006, while the automated light remains active. The docent coordinator is Nancy McDowell, who retired in 2001 from a career as a special education teacher. She’s featured in an article in the November 29 Monterey County Weekly. Nancy says her biggest fear is that the lighthouse is becoming too popular; there were about 30,000 visitors last year.
“I always wanted to live in a lighthouse, my mother told me,” McDowell says. “I just have always loved lighthouses.”
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