The lighthouse was built in response to the many shipwrecks that occurred in the treacherous and busy bays of the Mendocino coast. Later in the twentieth century, technological developments nearly resulted in the loss of this national treasure.

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Long before ships sailed off the Mendocino Coast, the redwood forest grew along the coast, probably for millions of years. The native people known today as the Pomo have lived in the area for about 12,000 years. Learn more about the forest and the Pomo culture in the Lighthouse Museum.

The ecosystem changed after the California gold rush. In 1850, a clipper ship named Frolic wrecked just north of Point Cabrillo. Although the attempt to salvage goods from that ship failed, the attempt led to the discovery of the redwood forest by San Francisco businessmen. San Francisco was a booming town in need of wood, and soon there were towns and mills scattered along the Mendocino coast. Coastal shipping resulted in more shipwrecks, leading to the construction of the lighthouse.