Keepers of Light

The Mahler Family of Patos Island

As young adults, Harry and Louise Mahler made their home at the Patos Island Light Station. In the decade they served the island, Harry and Louise began their lives as a couple and started a family while living at the lighthouse.

In an era before sonar, radio and GPS, lighthouses were a vital safety measure to keep ships off the rock, and light house keepers served vital roles.

Commission for a light station on Patos Island was recommended by the Lighthouse Board in 1888. Situated on the Northern entrance of Haro Strait, Patos Island was in a prime location for a lighthouse. The waters of the strait were dangerous, with irregular currents and sheets of fog. However, no lighthouse could be successful without operation by a keeper.

While Patos Island was small and secluded, Harry and Louise Mahler were never lonely in the ten years they served as the Patos Island light station’s first keepers. Harry Mahler reported for duty at the lighthouse on August 2, 1893.

Harry Mahler was just 29 years old when he accepted the position as the first keeper of the Patos Island light station. However, being the keeper of a lighthouse was not a new craft for Mahler. Prior to his stint on Patos Island, Harry Mahler served as the keeper of the Dungeness Lighthouse. Mahler was interviewed by the Seattle Times in 1917 where he commented, “Whenever a lighthouse keeper is mentioned they adjective ‘lonely’ is always invoked. But they are all wrong. It’s not a lonely life from my viewpoint.”

Mahler brought with him his wife, Louise who was only 18 years old when she and Harry moved in. The Mahler’s often had company. Friends and family of Louise would trickle in and out of the lighthouse frequently. During their stint on Patos Island, the Mahler’s welcomed three children into their family: Howard, Francis, and K. Margaret. The first two children were born at the lighthouse on Patos, but the last child was born at a house Harry rented on North Beach in Eastbound. For the birth of their final child, Harry was unable to leave his post as keeper. Louise’s mother and sisters tended to her as she gave birth. To alert Harry to the birth of his child, a bonfire was set on the North Beach.

There was no time for idleness at the Patos Island light station. Louise kept busy with their three children and entertaining their numerous guests. When she had free time, Louise enjoyed quilting. Louise completed a massive 6-foot square quilt in her time on the Island. When his duties were lax, Harry enjoyed playing the guitar. It was common to hear him strumming in the lighthouse on clear days. The Mahler family packed their bags and moved off Patos Island in 1903 because their eldest son, Howard, needed to attend school.