Point Retreat is a headland with a historic lighthouse on the Mansfield Peninsula at the northern tip of Admiralty Island, between Lynn Canal to the west and Saginaw Channel of Stephens Passage to the east, about 60 miles (97 km) south-southeast of Haines and 20 miles (32 km) northwest of Juneau, Alaska. The point was named in 1794 by Lieutenant Joseph Whidbey during the Vancouver Expedition because he was forced to seek safety here from a hostile group of Tlingit. Mansfield Peninsula was named in 1893 for Henry B. Mansfield, who was in command of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey steamer Carlile P. Patterson during hydrographic surveys in Southeast Alaska from 1889 to 1891. The bedrock forming Point Retreat represents the Retreat Group of the Gambier Bay Formation which is in the Alexander terrane. The formation consists of sedimentary and volcanic rocks that developed from the Ordovician to Triassic periods and were regionally metamorphosed to slate, phyllite, greenschist, schist, gneiss, and marble. The Retreat Group is inferred to be Devonian in age based on correlation with fossils found in marble in the Gambier Bay Formation.
Mansfield Peninsula is part of the traditional territory of the Tlingit Aak’w Kwáan, also known as the Auke tribe who represent one of the thirteen geographical subdivisions of the Tlingit people in Southeast Alaska. The first written report of the Auke tribe was made in 1794, when members of Vancouver’s expedition observed smoke from campfires in Auke Bay. In 1804, Alexander Baranov visited the Auke on his journey to reestablish the Russian settlement at Sitka after it had been destroyed in 1802 by Tlingit warriors led by Skautlelt and Kotleian of the Kéex’ Kwáan. Two years later in 1806, in defense of their territory and probably as a result of kinship and alliances with Angoon clans, the Auke participated in the planning of another attack on the Russian colony at Sitka, but it was never carried out. In 1835, the Russian Orthodox priest Ivan P. Veniaminov wrote about the Tlingit tribes and specifically mentioned the Auke tribe. At the time of the Alaska Purchase in 1867, the Auke tribe still retained the exclusive use and occupancy of their territory. Russian, American, and English ships travelled regularly through the Auke region on trading expeditions, but the Auke maintained their control of the region until the discovery of gold in 1880 that brought large numbers of miners and extensive development. In 1880, a census conducted by Ivan Petrof recorded 640 Auke people living in three villages with two on the northern part of Admiralty Island and one Douglas Island in addition to two village on the mainland at present-day Auke Bay and Juneau.
A light station is located at Point Retreat to mark an important intersection for vessels travelling through the Inside Passage. In 1901, a lighthouse reserve of 1,505 acres (609 ha) was set aside by an executive order from President William McKinley. The first Point Retreat Lighthouse was a hexagonal wooden tower, only 6 feet (1.8 m) tall, with a hexagonal lantern room that was first lit in 1904. In 1917, the lighthouse was removed and downgraded to a minor light until 1924, when a new combination lighthouse and fog signal was built. The lantern was removed in the 1950s and a solar-powered lens was installed on a post attached to the tower. In 1973, the light was again unmanned and downgraded. In 1997, the Alaska Lighthouse Association, a non-profit organization, leased the buildings from the U.S. Coast Guard and became the station owners in 2002. The station includes a lighthouse, oil house, keepers residence, boat house, dock, water tank, fuel storage platform, helicopter platform, and a tramway. All the structures at Point Retreat were painted and Seidelhuber Iron and Bronze Works of Seattle was contracted to build a steel replica of the lantern room using architectural drawings found in the National Archives. The new lantern was installed atop the lighthouse in 2004 to mark the station centennial. Read more here and here. Explore more of Point Retreat and Admiralty Island here: