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All About the Lighthouses of Maine

New World history is a rich field that is constantly being analyzed for new material. The complexity of these tales never fails to amaze me.

The Portland Head Light is located just outside the city of Portland in Cape Elizabeth. It is one of the most photographed lighthouses in America

The Portland Head Light is located just outside the city of Portland in Cape Elizabeth. It is one of the most photographed lighthouses in America

Maine's Most Famous Lighthouse

Not only is the Portland Head Light the most photographed of all Maine lights, but it is also the oldest. Completed in 1791, it was commissioned by President George Washington and constructed with federal funds. The lighthouse is still in operation today, as it is maintained by the Coast Guard and has a powerful beacon, which can be seen 24 miles out to sea.

Besides being the most photographed lighthouse in America, the landmark structure has been the subject of an Edward Hopper painting, a Longfellow poem, and featured in the movie Snow Falling on Cedars.

This light at Spring Point in South Portland is made from metal, not quarried stone

This light at Spring Point in South Portland is made from metal, not quarried stone

Maine Lighthouses in General

Overall, there are sixty lighthouses dotting the rugged coastline of Maine. They begin with the southernmost Whaleback Light at Kittery and continue northeast to the West Quoddy Head Light in Lubec, which is the easternmost lighthouse in the United States.

Most of the lighthouses were built during the nineteenth century, but a few date back into the 1700s, while a few others weren't constructed until the 20th century. Many sit on the mainland and can be visited by auto, but others are situated offshore on islands and can only be reached by boat. Eight of the Maine lighthouses are privately owned, including the Tenants Harbor Light, which is owned by renowned artist Jamie Wyeth.

The lighthouse at Pemaquid Point was made famous in a painting by Edward Hopper

The lighthouse at Pemaquid Point was made famous in a painting by Edward Hopper

Various Materials

The earliest lighthouses, such as the one at Portland Head, were constructed from field rubblestone gathered locally. Soon thereafter, quarried limestone became a popular building material, as it was readily available within the state. The lighthouse at Pemaquid was built from this material. Over the years, construction materials have varied from granite blocks to kiln-fired bricks, concrete, cast iron, and even wood.

The Sequin Island Light at the mouth of the Kennebec River still employs a Fresnel lens

The Sequin Island Light at the mouth of the Kennebec River still employs a Fresnel lens

Lighting

The first lights on the Maine Coast were powered from whale oil and magnified by parabolic reflectors. This practice continued in various forms until at least 1822 when the Fresnel lens replaced the reflectors to create a much more powerful optical magnification. However, whale oil continued in use until mid-century (the 1800s), when wild cabbage oil became employed and then kerosene as the fuel source.

By the turn of the century, the first electric lamps were being used to illuminate the darkness, though the Fresnel lens was still a mainstay for concentrating and magnifying the light into a powerful beam. Today, the Fresnel lights are gradually being phased out and placed by more modern beacons.

Only 84 lighthouses in the U.S. still use the Fresnel lens and eight of them are in Maine. These lights can be found at Sequin Island, Browns Head, Fort Point, Owls Head, Pemaquid Point, Bass Harbor, Spring Ledge, and West Quoddy. For those who wish to see a Fresnel lens firsthand, the place to go is the Maine Lighthouse Museum in Rockland, Maine.

Blackboard Fresnel Lens

The Tiny Bug Light

This tiny light that guards the Portland Harbor is called Bug Light. It is easily accessible by land

This tiny light that guards the Portland Harbor is called Bug Light. It is easily accessible by land

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Where to Go

With over 60 lighthouses to choose from it is a difficult decision to decide where to go. If you consider that many are located on offshore islands, then the choice gets simpler. Here is a list of the top ten as compiled by freelance writer, James Nalley. In order of ascending popularity, they are Owls Head, Seguin Island, Burnt Island, Portland Breakwater (Bug Light), Monhegan Island, Pemaquid Point, Marshall Point, Bass Harbor, West Quoddy, and of course number one, the Portland Head Light.

Maine Lighthouses

The Nubble Light in Southern Maine dons Christmas lights during the yuletide season

The Nubble Light in Southern Maine dons Christmas lights during the yuletide season

Sources

http://www.mainelighthousemuseum.com/ Maine Lighthouse Museum

http://www.seathelights.com/other/anatomy.html Anatomy of a Lighthouse

http://www.unc.edu/~rowlett/lighthouse/me.htm Lighthouses of the United States: Eastern Maine

http://listosaur.com/travel/top-10-maine-lighthouses-to-visit.html Top 10 Maine Lighthouses To Visit

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portland_Head_Light Portland Head Light

Questions & Answers

Question: Where is a lighthouse with accommodations with a place to stay?

Answer: The lighthouse at Spring Point (near Portland) used to offer tours once a year in September. It would be worth checking out to see if they still do. I believe there is a lighthouse on Ilse au Haut (near Stonington) that offers overnight accommodations.

© 2012 Harry Nielsen

Comments

Leroy Brown from Lafayette Orgon on September 05, 2012:

Whoops I meant 9 lighthouses and the countless bridge on the coast

Leroy Brown from Lafayette Orgon on September 05, 2012:

Very nice. We live in Oregon a bout an hour from the coast. I've shot all 9 bridges as well as all the beautiful bridges on the Oregon coast. Nice work. Lots of lighthouses in Main. If you haven't discovered them yet look up Lighthouse Friends on the web

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