CREDITS: I would like to thank Jeremy D'Entremont for providing much of the history one can find on this site. He is a speaker, author, historian, and tour guide who is widely recognized as the foremost authority on the lighthouses of New England. For a story on Jeremy or to visit his site (New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide), use the corresponding link in the right hand information bar under "Related Links".

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I have set up this site as a means to share my photographs of lighthouses. Since retiring and finding more time to study photography, my interests have expanded a little. For some of my work other than lighthouses please enjoy my Facebook page at, John Shaw Photography. Come visit, enjoy, and 'LIKE' if you wish.

Also, for your enjoyment, I have provided a slideshow of our journey. To view it please use the link on the right under 'Site Navigation Tools'.

I sincerely hope you enjoy my efforts and use my site not only for information and education but also to provide directions for many enjoyable, inspirational visits to the beacons along our beautiful coas.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Squirrel Point Lighthouse

     In 1717, the ship Squirrel brought Samuel Shute, the royal governor of Massachusetts, to Arrowsic Island on the Kennebec River to renew a peace treaty with the local Indians. The ship ran aground but was later refloated, and the incident was memorialized in the name given to the location: Squirrel Point.

     Squirrel Point Light, on Arrowsic Island, is one of several aids to navigation authorized in 1895 and erected in 1898 on the Kennebec River, a bustling waterway at the time. The 25-foot wooden tower is very similar to the lighthouses built at nearby Doubling Point and Perkins Island. The Victorian keeper's house, garage and barn were all built along with the tower in 1898. The boathouse and oil house were added a few years later.

     George Matthews, the first keeper, was in charge until 1912. He had previously been an assistant keeper at Whitehead Light in Maine. Later keepers included Arthur V. Smith and Clarence Skolfield, who was the last civilian keeper. Skolfield also served at two other stations in the vicinity, at Seguin Island and Perkins Island.

     Stanley Reynolds and his wife had two children born at the light station during their stay in the 1950s. Tragedy struck in 1955 when their three-year-old son, Scotty, fell into the river and drowned. The Reynolds, who went on to have 12 children, left Squirrel Point a short time later.

     The last resident Coast Guard keeper was Joseph Robicheau, who lived at Squirrel Point with his wife, Leanne, and their two daughters. The Robicheaus endured a memorable Christmas in 1980, with when the wind chill at was 50 below zero.

     To reach their car, a mile away through the woods, so they could get to their planned Christmas dinner, the family bundled up and boarded a snowmobile, with a sled in tow for the two little girls.

     The light was automated in the early 1980s and the fifth-order Fresnel lens was removed and replaced by a modern optic. For some time after that, the light was monitored by the keeper at the Kennebec River (Doubling Point) Range Light Station, a few miles up the river.

     Beginning in February 1982, Karen McLean, one of a very few female Coast Guard lighthouse keepers, was in charge of the that range light station as well as the stations at Squirrel Point and Doubling Point. When the foghorn was needed at Squirrel Point, McLean had to tramp through the one-mile path in the woods from her car to reach the station. In winter the trip sometimes required cross-country skis.

     Mike Trenholm, a semi-retired real estate dealer from Yarmouth, Maine, first saw Squirrel Point Light while on a cruise on the Kennebec River in 1993. Three years later he formed a nonprofit organization, Squirrel Point Associates, Inc. He was granted the five-acre station by the Coast Guard in 1998.

     The deed required that Squirrel Point be "used for educational, historic, recreational, cultural and wildlife conservation programs for the general public" and that it be "maintained in a manner consistent with the provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966."

     Trenholm put some work into the property, including putting new wiring, heating and plumbing in the keeper's house. He hoped to establish an educational facility at Squirrel Point Light Station, but health problems got in the way. 

     A new group called Citizens for Squirrel Point (CSP) formed to ensure that the light station would be used and maintained in accordance with federal, state, and local laws, as well as the covenants in the 1998 deed from the U.S. government. In August 2003, the Citizens for Squirrel Point filed suit in federal district court.

     In February 2005, a federal judge ruled in CSP’s favor. All rights, title, and interest in Squirrel Point Light Station thus reverted to the U.S. government.

     In February 2008, the Chewonki Foundation signed a 15-year license to manage the light station property. Later, the directors of the organization decided that the lighthouse didn't fit into their plans. The license was subsequently transferred to Citizens for Squirrel Point.

     Directions:  The light station is accessible via a 2/3-mile trail at the end of Bald Head Road in Arrowsic. It is surrounded by conservation lands managed by the Division of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Nature Conservancy. The attractive little light station can also be viewed from cruises leaving Bath and Boothbay Harbor, and it can be seen from across the river in Phippsburg.

     CreditsI would like to thank Jeremy D'Entremont, webmaster of,, for sharing the above history.  Jeremy is a speaker, author, historian, and tour guide who is widely recognized as the foremost authority on the lighthouses of New England.  To view a story on him, go to, (Jeremy D'Entremont).  

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Friday, July 4, 2014

Monhegan Island Lighthouse

      "At  night the island went early to its slumbers, and only the lighthouse on the hill kept watch. It dazzled the eyes if one looked up, and rendered the darkness more profound." -- E. H. Goss, "Something About Monhegan," Magazine of American History, September 1884.

The Village on Monhegan Island
       Monhegan Island, 10 miles offshore from midcoast Maine, is a picturesque summer haven for artists and vacationers. By the time the island was visited by Samuel de Champlain, Capt. John Smith, Bartholomew Gosnold, and other explorers in the 1600s, it had already been an outpost for many European fishermen. Some believe the Vikings visited the area around 1,000 A.D. and left carvings on the rocks of nearby Manana Island. Others believe the strange engravings were made much earlier.

      The first permanent European settlement was established in 1619. Before that, Monhegan Island was long used by local Indians who gave it its name, which means "island of the sea." The island's history was turbulent for several centuries. In the late 1400s, Gaspar Cortereal of Spain landed at Monhegan and took 57 Indians to sell as slaves, but his ship was apparently wrecked on the return voyage. During King Philip's War in 1676, settlers took refuge on the island and were eventually relocated to other locations along the coast. In 1689, Baron Castine captured the English settlement for the French.

      For many voyagers coming across the Atlantic, Monhegan was the first sight of land. By the early 1800s, trade in the area was increasing. In 1822, Congress and President James Monroe authorized the building of a lighthouse on one of Monhegan's highest points for $3,000. The light went into operation two years later. The first lighthouse was a 30-foot conical stone tower. Thomas B. Seavey, the first keeper, remained at Monhegan for 10 years.

      After much damage from storms, the lighthouse was rebuilt in 1850. The 48-foot granite tower built that year still stands.  It is very similar to the lighthouse on Whitehead Island, built at about the same time. A new two-story keeper's house was built in 1874.

      In 1856, the original 10 lamps and reflectors were replaced by a powerful second-order Fresnel lens. With its light 178 feet above the sea, Monhegan Island Light is the second-highest light in Maine (after Seguin Island).

     In 1855, a fog bell station was established at Manana Island, just west of Monhegan. The 2,500-pound bell was replaced by a Daboll trumpet in 1870. This signal still wasn't loud enough, so a steam whistle was installed two years later. Finally, in 1877, a powerful first-class Daboll trumpet was installed at Manana Island.

      For a time, the keeper at Monhegan could push a button that would sound a gong in the bedroom of the fog signal keeper at Manana, who would jump out of bed to start the fog signal. The extant fog signal building and brick engine house on Manana Island were built in 1889.

The Manana Island Fog Station
      In 1861, Keeper Joseph F. Humphrey left to fight in the Civil War, along with his two sons. His wife, Betsy Morrow Humphrey, was left with her other eight children to tend the light. Joseph Humphrey died in 1861 and Betsy became the official keeper.

     An 1886 book, All Among the Lighthouses by Mary Bradford Crowninshield, described the view from Monhegan Island Light:  "Way off there to the north spread out the woods and forests of Maine, miles and miles each way, as far as the eye could penetrate; and out there to the west , the south, the east, stretched that limitless blue expanse, heaving, rolling, sparkling, dotted with its flaky signs of enterprise and commerce, which dipped and bowed to the heaving sea, some close, some far away, others showing a dim outline on the distant streak which limits the boundary of our vision." 

Dan Stevens, whose original name was Mathew Murphy, was keeper from 1902 until his death in 1919. He had enlisted in the U.S. Navy when underage, and he was discovered and discharged. He reenlisted after changing his name to Daniel Stevens.

     Stevens told the Boston Globe about life at Monhegan Island Lighthouse in 1904:  "We are satisfied here because it's a good place. Why shouldn't we be satisfied? This is one of the loveliest spots on the great round earth. What do we want better than this? And it's all ours! We can look at it all when we want to, and breathe this good air, and be free and well and happy as anybody can be in this world."

     A cable providing phone service was extended to Monhegan Island in 1919 to make it easier for the keepers on Monhegan and Manana island to communicate with the mainland. The Coast Guard laid a new cable in the 1950s.

     An 1857 keeper's house was torn down in 1922. The station remained staffed by civilian keepers until 1956, when the Coast Guard took over. Beginning when the light was automated in 1959, the Coast Guard keepers at the Manana Island Fog Signal Station were given the additional duty of keeping an eye on the light at Monhegan.

     During a 1981 snowstorm, two Coast Guardsmen were crossing the harbor when their boat capsized. They were rescued by the island's harbormaster and a selectman.

     In 1962, the lighthouse grounds and buildings, except the lighthouse itself, were sold to the Monhegan Associates. A museum was opened in 1968 in the 1874 keeper's house, focusing on the island's rich history and wildlife.
     The Monhegan Museum is open daily through most of the summer. An 1855 fog bell used at Manana Island is on exhibit outside the museum. The bell was the subject of Jamie Wyeth's well-known painting, "Bronze Age."

      In 1985 the property, except for the lighthouse, was transferred to the Monhegan Historical and Cultural Museum Association. Under the Maine Lights Program, the lighthouse became the property of the association in 1998. The association has reconstructed the 1857 assistant keeper's house to serve as a museum for their art collection. It is the first time a keeper's house has been reconstructed in Maine.

      Monhegan has a long tradition as an inspiration to artists; the distinguished list includes Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, George Bellows and Jamie Wyeth. The association has also had the covered walkway to the tower reconstructed in recent years.

     In 2006, the Monhegan Museum was awarded a grant from Heritage Preservation for an assessment of the buildings. Problems found in the lighthouse tower included deteriorating pointing in the exterior granite, leaking and rusting in the lantern, derioration of iron surfaces, peeling lead paint on the interior brick walls and iron stairs, and more. In 2009, the J. B. Leslie Company was contracted to carry out the restoration of the tower. At this writing in late September 2009, most of the work has been completed.

      The light was converted to solar power in 1995 and is still an active aid to navigation. Monhegan Island can be reached by ferry from Port Clyde, New Harbor, and Boothbay Harbor. Reaching the lighthouse requires a moderate uphill walk.

     CreditsI would like to thank Jeremy D'Entremont, webmaster of,, for sharing the above history.  Jeremy is a speaker, author, historian, and tour guide who is widely recognized as the foremost authority on the lighthouses of New England.  To view a story on him, go to, (Jeremy D'Entremont).  

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Friday, June 6, 2014

Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse

    The large, well-protected harbor of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on the Piscataqua River, was an important port in colonial America. It remains New Hampshire's only deep water port. As early as 1721 some concerned citizens of Portsmouth petitioned for a lighthouse, but repeated efforts failed. Royal Governor John Wentworth told the Provincial Assembly in April 1771:,,"Every future expiring cry of drowning mariner upon our coast will bitterly accuse the unfeeling Recusant that wastes life to save a paltry unblessed shilling."

     A wooden lighthouse was soon established at Fort William and Mary on Great Island, in what is now the town of New Castle in Portsmouth Harbor, about a mile from the mouth of the Piscataqua River. Construction began in April and the tower was first lighted by early July of 1771. The shingled tower was about 50 feet tall and was topped by an iron lantern with a copper roof, with the light produced by three oil lamps made of copper.

      It was the first light station established at a military installation of the British colonies of the present United States, the 10th of 11 light stations established in the colonies before the American Revolution, and the first lighthouse in the American colonies north of Boston. A lantern on a mast had been proposed at first but was deemed "impracticable."

     In December 1774, Paul Revere rode to Portsmouth from Boston to warn the colonists of British plans to reinforce Fort William and Mary. The colonists raided the fort and successfully made off with supplies. This is considered by some to be one of the first battles of the American Revolution. Ammunition taken from Fort William and Mary was used against the British at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

     The fortifications became known as Fort Constitution after the Revolution. The lighthouse has been known by various names: Portsmouth Harbor Light, New Castle Light, Fort Point Light and Fort Constitution Light.

     It appears that the lighthouse was not lit from 1774 to 1784, although it did serve as a lookout post in the defense of Portsmouth during the Revolution. In 1784, the tower was renovated and relighted. The lighthouse was transferred to the federal government in 1791, and in 1793 President George Washington ordered that the light be maintained at all times, with a keeper living on site.

     A new 80-foot octagonal wooden Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse was constructed in 1804, 100 yards east of the 1771 tower on a spot called Pollock Rock. The contractor was Benjamin Clark Gilman, a native of nearby Exeter, New Hampshire, who was said to have "remarkable mechanical ability."

     The keeper had a difficult time with soldiers stealing his supplies and the sound of cannon fire from the fort breaking the dwelling's windows.

     In 1826, a fire started in the lighthouse lantern and spread quickly. The blaze was extinguished by the soldiers. The U.S. Treasury Department paid $20 to the company for replacement of their fire-damaged clothing.

      Engineer I.W.P. Lewis visited Portsmouth Harbor Light in 1842 and reported that the lighthouse was "an excellent piece of carpentry, and will bear favorable comparison with its more modern neighbors." Lewis also offered the opinion that the "height of the tower might be advantageously reduced to 30 feet." He pointed out that the light was not as important as it once was since the establishment of Whaleback Light in 1831. The tower was shortened to 55 feet in 1851.

     The keeper's house was relocated in the 1850s to a location near the remains of the Walbach Tower, a structure built in 1814 (near the present public parking area outside the gate to the Coast Guard staton).

     The present house was built in 1872 on the foundation of the previous house, and it has been moved twice to make room for Battery Farnsworth (1897) and Battery Hackleman (1906). Since 1906 it has been within the granite Civil War-era walls of Fort Constitution.

      A new 48-foot cast-iron lighthouse tower was erected in 1878 on the same foundation as the previous tower. In fact, the new lighthouse was actually assembled inside the old one, which was eventually removed.

     The cast-iron lighthouse was still rare in New England when the Portsmouth tower was built. The present tower is a handsome example of the durable, low-maintenance brick-lined cast iron lighthouses developed by the Lighthouse Board.

     According to a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places:  "Distinctive ornamental features not found on pre-1870s lighthouses are the Italianate hoodmolds projecting above arched window openings and the brackets supporting the iron-balustraded platform for the lantern which houses the light."

     The lighthouse was painted a reddish-brownish color until 1902, when it was painted white. Apparently for a time in the early 1920s it was again painted reddish-brown. Since then it has been white.

     The 1903 oil house was abandoned for some years,but it was renovated in May 2004. The $5600 renovation was paid for by the New England Lighthouse Lovers.

     The light was electrified in 1934 and automated in 1960.  The characteristic has been fixed green since 1941. Before the cylinder was installed, the light was produced by a green bulb.

      The lighthouse remains an active aid to navigation and is part of the Fort Constitution Historic Site, adjacent to an active Coast Guard Station.

     In 1998 the lighthouse was made "environmentally friendly" at a cost of over $73,000. The Coast Guard had all the lead paint removed from the exterior and interior of the tower, and it was then repainted. 

     In early 2000 the American Lighthouse Foundation was issued a license to care for the lighthouse. A chapter of the foundation, the Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, was founded in 2001 to care for the lighthouse, the oil house, and the wooden walkway. 

     Directions:  From I-95 or U.S. Route 1, take the waterfront exit and/or follow the signs to the Strawberry Banke area.  Follow Marcy Street (RT 1B) through this area toward New Castle;  the road becomes New Castle Avenue.  Continue on 1B into New Castle to Wentworth Avenue.  Turn left  (Ft. Constitution Historic Site sign), then bear right to the parking area.  The light can also be seen in the distance from Ft. McClary in Kittery, Maine.

          The grounds of Fort Constitution are open to the public during the day, and there is a good view of the lighthouse from the fort. Visitors are not allowed into the area near the lighthouse, except during open houses held by the Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse.

Jeremy on Duty
      Portsmouth Harbor Light, the only mainland lighthouse on New Hampshire's 18-mile seacoast, can also be viewed from tour boats leaving Portsmouth.

     CreditsI would like to thank Jeremy D'Entremont, webmaster of,, for sharing the above history.  Jeremy is a speaker, author, historian, and tour guide who is widely recognized as the foremost authority on the lighthouses of New England.  To view a story on him, go to, (Jeremy D'Entremont).  

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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Whaleback Lighthouse

      The Whaleback lighthouse marks the approach to Portsmouth harbor in New Hampshire. While it has frequently been referred to as a New Hampshire lighthouse, it is in Maine waters by about 1500 feet. It is located about a half -mile south of Gerrish Island which is part of the town of Kittery, Maine. The ledge, which is completely underwater at high tide, is actually a continuation of the southern point of Gerrish Island.

     Portsmouth, on the Piscataqua River, was an important port for shipbuilding and trade before the American Revolution. The first federal shipyard in the United States was established on the Kittery side of the Piscataqua River in 1800.  It was noted that ship wrecks occurred around the mouth of the river with sickening regularity.

      The first Whaleback Lighthouse, erected in 1829 and 1830, was so poorly built due to an unscrupulous contractor’s corner cutting that keepers often wondered during storms if the entire building would collapse into the sea. Amazingly, the structure somehow survived intact for over forty years.

     The lowest bid for the contract to build the original stone lighthouse tower and pier was $20,000 – several times what similar lighthouse in the area had cost, and in 1829 dollars more than enough to build a structure strong enough to withstand the worst of conditions. By law, Congress was forced to accept the lowest bid with no regard to the bidder’s qualifications or competence, and the building of Whaleback Ledge Lighthouse would not be the only time that this law would come back to haunt them.

      When the first stones were laid for the foundation, the contractor didn’t bother to level the ground underneath, instead filling in gaps with smaller stones. As soon as the first storm hit the lighthouse, all the small stones were washed away, leaving the foundation with no underpinning. The foundation pier, constructed of rough split granite blocks, was forty-eight feet in diameter at its base and twenty-two feet high. Atop the pier, a sloping stone tower was built to a height of thirty-two feet. The first keeper, Samuel E. Hascall, quickly discovered that the building was so leaky that he was soaked every time a wave hit the lighthouse. The tower was later cased over with wood “to prevent the keeper from being drowned out by the sea washing through all the crevices.”

     In 1837 and 1838, Congress appropriated a total of $20,000 to build a breakwater on the east side of the foundation for protection. However, after Colonel Sylvanus Thayer, the founder of West Point, and noted Boston architect Alexander Paris were asked for their opinion of the lighthouse and proposed breakwater, they advised tearing the whole thing down and starting over, as no breakwater could secure the present structure. Their suggestion of an allocation of $75,000 for a new lighthouse went unheeded for over two decades, and the appropriation of $20,000 went unspent.

     In 1839, a local journal carried the following description of life at the lighthouse: “…such was the effect of the sea, that the assistants of the keeper could not hear each [other] speak when in the lantern, on account of the noise produced by the shaking of the apparatus in the lantern, when the sea struck the foundation of the light house…The reader may form some idea of the unenviable situation of the keeper…during the late storm from the fact that the building is situated on a ledge of sunken rocks, only visible during low water and about a mile from the nearest human habitation.”

     In 1842, a civil engineer named I.W.P. Lewis was commissioned to survey a number of New England lighthouses. He described the pier at Whaleback as “rudely and fraudulently constructed,” and that large swells shook the lighthouse “in the most alarming manner. The keeper asserted that the vibration was so great as to move the chairs and tables about the floor.” He went on to point out that “the advantage of employing professional men of reputation in these public works, instead of selling the contracts to the lowest bidder, cannot better be illustrated than by contrasting the construction of the light-house on Whales’s Back rock with the Saddleback tower.”

     For each year that passed and the tower somehow survived, bureaucrats in Washington became less convinced that all that money needed to be spent on a new lighthouse. They even installed a new fourth-order Fresnel lens and lantern in 1855. Iron clamps were put in place to secure the stones in the foundation pier, but they snapped off one by one. After some particularly severe storms in March of 1868, large cracks developed in the foundation. Later that year, an “iron band of six inches by two” was placed around the upper course of the stone pier, hoping it would help the structure survive the winter. An impassioned plea was also sent to Congress for funds for a new lighthouse, and Congress responded with $70,000 on July 15, 1870. The new lighthouse was to be in the style of the famous Eddystone Lighthouse, which was built to withstand conditions out in the middle of the English Channel.

      The construction site for the new tower was covered by water except at low tide, and there were entire days when the weather prevented any work being done. The new tower was built of huge granite blocks, dovetailed together and bolted to the ledge. The base of the tower was solid to a height of twenty feet above the low-water mark, and the new tower’s beacon shone at a height of 68 feet above sea level. Finished in 1872, it was built near the old pier and tower, where the keepers continued to store their boat. The fourth-order Fresnel lens was apparently transferred over from the old tower.

      But even the new tower could not resist the power of the sea; an 1886 storm broke a window in the lighthouse and almost drowned the keeper in the waves that poured in. The broken window was replaced by a solid block of granite. A metal structure was built in the lee of the tower in 1878 to house a fog signal. The old stone tower was finally removed in 1880, and “a pair of wrought-iron cranes” were attached to the west side of the fog signal building for storing the keeper’s boat. During the winter of 1888, the fog signal was in operation for about 974 hours, consuming 16,895 pounds of coal.

     Currents can be complicated and tricky in these parts – for forty years author and historian Edward Rowe Snow flew his small plane over New England lighthouses at Christmas time and air-dropped presents for the keepers. One year, Snow dropped his package at Whaleback and saw that he had missed, and the presents had fallen into the sea. He went back and made another pass, this time successful. But six weeks later, someone walking on the beach at Cape Cod found the first package washed ashore – it had traveled almost 90 miles in a straight line across Massachusetts Bay!

    The Whaleback Lighthouse was automated in 1963, when its Fresnel lens was replaced by revolving aerobeacons. In 2002, a VRB-25 optic was installed that could operate on solar power.

     In October of 2005, Whaleback Light was licensed to the American Lighthouse Foundation. This organization is working with the town of Kittery, Maine to preserve the stone tower, which still warns mariners away from its dangerous ledges with two white flashes every ten seconds. The town of Kittery is also planning on restoring the Wood Island Life Boat Station, which is located near the Whalback Ledge Lighthouse, and turning it into a maritime/lighthouse museum and education center.

     In June 2007, Whaleback Lighthouse, deemed excess by the Coast Guard, was offered at no cost to eligible entities and was awarded to the the American Lighthouse Foundation (ALF) in November 2008. Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, a chapter of ALF, manages Whaleback Lighthouse and is raising funds for its restoration.

      In October 2009, the Coast Guard installed a radio-activated foghorn and a modern VLB-44 light emitting diode (LED) beacon at Whaleback Lighthouse. When mariners require the assistance of the foghorn, they can tune their VHF radio to channel 79 and key their microphone five times. This action will activate a relay that powers the horn for forty-five minutes. Installation of the new beacon was prompted by the failure of tower's submarine electrical cable. The efficient LED beacon consumes less power than the VRB-25 it replaced, allowing a compact array of solar panels and batteries to power the light.

Directions:  From I-95 or U.S. Route 1 in Kittery, take ME 103 east.  Continue on ME 103 past the entrance to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and the entrance to Ft. McClary.  Pass the intersection with Hoyts Island Road, bear right to the park entrance.  Or:  From I-95 or U.S. Route 1, take the waterfront exit and follow the signs to Strawberry Banke area.  Follow Marcy St.  Turn left (Ft. Constitution Historic Site sign), then bear right to parking area.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

White Island (Isles of Shoals) Lighthouse

        The Isles of Shoals are a small group of nine islands six miles off the New New England coast, straddling the border between Maine and New Hampshire. The islands were divided up in 1629 between Captain John Mason, who owned New Hampshire, and Sir Ferdinando Gorges, who owned the Province of Maine. Maine ended up with five of the islands and New Hampshire the other four. The Isles of Shoals Lighthouse sits atop White Island, the most southerly of the islets.

      Although the Isles of Shoals are mostly barren and sparsely populated today, they have a lively history. They were originally named the Smith Islands, after the famous Captain John Smith who helped settle the Jamestown Colony in Virginia in 1607. Smith had spent a number of years exploring the coast off Maine, mapping the coastline and naming many of the islands. However, these islands were the only ones he decided to put his own name on – apparently their beauty earned them a special place in Smith’s heart. Early fishermen changed the name to Shoal of Isles, reportedly because the islands resembled a shoal of fish. Later, the name became Isles of Shoals. 

       In 1623, a fishing settlement was started on the islands, and within five years there were enough people living there to support two taverns. Maine’s first church followed a few years later in 1640. Some of the resident fishermen thought the islands should be an all-male preserve. In 1647 Richard Cutt, a settler on Hog Island (now more elegantly named Appledore Island), filed an official complaint: “John Reynolds has brought his wife hither with the intention that she live and abide here, contrary to an act of court which says that no woman shall live upon the Isles of Shoals…he has also brought upon Hog Island a great stock of goats and swine which spoil the spring water…our petitioners therefore pray that the Act of Court be put in execution for the removal of women inhabiting here.” The courts ordered that the goats and swine be removed, but allowed the women to stay. 

      In 1702, the captain of a visiting French ship estimated the population of the islands to be around 500 people. During the Revolutionary War, the residents of the islands were thought to be mostly loyal to England and were forced to leave. After the war, the islands former inhabitants had settled down elsewhere and did not return to reclaim their homes.

     The first lighthouse and accompanying dwelling on the Isles of Shoals were built of rubblestone in 1822. The tower stood forty feet high, and its copper-domed birdcage lantern an additional ten feet or so above that. White Island is mostly barren rock with a very steep and rugged southern face rising eighty feet above the water. The lighthouse is located on this side of the island at the highest point above the water. Even so, the storms at this location are so fierce that the covered walkway connecting the tower to the keeper’s quarters has been completely washed away three times.

      In the election for governor of New Hampshire in 1839, Laighton applied to be keeper at the lighthouse, and was appointed in 1843 at a salary of $600 a year. Laighton had previously purchased four other islands in the group (Appledore, Smuttynose, Malaga, and Cedar Islands). Laighton’s wife, children, and hired hand did most of the actual lighthouse keeping, while Laighton attended to business on the mainland.

      In 1841, Winslow Lewis had outfitted the White Island Lighthouse with an updated lantern and lighting apparatus. The new optic consisted of a triangular frame that supported five lamps and reflectors on each face. One of the faces was covered by red glass to produce a white-red-white flashing characteristic as the frame made one revolution every three minutes and fifteen seconds. Keeper Laighton’s daughter would later become the well-known poet Celia Thaxter, who drew upon her early life at the lighthouse for some of her most inspirational work. The tower’s light was thus described by Celia in the poem “The Wreck of the Pocahontas”: 
"I lit the lamps in the lighthouse tower,
For the sun dropped down and the day was dead.
They shone like a glorious clustered flower, -
Ten golden and five red."

      After constructing a hotel on Appledore, Laighton resigned his lighthouse post in 1849 and moved his family into the hotel. Following Laighton’s death, his sons continued running the hotel until it burned down in 1914. Most of the Laighton family is buried in a family cemetery on Appledore Island, and their graves can still be seen today.

     Exposed to the full fury of the Atlantic, the original stone lighthouse began deteriorating quickly, and in 1843 it was covered in wood and shingled in an attempt to protect the stone exterior. This measure bought some time, but a replacement brick tower was built in 1855. A second-order Fresnel lens, which produced a flashing red and white light visible for 15 miles, was housed atop the new tower. 

       John Downs was serving as acting keeper at the lighthouse while the head keeper went ashore, when a gale struck one March. Late one night, when the storm had been raging a week, Downs’ friend, who was stranded with him at the lighthouse, joked, “Well, John what would you think if somebody was to knock on the door just now?” John replied, “I should think it was the devil himself, for no human being could land alive on the island tonight with that storm raging.” Shortly thereafter a rap, rap, rap at the door startled the two men. After summoning enough courage to open the door, they found a bleeding and drenched sailor who announced “Brig Ashore, sir! Right near the tower!”

     The sailor had volunteered to be lowered from the bowsprit of the grounded Russian brig and attempt to reach the lighthouse keeper. Though pummeled by waves that threatened to draw him off the rocky shore, the sailor somehow managed to claw his way to the dwelling. Downs, his friend, and the keeper succeeded in rescuing the entire crew of the brig by serving as an anchor to a line they had tossed to the vessel. 

      The original stone keeper’s dwelling was in such disrepair that the Lighthouse Board’s annual report for 1876 described it as “…so much decayed that it is scarcely habitable.” Two years later, a new wood-framed one and a half story duplex was completed for the keeper and his assistant. The old stone house was remodeled and used for storage.

     The station was equipped with a fog bell from the beginning, but it had little effect in such a location, since the strong winds on all sides masked the sound. In 1896 a larger bell was tried, but it too was deemed inadequate. An automated fog bell was installed in 1906 before a 1st-class air siren was finally placed on the island.

       The Coast Guard removed the 1878 duplex in the 1950’s and constructed a modern residence on the site of the original dwelling. Following a three-month-long automation process, Coast Guard personnel were removed from White Island in 1986. A few years later, the tower’s Fresnel lens was removed in favor of a modern beacon. 

      In 1993, White Island and a couple other islands in the group were transferred to the New Hampshire State Parks system. The station had fallen into disrepair by the start of the new millennium, but a group of local students at North Hampton School, known as the”The Lighthouse Kids”,  took on the mission of raising funds to restore the lighthouse. In April of 2003, their efforts were rewarded with a $250,000 Save America’s Treasures Grant. Through their own projects, they raised additional money, and in 2005, the tower was repaired and covered in a fresh stucco coating. At that same time the dwelling received a much needed new roof.

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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Boon Island Lighthouse (Haunted)

    "Eight or nine miles out, in plain sight, Boon Island lifts its solitary shaft aloft like an 'eternal exclamation mark' to the temerity of its builders. There is no comfortable dwelling on that lonely rock, over which storms sweep unchecked. The tower is itself both house and home to the watchmen of the sea, and in great gales a prison from which there is no escape until the return of fine weather."

                    -- Samuel Adams Drake, The Pine Tree Coast, 1891.

      In the summer of 1682, a coastal trading vessel, the Increase, was wrecked on the rocky ledges of barren Boon Island, several miles off the southern Maine coast. The four survivors—three white men and one Indian—spent a month on the island, living on fish and gulls’ eggs. One day the men saw smoke rising from Mount Agamenticus several miles away, so they built a fire in response. The Indians at Mount Agamenticus saw the smoke from the island, and the stranded men were soon rescued.

     The precise origins of the island’s name are shrouded in four centuries of history. It’s been often stated that the men from the Increase, seeing their survival as a boon granted by God, were moved to name the island Boon. In fact, the island was referred to by that name long before the wreck of the Increase. John Winthrop mentioned it in his journal in 1630:  "We saw, also, ahead of us, some four leagues from shore, a small rock, called Boone Isle, not above a flight shot over, which hath a dangerous shoal to the E. and by S. of it, some two leagues in length."

     The island was also mentioned five years later in Richard Mather’s journal; like Winthrop, he In 1797, General Benjamin Lincoln, local lighthouse superintendent, met with the Boston Marine Society to discuss the building of an unlighted beacon on Boon Island for the safety of local fishermen and coastal traders.

     Construction began the following July. The first wooden tower as finished in 1799. It survived until 1804, when it was destroyed by a tremendous storm.

     A stone day beacon was erected in the summer of 1805. Three of the workers involved in erecting the tower drowned when their boat capsized as they left the island.

     In June 1811, General Lincoln recommended a lighthouse on Boon Island. The tower, completed by that winter, exhibited a fixed light 32 feet above the water. The first keeper, after witnessing the vulnerability of the low island (14 feet above sea level at its highest point ) to storms, left after only a few weeks.

     After suffering great damage in storms, the lighthouse was rebuilt in 1831. It was built of rubblestone and stood 49 feet tall, with an octagonal wrought iron lantern. The light was 69 feet above mean high water.

      Capt. Nathaniel Baker became keeper in 1846. The schooner Caroline was wrecked on the island in the same year, and Baker rescued the crew. Despite his heroism, Baker was dismissed as keeper in 1849 and replaced by John Thompson, who had been dismissed earlier. In those days lighthouse keeping jobs were frequently given as political favors.

     The present lighthouse was constructed in 1854, along with a new dwelling.  The stone tower, built of granite is 133 feet high -- the tallest lighthouse in New England. It is 25 feet in diameter at its base and 12 feet in diameter at the top.

     An additional $19,973 was appropriated in 1854 for "procuring illuminating apparatus, and completing the light-house tower and buildings..." The new second-order Fresnel lens went into operation on January 1, 1855.

     According to some writers, including the popular New England historian Edward Rowe Snow, the island’s name stemmed from the practice of local fishermen, who left barrels of provisions on the island for the benefit of shipwrecked sailors. That would certainly have been a “boon” in such circumstances.  In any case, the name is an ironic one for the desolate pile of rocks that the poet Celia Thaxter called, "the forlornest place that can be imagined".

     The most famous incident in the island's history was the wreck of the British ship Nottingham Galley on December 11, 1710. The survivors struggled to stay alive for over three weeks, finally resorting to cannibalism. The harrowing story was fictionalized by Kenneth Roberts in his novel Boon Island.
     In recent years cannons have been located in about 25 feet of water that are believed to have been on board the Nottingham Galley.

     Poet Celia Thaxter described the lighthouse in her 1873 book, Among the Isles of Shoals:

     "A slender column against the sky... Sometimes it looms colossal in the mirage of summer; in winter it lies blurred and ghostly at the edge of the chilly sea and pallid sky."

     In 1889, it was reported that the keeper's dwelling had problems with leaks and was cold and unsuitable for occupation. The house was largely rebuilt and an upper story was added. In the following year a stone and brick oil house was built.

     Capt. William C. Williams, a native of Kittery, Maine, went to Boon Island as an assistant in 1885 and served as principal keeper from 1888 to 1911. At the age of 90 he recounted his experiences to Robert Thayer Sterling, author of Lighthouses of the Maine Coast and the Men Who Keep Them.

     Captain Williams had pleasant times at Boon Island, but he later remembered the danger of the job:  "The seas would clean the ledge right off sometimes... I was always thinking over just what I would do in order to save my life, should the whole station be swept away."

     In an 1888 storm, Williams and the others on the island had to take refuge at the top of the tower for three days. Compared to this storm, said the keeper, the famous "Portland" Gale of 1898 was "just a breeze."

     The Boon Island light is reportedly one of Maine's haunted lighthouses.  If you ever visit this lighthouse and hear the screams or see the spirit of a woman, they are reportedly that of Katherine Bright, the wife of a keeper. Just four short months after moving in with her new husband, he slipped on the rocks while tying up the boat during a storm and drowned. She pulled his body to the lighthouse steps, and then set to work keeping the light burning for 5 days. She was found on day six holding her dead husbands frozen corpse sitting on the steps of the lighthouse. She reportedly had gone insane.  It has been reported that she died just weeks after being rescued.

     Directions:  From I-95 or U.S. Route 1 in York, take U.S. 1A to York Beach, continuing to Nubble Road (Marked with a small "Nubble Light" sign).  Follow this road to Sohier Park and the parking area.  The light is visible some nine miles off shore.

     CreditsI would like to thank Jeremy D'Entremont, webmaster of,, for sharing the above history.  Jeremy is a speaker, author, historian, and tour guide who is widely recognized as the foremost authority on the lighthouses of New England.  To view a story on him, go to, (Jeremy D'Entremont).  

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Cape Neddick (Nubble) Lighthouse

     "By following a cart-track for a quarter of an hour one comes to the canal, a stone's throw across, dividing the cape from the Nubble Rock. On the top of this bare crag the lighthouse-keeper's dwelling and fog signal stand out bold and sharp against the blue sky. At the east, a clump of blanched ledges stretches off... This prospect comprises everything between Cape Ann and Cape Elizabeth in clear weather, and is every way admirable."
                                               -- Samuel Adams Drake, The Pine Tree Coast, 1891.

     The "Nubble" is a small, rocky island a short distance off the eastern point of Cape Neddick, about two miles north of the entrance to the York River and York Harbor. In 1602, explorer Bartholomew Gosnold met with local Indians on the island and dubbed it "Savage Rock."

     The placement of a lighthouse on the Nubble had been recommended by many local mariners since 1807. An 1837 proposal was rejected on the grounds that there were already enough lights in the vicinity. Even after the wreck of the bark Isidore in 1842, north of the Nubble near Bald Head Cliff, it still took nearly four more decades before the lighthouse was established. The Isidore, according to legend, still reappears as a ghost ship with a phantom crew.

    Congress appropriated $15,000 for the building of a lighthouse on the Nubble in 1876. The 41-foot cast-iron tower, lined with brick, was first illuminated on July 1, 1879.

     At first, the lighthouse was painted reddish-brown, showing a fixed red light through a fourth order Fresnel lens.

     The lighthouse still exhibits a red light, but the tower has been painted white since 1902.      The distinctive red oil house (right) was built in 1902, and the walkway connecting the lighthouse to the keeper's house was added in 1911.

     The station originally had a fog bell operated by automatic striking machinery. The skeleton frame bell tower was replaced in 1911 by a white pyramidal tower, itself torn down in 1961.
     For a time, the Nubble's 3,000 pound fog bell could be heard by the keepers at Boon Island six miles away. The bell was later replaced by a diaphragm horn.

     In July 1926, it was reported that the fog bell tower was moved about four feet from its foundation by a powerful storm, leaving it on the brink of a precipice. Moore didn’t dare sound the bell because he feared that the vibration could plunge the bell and tower into the sea. Repairs were soon completed.

      The historian Edward Rowe Snow, in his book Famous New England Lighthouses wrote that on one occasion, Eugene Coleman was rowing across the channel near the Nubble with his wife, a friend, and a load of groceries, when the boat capsized. “The dory went over and the keeper had a busy five minutes, trying to rescue his wife, his friend, and the groceries,” wrote Snow, “but all ended happily except for minor injuries to the groceries.”

    The lighthouse has a long history as a tourist destination. In 1930, Coleman recorded over 1,000 visitors in his guest register, including guests from 11 nations and 32 states. The Colemans moved on to Nauset Light on Cape Cod in 1943, and thereafter Coast Guard keepers staffed the Nubble. It remained a family station.    

     The usual way of getting to and from the Nubble was by boat. For a time, the keepers used a bucket suspended on a line across the channel to transport supplies. This system, installed in the 1950s, was never intended for the transport of people.

     Around 1967, Coast Guard keeper David Winchester put his two children in the bucket each morning to send them on their way to school.

    A photographer snapped a picture of seven-year-old Ricky Winchester in the bucket, and the photo appeared widely in newspapers. A woman also painted a scene of the boy in the bucket, and it won the York Harbor Art Show.

     The district commander saw the photo in a Boston paper. An arrangement was made for the child to board on the mainland during the week. Soon after that, it became policy that families with school-age children were not sent to the Nubble.

     The lantern room in Cape Neddick Light is one of the most complete in an active Maine lighthouse. Nearly all the original brass fittings remain. One of the few changes is that red plastic now encases the light, replacing the original glass used to produce the light's characteristic red light.

     The great blizzard of February 6-7, 1978, washed out the Nubble's boathouse, which was replaced by the present structure.

      The Nubble Light has probably appeared on more postcards, calendars, and other souvenirs than any other New England lighthouse, with the possible exception of Portland Head Light. In 1977, when NASA sent Voyager II into space to photograph the outer solar system, it was also loaded with artifacts designed to teach possible extraterrestrial civilizations about our planet. One of the images it carried was a picture of the Nubble Light.

      The light was automated in 1987 and the last Coast Guard keeper, Russell Ahlgren, was removed.  Brenda Ahlgren wrote down her thoughts about leaving the island:  "On our last night on the island we went for one last walk. We sat back on the rocks with Christopher between us and just watched the glow from that beautiful tall white tower and listened to the familiar drone of the horn we had come to enjoy. We felt that in its own special way the light was saying goodbye to family life on the island. As we sat there thinking back over our special adventure there was no way to hold back the tears."

     A crowd of more than 300 spectators witnessed the automation ceremonies on July 13 in dense fog. The station was leased to the town of York in 1989.

     When the town took over, more than 300 unsolicited applications were received from people wanting to be live-in caretakers. The keeper's house remains unoccupied because of water and sewer issues.

     In 1989, the town received a grant from the Maine Historic Preservation Committee for restoration work on the keeper's house. Two second story windows were removed and replaced by a larger window resembling the one originally installed.

     In November 1997, the people of York voted overwhelmingly to allow the town's selectmen to "adopt" the lighthouse. Under the Maine Lights Program coordinated by the Island Institute, the lighthouse officially became the property of the town in 1998.

     Parks and Recreation Director Mike Sullivan once said, "The park is absolutely jam packed every day. Part of the allure of Nubble Light is its mystical nature. You can't quite get there. You can almost reach it but you can't get there."  Because it's easily reached by a drive of just a few minutes from popular York Beach, Sohier Park across from the Nubble is today visited by hundreds of thousands of people annually.

     Sohier Park, incidentally, is named for William Davis Sohier, a lawyer from Boston who gave the land to the town of York in 1929. His father had bought the land for the fine duck hunting.

     One of the most popular events of the year on the southern Maine coast is the annual Lighting of the Nubble, when the lighthouse and other buildings are illuminated with Christmas lights. The late November event is accompanied by holiday music and never fails to draw a large crowd.

     One of the Nubble's tireless volunteers, Verna Rundlett, originated a "Christmas in July" event, giving summer visitors a chance to view the station decorated just as it is at Christmastime. She also supervised the building of a welcome center at Sohier Park. The building, open seasonally, houses a gift shop and public restrooms.

    Besides being easily viewed from Sohier Park, Cape Neddick Light can be seen from an excursion boat leaving Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, and from occasional lighthouse cruises leaving Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

    Directions:  From I-95 or U.S. Route 1 in York, take U.S. 1A to York Beach, continuing to Nubble Road (Marked with a small "Nubble Light" sign).  Follow this road to Sohier Park and the parking area.

     CreditsI would like to thank Jeremy D'Entremont, webmaster of,, for sharing the above history.  Jeremy is a speaker, author, historian, and tour guide who is widely recognized as the foremost authority on the lighthouses of New England.  To view a story on him, go to, (Jeremy D'Entremont).  

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Goat Island Lighthouse

       Cape Porpoise village is built around the shores of its harbor, which a cluster of large and small islands protects. On one of them stands the baby lighthouse of the coast. This harbor -- or perhaps we should say harbors, since there are two basins -- is remarkable for being the only one between Portsmouth and the Saco...   Samuel Adams Drake, The Pine Tree Coast -- 1891

     Cape Porpoise was named by Capt. John Smith for a school of porpoises he saw there. Established in August 1833 for $6,000, Goat Island Light was established to help guide mariners into the sheltered harbor at Cape Porpoise, a busy fishing center for many years.

     In 1859, the tower and house were rebuilt.  For many years, the tower was connected to the 1 1/2-story house by a covered walkway. A boathouse was added in 1905 and an oil house in 1907.
Dangerous rocks near Goat Island continued to claim vessels, including 46 between 1865 and 1920. There was not one death in all the wrecks, partly due to the keepers at Goat Island picking up.survivors near the island. In 1930, a schooner, the Margery Austin, went aground near the lighthouse.

     Keeper James M. Anderson went out in rough seas and helped refloat the vessel.
James M. Anderson was keeper in 1929 when the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, anchored their yacht near Goat Island during their honeymoon. Anderson and his family watched with binoculars as the Lindberghs moved around on the boat, and the keeper told a reporter that the lights were turned off on the yacht at 8:25 p.m.

     Coast Guard Keeper Joseph Bakken, who lived on Goat Island with his wife and three children, told historian Edward Rowe Snow about his experience during a particularly severe storm in 1947. The waves washed over the island and damaged the walkway and the boat slip and ripped out a fence. In the commotion the family forgot about their dog and her newborn puppies.

     Later that night, Bakken went into the cellar and found several feet of water. Floating in the seawater was the box that contained the dog and her puppies. All were safe and sound and the keeper brought them upstairs out of harm's way.

     Julie Owyang, whose brother Mark Brooke was the Coast Guard's officer in charge for two years in the 1970s, wrote the following note in January 2009:  "I came and spent two weeks with them Christmas of '73. My Mom and Dad and I took the train up from western North Carolina to Boston, and Mark picked us up there. What a treat! I'll never forget the piles of lobster we had for dinner in the kitchen with the table covered with newspapers. We had kept them alive in the sink that had the saltwater faucet in it until it was time to cook them"

     The Coast Guard initially planned to automate Goat Island Light in 1976. Local residents felt that having a keeper on Goat Island was important to protect the island and lighthouse station from vandalism, so the automation plans were postponed.

     Martin Cain, a Minnesota native, was the Coast Guard’s officer in charge from October 1975 until June 1978. Cain monitored the local buoys and recorded the weather four times daily. He switched on the foghorn when a lighted buoy almost two miles away was obscured by fog or storm.

     Cain lived on the island with his wife, Cathy, their baby, Martin J., and two cats and a dog. In a 1976 interview, he said he and his wife had to be more compatible than the average couple, but if they did have a fight, “One goes to one side of the island and the other goes to the other side and talks to the seagulls.”

     The Cains were on the island for the memorable blizzard of February 6–7, 1978, which folded the covered walkway between the house and tower “like an accordion” and swept it off the island. At the end of his stay, Cain said, “We’ve seen a lot out here and for the most part we’ve enjoyed it, but we’re ready to leave.”

     Mark Estee was the Coast Guard keeper 1978-80. He lived on the island with his wife, Kris, and their two young children, Nathaniel and Michelle. In an email in June 2011, Kris (Estee) Woodgate recalled life on the island:  "It was such an adventure.  We were quite young, early 20s, and from Wisconsin so we had never seen such a beautiful place ever.  We were the ones who put in the new wooden walkway and cleaned up after the storm of 1978.  The island was quite a mess.  We had lots of company from Wisconsin; our relatives thought it was pretty awesome"

     In 1990, Goat Island Light became the last lighthouse in Maine to be automated. Its Fresnel lens was replaced by a modern 300mm optic. Brad Culp, his wife Lisa and their two children Christian and Dakota were Maine's last traditional lighthouse family. Lisa Culp said of her eight-year old son Christian, "I think it's something he'll carry with him all his life."

     For a time during the presidency of George H. W. Bush, secret service agents lived at Goat Island, which offers a good vantage point on Bush's estate at Walker's Point. The island served as an air-sea command center complete with a radar beacon.

      In 1992, Goat Island was leased to the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust. In 1998, under the Maine Lights Program, the lighthouse officially became the property of the trust, which since its founding in 1969 has protected 560 acres of town land from development.

     Goat Island Light remains an active aid to navigation. The lighthouse can be seen at a distance from the public wharf in Cape Porpoise. Visitors with private boats are welcome to the island and tour boats from Kennebunkport pass nearby.

In July 2009, the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust announced plans to restore the keeper's house to the 1950s period. There are also plans to hold more educational programs on the island.

     Work began in the spring of 2011 to rebuild the station's fog bell tower and the covered walkway as part of a $380,000 restoration project.  It was completed in October of that year.

     Directions:  From I-95 take the Kennebunkport exit, follow ME 35 into Kennebunk.  Take ME 9A south to Kennebunkport.  RT 9A becomes RT 9; continue through Kennebunkport to Cape Porpoise Center.  Where ME 9n makes a 90-degree turn left, bear right onto Pier Road which ends at the wharf.  The light is offshore to the southeast.  Better Photographs are possible from a tour boat out of Kennebunkport.

     CreditsI would like to thank Jeremy D'Entremont, webmaster of,, for sharing the above history.  Jeremy is a speaker, author, historian, and tour guide who is widely recognized as the foremost authority on the lighthouses of New England.  To view a story on him, go to, (Jeremy D'Entremont).  

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