Halfway Rock is a windswept, rocky ledge far out in Casco Bay, about 10 miles east of Portland Head. Its name comes from its location about halfway between Cape Elizabeth and Cape Small in Phippsburg. There are several treacherous ledges in the vicinity that have claimed many vessels, including the brig Samuel in the spring of 1835.
|Taken From Portland Head|
Two major storms slowed construction, and work was halted for a time because the funds had run out. After an additional $10,000 was appropriated, the 76-foot granite tower was finished in the summer of 1871.
The construction of the tower was very similar to Massachusetts' Minot's Ledge Light, with massive granite blocks dovetailed together. The lighthouse originally held a third-order Fresnel lens, exhibiting a white light punctuated by a red flash every minute.
George A. Toothaker, a native of nearby Harpwsell, Maine, spent over 12 years at Halfway Rock as an assistant keeper and principal keeper between 1872 and 1885. "My first day was almost like my last," he told a newspaper reporter. "Me, it affected mentally. Others it affects physically, and I have known of one case where it has driven a man insane."
Keeper Toothaker was described in the article as "bronzed and fissured even as the gray and seaweed-stained granite of the Rock itself." Interviewed long after he had left Halfway Rock, Toothaker said: "Asleep or awake, the beacon haunts you. Often I would start, quick, sharp, out of profound sleep, a great, dark haunting shudder on me -- the light has gone out. Even now it is my fear, and so nervous am I of a night that all sounds startle me, even though it is years since I left the Rock."
A 43-foot pyramidal skeleton bell tower was bolted to the rock near the lighthouse in 1887, with a 1,000-pound fog bell and striking machinery. A raised walkway connected the bell tower to the lighthouse. Soon after its construction, the bell tower survived a fierce December storm that buried Halfway Rock under eight feet of water. The fog bell proved inadequate in rough weather, so in 1905 it was replaced by a powerful Daboll trumpet operated by diesel engines.
In 1888, a new boathouse was built with an upper story containing keeper's quarters. This improved the living conditions, but the tower was always the safest place in a storm.
Reaching the mainland for supplies required an 11-mile row to Portland, often made difficult or impossible by rough seas or ice. In February 1934, the keepers reported that ice an inch thick extended all the way past Halfway Rock. Eventually, under the Coast Guard, a buoy tender out of South Portland delivered supplies each week.
|Taken from Lands End on Bailey's Island|
In 1975, the keepers were removed for good and the light was automated with a modern DCB 224 optic. The original Fresnel lens went to the museum at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.
Today the lighthouse tower stands alone on Halfway Rock, still an active aid to navigation. Storms have destroyed the other structures. Most recently, the station's marine railway was destroyed by the "No Name" or "Perfect" storm of October 1991.
Under the Maine Lights Program coordinated by the Island Institute of Rockland, Halfway Rock Light was expected to be turned over to a local nonprofit group or community, but there were no applicants. In May 2000, the American Lighthouse Foundation was licensed by the Coast Guard to care for the tower.
Directions: The dramatic lighthouse can be seen distantly from the Portland Observatory, from Portland Head Light on a clear day, and from some of the tour boats out of Portland, but it is best seen by private boat or plane.
Credits: I would like to thank Jeremy D'Entremont, webmaster of, http://www.newenglandlighthouses.net/, 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).