Maine lighthouses have played an important role in the history and well being of our coastal communities. There are over 60 picturesque lighthouses that have served as warning to mariners for decades along our state’s coastline, but when visiting Portland or Cape Elizabeth, there are 5 lights easily reached in minutes.
The state’s first lighthouse, the iconic Portland Headlight is one of the most visited lights in the country, and the most photographed on the east coast. The light has been painted by many famous artists such as Edward Hopper, and his creation is housed in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. It was established in the late 1700s to mark Portland Harbor, then the country’s busiest port. Located in Fort Williams State Park in Cape Elizabeth, the original tower measured 72 feet from base to lantern deck and was lit with 16 whale oil lamps. The history of the light and surrounding area is housed in a small Museum at Portland Head Light, in the former light keeper’s quarters. The light was decommissioned in 1989 and the property was eventually deeded to the town of Cape Elizabeth, which also owns the surrounding 90-acre Fort Williams State Park. The State Park is the perfect location for family or company picnics, baseball games, kite flying and the perfect backdrop for wedding or wedding pictures. (From Inn by the Sea, turn right onto Rte 77, right onto Shore Road, Right into Fort Williams State Park)
The area of Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth was originally the site of two working lighthouses – the West Light rotated and the East Light was fixed. They were the first twin lights in Maine. Built out of stone in 1828, the original towers were replaced in 1874 with cast-iron structures. The West Light was shut down in 1924 and, while it was blacked during World War II, the East Light remains lit today. The East Light has the most powerful beacon on the New England coast, visible for 27 nautical miles. The lighthouses are near Two Lights State Park, 41 acres of rocky headlands. Standing high above the rocky coast and rolling surf, this park offers sweeping views of Casco Bay and the open Atlantic. (From Inn by the Sea, go Right out of Inn, Right onto Two Lights Road, Left at fork toward lighthouse)
Ram Island, at the northern entrance to Portland Harbor, is surrounded by dangerous ledge. As far back as 1855 an iron spindle was erected as a navigational warning and a larger 50-foot wooden tripod was placed there in 1873. But when the 400-foot transatlantic steamer California went aground at Ram Island Ledge in a snowstorm in 1900, it was time to build a lighthouse. The lighthouse reached a height of 90 feet, with the light 77 feet above sea level. An iron pier was added to the ledge and the kerosene lamp was first lit on January 23, 1905. The light was electrified 1958 by means of an underwater cable extending from Portland Head. In January 2001 the light was converted to solar power. Ram Island Ledge Light can be seen from Portland Headlight and passing boats.
Many vessels ran aground on the western ledge heading into Portland Harbor before this lighthouse was erected in 1986. Typical of the sparkplug style of that time, it is built on a cylindrical, cast-iron base, but the tower is made of brick. Living quarters were incorporated into the tower. The light was automated in 1934, and in 1951 a breakwater was constructed to connect it to the mainland. (From Inn by the Sea, Take Route 77 to Broadway, right on Broadway, right on Pickett Street and follow to the end. Turn left onto Fort Road and into the Parking area)
This unique lighthouse at the end of the breakwater was designed to look like a Greek monument – the cast-iron tower has Corinthian columns. Marking the south side entrance to Portland Harbor, it was built in the 1870’s to replace the old light after the breakwater was extended. During World War II the breakwater was shortened again to make way for shipbuilding. The light was extinguished in 1942 and fell into disrepair until it was restored in 1989, after being donated to the city of South Portland. Summer movie goers enjoy outdoor family films at this site. (From Inn by the Sea, Take Route 77 to Broadway, right on Broadway, left on Pickett Street, then right onto Madison and follow the drive into Bug Light Park)
If you want to venture further north along the coast, another unusual lighthouse is Pemaquid Light, commissioned by John Quincy Adams in 1827, and is the lighthouse that appears on the American quarter. This is a working light owned by the Coast Guard. The Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Park is located at the entrance to Muscongus Bay and Johns Bay, in the town of Bristol and is certainly worth the trip.