Living in Maine and never climbing a lighthouse is kind of like living in South Dakota and never seeing Mount Rushmore, or visiting Memphis and skipping the tour of Graceland.
You know you should do it, but somehow you just never get around to actually going.
Well, here’s your chance. On Saturday, 25 ocean, river and island lighthouses throughout Maine will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Some of these lighthouses aren’t normally open to the public, so this is a rare chance to peek inside their light towers and keepers’ houses.
Even if you’ve been to Portland Head Light a million times with visiting relatives, during Open Lighthouse Day, you’ll be able to climb the tower, which is usually closed.
“At the 25 sites that are going to be open, there will be people there staffing, and many of them will have guided tours,” said Bob Trapani Jr., executive director of the American Lighthouse Foundation in Rockland, which is sponsoring the day along with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Maine Office of Tourism. “It’s an educational opportunity, not just a chance to climb.”
Click here for the rest of the story by Meredith Goad in the Portland Press Herald.
For more info and a complete list and map of lighthouses that will be open for Open Lighthouse Day, http://lighthousefoundation.org/ or www.lighthouseday.com.
Posted in Education and Schools, Entertainment, Maine, Maine history, Outdoors
Tagged American Lighthouse Foundation, island, Maine lighthouses, Maine Office of Tourism, ocean, Open Lighthouse Day, Portland Head Light, rivers, Rockland, U.S. Coast Guard, visitors, volunteers
Bidders drawn by the charm, desire to preserve Ram Island Ledge Light take a closer look at Casco Bay lighthouse
CASCO BAY – From his home in Cape Elizabeth, Scott Raspa can see Ram Island Ledge Light taking a pounding during nor’easters, or standing sentinel in calmer seas
On Thursday, the software consultant joined others on a Coast Guard vessel for a closer view of the lighthouse, about a mile northeast of Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth. The visitors were registered bidders in a federal government auction of the five-story tower, which has helped mark the main channel to Portland Harbor since 1905.
Conserving the lighthouse was a common motive among the bidders. A couple of them also thought ownership of the lighthouse could dovetail with their business plans. One had a notion that it could serve as a bed and breakfast for adventurous types, but wasn’t yet certain what he would do. All seemed charmed by the prospect of owning a wind-swept lighthouse off Maine’s rocky coast.
The Coast Guard doesn’t have the budget to maintain all of the lighthouse towers that house navigational aids, which in this case consists of a light and a foghorn. Under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, lighthouses are offered to groups such as local governments and nonprofits at no cost before being put up for auction. The Coast Guard continues to maintain the navigational aids in lighthouse towers that are sold.
Raspa likes the idea of being the owner of a nearby lighthouse, with all its mystery and history. He doesn’t yet have a concrete plan should that become the case.
“We were thinking about having cocktail parties there. I don’t know if that’s possible,” he said.
Click for the rest of the story by Ann S. Kim in the Portland Press Herald.
[I attended the University of Southern Maine in the early 1980s and had the opportunity to take a ferry out to one of the 365 or so islands in Casco Bay. But I didn’t realize the significant military history associated with some of those islands. I enjoyed this story about some of the military forts that were built on those islands to ward off threat. — KM]
Karen Lannon and her brother Hal Cushing have perhaps the most unusual piece of waterfront property in Greater Portland: a twenty-four-acre island complete with an artillery-ready, three-bastion granite fort. The two-story fort is fully equipped with walls, parapets, parade ground, and cavernous munitions bunkers and is suitable for repulsing any hostile parties who might wish to attack the Old Port with nineteenth-century naval assets. All Lannon and Cushing would need to hold back the steamers of the old Spanish Navy is a shipment of ten- and fifteen-inch Rodman guns, sixty trained artillerymen, and a large supply of ammunition.
Fortunately, Casco Bay isn’t under any immediate threat, so the siblings concentrate on the more mundane responsibilities of fort ownership. They mow acres and acres of lawns — every few days in springtime, the grass grows so quickly — and keep the walkways and outbuildings maintained for the tour parties they bring over from the city four times a week in season. Over near the old Immigration and Quarantine station there are lobster bakes to stage and weddings to cater, but at least they don’t have to clean up oil spills anymore. After their mother, the late Hilda Cushing Dudley, purchased the fort in 1954 to save it from being torn down, the family would regularly have to clean up their beach whenever oil spilled from tankers at the South Portland terminals. (“When we get a spill we get down on our hands and knees and clean it up,” she told a reporter in 1977. “People aren’t going to come out here if there’s oil all over the beach.”)
Asked what the hardest thing about fort ownership is nowadays, Hal doesn’t have to think. “Paying the taxes,” he says emphatically, referring to the $35,000 annual bill from Portland, of which House Island and Fort Scammell are a part. “We don’t have any services, but we’re charged by the square foot so we’re in the top ten tax residents in the city.”
But previous custodians of Fort Scammell and the network of other fortifications protecting Maine’s largest port had even worse things than taxes to contend with. They were slaughtered in Indian attacks in the seventeenth century, bombarded by British cannons in the eighteenth, suffered for lack of supplies, heat, and entertainment in the nineteenth, and shot at by suspected spies in the early twentieth. On the eve of World War II, thousands of soldiers and sailors manned anti-aircraft guns, heavy artillery, watch towers, and the controls for remotely-detonated mines, alert for a Nazi surprise attack that fortunately never came.
Click on the link for the rest of this story by Colin Woodard in Down East magazine.
Posted in Maine history
Tagged American Merchant Marine Museum, anti-aircraft guns, bastion, block fort, bombardment, British, Cape Elizabeth, Casco Bay, Cow Island, Cushing Island, embargo, Federalists, Fort Levett, Fort Loyal, Fort Lyon, Fort McKinley, Fort Scammell, Fort Williams, French and Indian War, granite fort, Great Diamond Island, gun batteries, Hal Cushing, Henry Alexander Scammell Dearborn, Hilda Cushing Dudley, HMS Canceaux, House Island, Jeffersonians, Jewell Island, Karen Lannon, minefield stations, Navy, Old Port, Peaks Island, Portland, Portland Head Light, radar stations, Rodman guns, ships, smugglers, Spanish-American War, Two Lights, U.S. Civil War, U.S. Secretary of War Henry Dearborn, University of Southern Maine, USS Kearsarge, War of 1812, warships, World War I, World War II
Portland Head Light.
The age of the lighthouse ended long ago as those majestic, romantic maritime sentinels were replaced by computerized, mechanized, galvanized contraptions that provide the same very necessary maritime warning system, but fall incredibly short in tradition and style.
Earlier today I posted a link to a Portland Press Herald story about the restoration efforts on the Wood Island light and an old University of Southern Maine classmate, Rick Redmond, passed along the website address for the Maine Lighthouse Museum.
Visiting that website got me thinking about the Portland Head Light, which I visited occasionally while attending the USM in the early 1980s. I have heard on more than one occasion that it is the most photographed lighthouse on the East Coast. I do not know how they measure that sort of thing. I even took a few photos of the lighthouse, so perhaps there is something to that claim. Most people will recognize the lighthouse. I think.
Anyway, going to the Portland Head Light was a fun way to take in a bit of history and to get an incredible view of the Atlantic Ocean crashing onto the very roughed Maine coastline just below an incredible lighthouse and keepers’ quarters. Most often I would go with my friend Kelly Williams; she had a car and I was company for the drive from Gorham, where the USM residence halls were located. (The Portland campus was more of a commuter campus. It also was connected to the Gorham campus via a bus line operated or contracted by the university.)
Kelly and I also went to nearby Two Lights State Park in Cape Elizabeth. For me, the Head Light was more impressive.
Going through the Portland Head Light entry on the website reminded me that he lighthouse had been commissioned by George Washington while Maine was still part of Massachusetts. Things are old in Maine. And seem to stand the test of time.
Perhaps we need more lighthouses with keepers and fewer computerized, mechanized, galvanized contraptions.