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Head Towards the Light(houses)!

On Friday morning (October the 8th) my mom, Jamie, and I awoke to beautiful blue skies over Maine - at long last!   Following another fantastic breakfast at The Chapman Inn in Bethel, it was time to load up the car and head in a southeast direction towards the Maine Coast where we were going to spend a few days checking out #6 on the list of Yankee Magazine's Top 25 Foliage Towns. Camden had actually tied for 6th place with Waitsfield, Vermont but regardless it was still on the list following a couple of stops along the way first!

Rainbow Over Bethel

As we left Bethel on Route 26, we saw a rainbow so I stopped and tried to take a couple of pictures - none of which came out all that well but it was worth a shot!  The rainbow seemed to me to be a good sign that we were finally going to get some good weather and I was more than happy to put my sunglasses on as we traveled down a road that, had I not been driving, definitely would have made me car sick!  Still, it was a nice drive through the Maine countryside and we arrived in Rockland shortly after noon-time.

My plans for the coast of Maine included lighthouses - as many lighthouses as I could find! - so our first stop of the day was the Rockland Breakwater Light.  Sort of.

Rockland Breakwater Light

See that little speck out there in the distance on the right-hand side of this picture?  The thing that looks like a house floating on top of the water?  That's Rockland Breakwater Light which sits 8/10ths of a mile out in Rockland Harbor at Jameson Point.

Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse

The picture above shows the lighthouse a little bit closer but now it looks like there are people walking on water out near it, too, but that's just an optical illusion as what they're really walking on is this ...

Rockland Breakwater Light

... which gives me the perfect chance to tell you the history of the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse! 

As a way to prevent nor’easters that had the potential to cause considerable damage to ships in the harbor as well as to waterfront businesses, the town of Rockland built a granite breakwater almost a mile long as a protective barrier. The Bodwell Granite Company located on Vinalhaven - an island about 15 miles east of Rockland in Penobscot Bay – used around 700,000 tons of granite at the cost of more than three-quarters of a million dollars on the project that began in 1881 and was not completed until November 24th, 1899.

Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse

As work progressed out into the harbor, the breakwater itself became a potential danger to ships entering and leaving Rockland Harbor so a small moveable beacon used as a temporary lighthouse was moved farther out each time the breakwater was extended. Between 1888 and 1895 the light was moved four times.

In 1902 the W.H. Glover Company of Rockland built a permanent lighthouse at the breaker’s end following a Congressional appropriation of $30,000. The lighthouse consisted of a wood-frame keeper’s house that was attached to a brick fog signal building with a 25-foot tall brick tower. On October 30th, 1902 the lantern, which used a fourth-order Fresnel lens with a flashing white light, was activated for the very first time.

Rockland, Maine

As happens to a lot of lighthouses, the light was automated in 1965 and at that time both the keepers and the Fresnel lens were removed; the light disappeared to an unknown destination and is still unaccounted for to this day.  In 1973 the Coast Guard announced that they were going to destroy the structure but in spite of a public outcry, the City of Rockland turned the property down.  It appeared all was lost for the lighthouse until the historic Samoset Resort, whose location overlooks Jameson Point where the lighthouse stands, took over the upkeep.

Rockland Breakwater Light

On March 20th, 1981 the lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places, the “official list of the Nation’s historic places that are worthy of preservation” which would keep the lighthouse from being destroyed and in 1989 Samoset Resort, which had gone through several management changes, relinquished its responsibilities for the lighthouse.  Following the approval of The Maine Lighthouse Selection Committee, Rockland Breakwater Light was transferred to the City of Rockland in 1998 under the Maine Lights Program (which was passed by Congress in 1996 and led to the transfer of 28 lighthouses from the Coast Guard to local preservation groups or other agencies).  In August of 1999, the not-for-profit group The Friends of the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse was formed as part of the American Lighthouse Foundation and they have been taking care of the lighthouse since 2001- gradually restoring the historic building both inside and out while the light remains an active U.S. Coast Guard aid to navigation.

Rockland Breakwater Light

Due to its distance out in Rockland Harbor, I didn't make the trek out to the lighthouse as there was no way my mom was going to make the almost two-mile walk out and back and Jamie wasn't up to the challenge either. The thought occurred to me that if Claire were with me we'd have made the journey as she'd be up for the adventure but I was just going to have to be happy with taking pictures from the shore this go-round.  Plus there were other lighthouses that I wanted to get to before we continued up towards Camden and our accomodations for the next two nights. Lighthouses like that one in the distance ...

Owl's Head Light

Getting back in the car we retraced our steps back through Rockland and headed towards the town of Owls Head - a town that reportedly derived its name in 1759 from sailors who observed the tall headland of rock extending far into the water and imagined that it bore a resemblance to the neck and head of an owl. It was there that we would find the next lighthouse on my list - the historic Owls Head Light.

Owls Head Lighthouse

In 1825, President John Quincy Adams authorized the building of a lighthouse on a promontory south of Rockland Harbor in Penobscot Bay that was to service the increased shipping generated by the Rockland lime industry. As the light was to stand on a 100-foot high hill, a tall structure wasn’t needed so a brick structure only 30-feet tall was constructed with the first keeper, President Adam's candidate Isaac Sterns, taking charge of the light with a salary of $350 per year.

The original lamps and reflectors were replaced by a fourth-order Fresnel lens that could be seen up to 16 nautical miles away when the lighthouse was rebuilt in 1856 - a lens that remains in use today.  The tower remains essentially the same as it was when it was built and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

Owl's Head Lighthouse Station

In addition to being unusually short, the lighthouse also has a long series of steps leading up to it from the keeper’s house which was added in 1854 - the house is still used as a residence for Coast Guard personnel today. One of the last lighthouses to be automated, Owls Head Light was operated by keepers until 1989 when the Coast Guard's last official keeper, Malcolm Rouse, moved out.

Jamie on the steps at Owl's Head Lighthouse

The lighthouse is located at Owls Head State Park whose grounds are open to the public and the lighthouse is accessible via a short walk from a parking lot at the end of Lighthouse Road in the park.  The view from the lighthouse is really nothing short of spectacular but that's probably because you're standing quite high up on the edge of a cliff once you go up all those stairs! 

Jamie & her green hat at Owl's Head Lighthouse
View from Owls Head Lighthouse
The Maine Coast from Owl's Head Lighthouse

The lighthouse is the subject of much local lore that has been passed down through the years as well as stories of spirits who dwell in the keeper’s house including that of an “old sea captain” and a lady spirit who is frequently seen in the kitchen.  With a view that looks like the one below, though, I think I'd be more than happy to put up with a few house ghosts in order to enjoy it!  Oh, and as you can see, Jamie brought her skunk along for the walk up to the lighthouse! 

Jamie at Owl's Head Lighthouse

It was really easy to see why Owls Head was a popular place for tourists - it was just gorgeous there and I was really beginning to think that Stephen King had really been cheating me out of some beautiful views by scaring me half to death with his stories set in Maine! 

Maine Coast at Owl's Head

From Owls Head, we continued further south along the coast towards the village of Port Clyde which is located in the town of St. George ... 

St George Slaying the Dragon

... so that I could find one of the most photographed lighthouses in Maine - Marshall Point Light.

Marshall Point Lighthouse

Port Clyde, which, later became a magnet for writers and artists like Andrew Wyeth and his son Jaime, was a busy port in the 1800's with granite quarries, tide mills for sawing timber, shipbuilding facilities, and fish canning businesses. In March of 1831, Congress appropriated $4,000 for a light station in the area and in 1832, Marshall Point Light Station was established to assist boats entering and leaving Port Clyde on the Atlantic Ocean.

Marshall Point Lighthouse

The original rubblestone lighthouse tower was 20 feet high to the lantern deck and was lit by seven lard oil lamps with 14-inch reflectors. The tower and adjacent one-and-one-half-story stone dwelling were built at a cost of $2,973.17. The first keeper was John Watts, a veteran of the War of 1812, whose son, Joshua, took over as keeper in 1835 and stayed until 1839.

Marshall Point Light

In 1857, the original light was replaced by a 31-foot white brick tower with a granite base and fitted with a fifth-order Fresnel lens showing a fixed white light that could be seen for about 10 miles. By 1935 the light was electrified (with a kerosene oil wick lamp standing by "just in case"); in 1971 the light was fully automated and no longer required a lightkeeper. At that time the Fresnel lens was removed and replaced by a 300mm modern plastic optic which is equipped with backup battery power.

Marshall Point Lighthouse

The original 1832 keeper's house stood until 1895, when it was destroyed by a lightning strike; shortly afterwards during that same year a wood-frame Colonial Revival house was built which still stands. An oil house and a bell tower with a 1,000-pound bell were added in 1898 with the bell being replaced with a fog horn in 1969. In the late 1980s the bell was returned to Marshall Point and is now on display near the keeper's house.

Former Lighthouse Bell

In 1986, the St. George Historical Society restored the 1895 keeper's house and established the Marshall Point Lighthouse Museum which presents the history of  Marshall Point Light as well as other nearby lighthouses. The museum includes a reconstructed replica kitchen that was completed in 1995. The light station was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988 and transferred to the town of St. George in 1998 under the Maine Lights Program. The Coast Guard is now responsible only for operation of the light and fog horn.

Marshall Point Lighthouse Museum

An interesting piece of the lighthouse's history is that a scene from the movie “Forrest Gump”was filmed there in 1993 - it's the scene where Tom Hanks' character ends his cross-country run at a lighthouse by running up the ramp and out to the tower. After that climatic end to his run I guess he just turned around and walked home!

Marshall Point Lighthouse

Even though it had become a bit overcast by the time we got to Port Clyde and Marshall Point, you aren't going to hear me complaining as I honestly think that these are some of the better pictures that I've taken and I'm going to ascribe that to the beautiful skies that I had to work with. Granted, it was raining on and off and I to clean water droplets off of the camera lens from time to time but it was worth it. I'm thinking my next trip up may just be when there's some snow on the ground even though I know it's going to be c-o-l-d!

By the time I'd managed to capture the three lighthouses above, it was starting to be late afternoon (driving on the Maine coast is a rather time-consuming endeavor as you could probably tell just by looking at a map!) and it was time to head up to Camden and our stop for the night.  I figured I had probably put Mom and Jamie through enough lighthouse-searching for one day though they were both really good about it.  I'm not so sure that I would have been that thrilled about driving around Maine when I was 17! 


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