Great Eastern Drives: Portland, ME Lighthouses

Lighthouses played an important role in American maritime history both during peacetime and war. There are also architectural lessons to be had...

“Yes Tom?”
“Can we go on a road trip soon?”
It’s not often that a six year old asks that question. So I set one up; a quick trip to Portland, ME to scout a couple of job sites for photo shoots (I'm an editor and photographer for a residential construction magazine).

“I have you in a non smoking king room for three nights, is that correct?”
Looking down at Tom, I asked the desk clerk to switch us to a room with two doubles (I figured I'd upgrade Tommy from the pull-out couch to a big bed so he could stay up late and watch Letterman with me). When we got up to the room, Tommy promptly dragged a blanket off one of the beds and climbed under the desk.
“Dad, can you put the blanket over the table so I can have a sleeping fort?”
I should have kept the king bed. But the sleeping fort did a good job: Tommy slept in ‘til around 8:00 each morning. After a late breakfast at the hotel, a visit to the jobsite from around 10 to 11, and lunch at a chowder house (Gilbert's Chowder House has extremely good clam chowda), we went off in search of light houses in the afternoon.

The job site visits worked out well, one had a big dirt pile covered with snow. Tommy put on his snow pants and had a blast while I talked with the builder and scouted photo angles. The other site had a gravel basement and the architect told Tommy he could throw rocks at the wall all he wanted.

We were able to visit four light houses all together:
Portland Breakwater Light
Portland Head Light
Spring Point Ledge Light
and Cape Elizabeth Light
We also saw Ram Island Ledge Light, but because it’s on an island, we weren’t able to visit this time, maybe next time.

The weather was cold and windy. Very cold and windy!
You can see Tommy hiding behind the sign on the way to the Portland Breakwater Light (known locally as Bug Light) to get out of the wind. I didn’t really expect to walk out there, but he just kept on walking, so I followed. As it turns out, this light house was built in 1855, but there was no keeper’s house built. The poor guy had to scamper over the breakwater in winter against the wind, over the ice and getting slapped with the spray. Just like we did. That keeper kept scrambling until 1889 when a keeper’s cabin was built out there.

Tip: Visit lighthouses in June or July, not February

Bug Light is a really cool light house. It’s short, only 26 feet tall, but its design is beautiful. A cast iron tower with fluted Corinthian columns. Apparently, its design is based on a Greek Monument built in the fourth century B.C., the Choragis Monument of Lysicrates (good opportunity to teach a little about classical architecture).

Commissioned by President George Washington in 1790 Portland Head Light is the oldest lighthouse in Maine.
It’s also likely the most famous light house in Maine, and certainly the most famous in our family as my Dad was unknowingly photographed as he sailed past it back in the 1970s and the photo was reprinted on postcards, calendars and placemats. The tower is 80 ft. tall. Portland head light has a museum that's open to the public from May through October. The lighthouse also adjacent to Fort Williams Park, an old army fort that never saw action, although it was fully manned during WWI.

Spring Point Light is at the end of a long breakwater
which was built to cover the underlying ledge that the lighthouse marks. Completed in 1897 and located in Fort Preble Park, a war of 1812 fort which also saw some action during the Civil War when some Rebs tried to raid Portland Harbor. There is a playground at the park, so it’s a good destination in warm weather.

Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse is actually two lighthouses, the twins.
But they’re not twins. Nor are they both visible in my photo at the far right. Located on private land they’re best viewed from an amazing beach accessible from the parking lot of a nice seafood restaurant (eat there). Built in 1874, the two 65-foot towers served as range lights for the ship captains. Because one was due west of the other, mariners approaching Portland Harbor would line them up to verify their course.
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, interesting and helpful!