Portland Head Light

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Portland Head Light and Fort Williams Park

Portland Head Light is a historic lighthouse in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. The light station sits on a head of land at the entrance of the primary shipping channel into Portland Harbor, which is within Casco Bay in the Gulf of Maine. Completed in 1791, it is the oldest lighthouse in the state of Maine. The light station is automated, and the tower, beacon, and foghorn are maintained by the United States Coast Guard, while the former lighthouse keepers' house is a maritime museum within Fort Williams Park.

PORTLAND HARBOR/CASCO BAY
Station Established: 1791
Year Current Tower(s) First Lit: 1791
Operational? YES
Automated? YES 1989
Deactivated: n/a
Foundation Materials: NATURAL/EMPLACED
Construction Materials: RUBBLE STONE W/BRICK LINING
Tower Shape: CONICAL
Markings/Pattern: WHITE W/BLACK TRIM
Relationship to Other Structure: ATTACHED
Original Lens: FOURTH ORDER, FRESNEL 1855

Historical Information:

George Washington engaged two masons from the town of Portland in 1787, while Maine was still part of the colony of Massachusetts, and instructed them to take charge of the construction of a lighthouse on Portland Head. They were Jonathan Bryant and John Nichols. George Washington reminded them that the colonial Government was poor and that the materials used to build the lighthouse should be taken from the fields and shores. They could be handled nicely when hauled by oxen on a drag, he said.

The old tower, built of rubblestone, still stands as one of the four colonial lighthouses that have never been rebuilt. Washington gave the masons 4 years to build the tower. While it was under construction the Federal Government was formed in 1789 and it looked for a while, as though the lighthouse would not be finished. But the first Congress made an appropriation and authorized Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury, to inform the mechanics that they could go on with the completion of the tower. The tower was completed during the year 1790 and first lighted January 10, 1791.

During the Civil War, raids on shipping in and out of Portland Harbor became common place, and because of the necessity for ships at sea to sight Portland Head Light as soon as possible, the tower was raised 8 feet. Today Portland Head Light stands 80 feet above ground and 101 feet above water, its white conical tower being connected with a dwelling. The 200,000 candlepower, second-order electric light, is visible 16 miles. An air-chime diaphragm horn blasts every 20 seconds, for 4 seconds during fog.

Portland Headlight Light House at Dawn
Portland Headlight Light House at Dawn

Keepers:

  • Joseph K. Greenleaf (1791–1795) As a patriot, he was appointed by George Washington.
  • David Duncan (1796)
  • Barzillai Delano (1796–1820)
  • Joshua Freeman (1820–1840)
  • Richard Lee (1840–1849)
  • John F. Watts (1849–1853)
  • John W. Coolidge (1853–1854)
  • James S. Williams (1854)
  • James Delano (1854–1861)
  • Elder M. Jordan (1861–1869)
  • Joshua F. Strout (1869–1904)
  • Joseph W. Strout (1904–1928)
  • John W. Cameron (assistant 1904-1928, principal keeper 1928-1929)
  • Frank O. Hilt (1929–1944)
  • Robert Thayer Sterling (assistant 1928-1944, principal keeper 1944-1946)
  • Archie McLaughlin (Coast Guard, c. 1946)
  • William L. Lockhart (Coast Guard 1946-1950)
  • William T. Burns (Coast Guard, 1950-1956?)
  • Earle E. Benson (Coast Guard, 1952-?)
  • Edward Frank (Coast Guard 1956-?)
  • Weston B. Gamage Jr. (Coast Guard, c. early 1960s)
  • James R Wilson (Coast Guard, 1962 - 1964)
  • Armand Houde(Coast Guard officer in charge, c. 1963-1965)
  • Thomas Reed (Coast Guard, 1966–1967)
  • Robert Allen (Coast Guard, c. 1972)
  • Kenneth A. Perry (Coast Guard, ?)
  • Roy Cavanaugh (Coast Guard, c. 1971-1977)
  • Jerry Poliskey (Coast Guard, c. 1977)
  • Ray Barbar (Coast Guard Officer-in-Charge 1978-1982)
  • Marion Danna (Coast Guard Assist.Light keeper 1980-1983)
  • Michael Cook (Coast Guard Officer-in-Charge 1982-1986)
  • Davis Simpson (Coast Guard, ?-1989)
  • Nathan Wasserstrom (Coast Guard, ?-1989)
  • Cameron Ayres

Content provided by www.uscg.mil and Wikipedia.org