Before the modern age of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and radar, lighthouses were once the difference between life and death for the maritime industry. In Maine, more than 60 lighthouses of all shapes and sizes are scattered along the coast and their bright beacons still warn ships of impending danger. Today, many of these historic landmarks offer visitors a glimpse into the drama and romance of their historic pasts. These are the top 10 lighthouses that every visitor should see when in Maine.
10. Owls Head Lighthouse
Built in 1826, this 30-foot cylindrical brick lighthouse is one of the shortest on the list but its looming perch on top of a rocky head makes up for its height. Located at the entrance to Rockland Harbor on West Penobscot Bay, it was automated in 1989 and it is still in use today. It sits within the land of Owls Head Light State Park and the grounds are open to the public. The tower is closed to the public, but the connecting bridge offers spectacular views of the bay.
9. Seguin Island Lighthouse
Commissioned by none other than George Washington in 1796, it took a few years to build the Seguin Island Lighthouse, but this 53-foot-tall structure has been providing its fixed white light since 1857. Located approximately 1.5 miles south of the entrance to the Kennebec River, the automated lighthouse is known as the highest lighthouse in Maine and the only operational first-order Fresnel lens north of Rhode Island. Since 1990 caretakers have lived at Seguin in the summers, so if you ever thought of living at a lighthouse for a long period of time, here is your chance. The island is open to private boats and there are cruises that leave from Bath, Freeport and Popham Beach. The lighthouse is also open for occasional tours.
8. Burnt Island Lighthouse
Built in 1821, this granite lighthouse is the second oldest original lighthouse structure in Maine, behind the Portland Head Lighthouse. Located on a five-acre island at the entrance to Boothbay Harbor, the 30-foot tower was automated in 1988 and its characteristic red light flashes every six seconds. During the summers, it is open for public tours and it offers the “Living Lighthouse,” where visitors can learn about life as a keeper during the early 20th century. A ferry to the island leaves from Pier 8 in Boothbay Harbor.
7. Portland Breakwater Lighthouse
This 26-foot tower is located at the end of a 2,500-foot stone breakwater, which was built in response to an 1831 storm that caused great damage to ships, piers and buildings in the exposed harbor. Automated in 1934, the lighthouse was deactivated in 1942. In 1985 it was donated to the city of Portland and it is now part of “Bug Light” park. In 2002, it was reactivated as a private aid to navigation. The tower is not open to the public but the grounds including the spectacular breakwater to the tower are always open.
6. Monhegan Island Lighthouse
Located on beautiful Monhegan Island, this 47-foot cylindrical tower is the only solar-powered lighthouse on the list. It has provided its characteristic flashing white light since 1850. Constructed of granite, it is the second highest lighthouse in Maine (behind Seguin). It was automated in 1959 and its original second-order Fresnel lens was replaced with a VRB-25 solar powered optic in 1995. The grounds and the museum are open to the public but the tower itself is not. The museum is open daily from June 24 through Sept. 30.
5. Pemaquid Point Lighthouse
Located at the entrance to both Muscongus and John Bay, this 38-foot stone lighthouse was built in 1835. Its dramatic rocky location has made it a popular painting and photography subject. The conical tower was automated in 1934 and its characteristic white light flashes every six seconds. A former keeper of the lighthouse was Marcus Hanna, the only man to ever win the Medal of Honor and the Gold Lifesaving Medal. The tower is open to the public from Memorial Day to Columbus Day and the keeper’s house is available for weekly vacation rentals.
4. Marshall Point Lighthouse
This location is most recognized for being in a scene from the film Forrest Gump in 1994, where Tom Hanks completed his cross country jog. Overlooking the entrance to Port Clyde Harbor in Penobscot Bay, this site includes a connecting bridge that leads directly to the 32-foot cylindrical tower. The original 20-foot tower was constructed from stone but was replaced with the current granite and brick tower in 1857. Its automated lantern consists of a fixed white light. The grounds and its museum are open from Memorial Day to Columbus Day but the tower itself is closed to the public.
3. Bass Harbor Lighthouse
Built in 1858, this cylindrical lighthouse sits on a cliff overlooking the entrance to Bass Harbor on the southern tip of Mount Desert Island. The 32-foot brick tower consists of an automated red lantern that flashes in a sequence of three seconds on and one second off. Its rocky, cliff-side location has made it one of the most photographed lighthouses in Maine. Open all year, it is accessible by car on Acadia National Park land but only the grounds are open to the public, not the tower.
2. West Quoddy Head Lighthouse
This candy-striped, brick lighthouse, located on the easternmost point of the United States, has been welcoming sailors since 1808. The conical tower is 49 feet high and its lantern consists of a 1,000-watt bulb and a 5.5-foot Fresnel lens. Automated since 1988, it does not revolve but instead flashes in a sequence of two seconds on and two seconds off, which can be seen up to 18 miles away. Along with its visitor center, it is open to the public from Memorial Day to Oct. 15.
1. Portland Head Lighthouse
This 80-foot, white conical tower overlooking Casco Bay is everything a lighthouse is all about: a characteristic tower connected to a historic dwelling on a rugged coast with a powerful light that can be seen for miles. Commissioned by George Washington in 1791, it is the oldest lighthouse in Maine. Automated in 1989, its 200,000-candlepower white light flashes every four seconds and is visible for up to 16 miles. It’s easy to understand why it is the most visited, painted and photographed lighthouse in all of New England.