Ford Reiche Is a Beacon to Maine’s Forsaken Landmarks

The entrepreneur and preservationist who rescued Halfway Rock Light has set his sights on Harpswell’s Little Mark Island Monument.

Ford Reiche in a boat near Halfway Rock Light
Ford Reiche at Halfway Rock Light. Photo courtesy of Getty Images
By Sarah Stebbins
From our February 2024 issue

A decade ago, Freeport’s Ford Reiche became the proud owner of Halfway Rock Light. Abandoned by the Coast Guard in 1975, the 1871 granite tower and attached 1888 clapboarded boathouse and keeper’s quarters sits on a wave-swept offshore ledge in Casco Bay, halfway between Cape Small, in Phippsburg, and Cape Elizabeth. The federal government initially offered the property to nonprofits and government entities for free, but none had the resources to take on a crumbling beacon in such a forbidding location. Instead, it was auctioned off to the highest bidder. Reiche, an entrepreneur and preservationist, ponied up $283,000, the largest sum ever paid for a Maine lighthouse. Over the next two years, he and a team painstakingly restored the exterior surfaces and used historic photos to reconstruct 1950s-era interiors. In 2017, the American Lighthouse Foundation gave Reiche its top preservation award.

Last spring, when the federal government announced it was giving away another aging offshore beacon, Harpswell’s 1827 Little Mark Island Monument, Reiche lit up. “With Halfway Rock, I missed the free part,” he says. Now, his nonprofit, the Presumpscot Foundation, is working with the town to acquire Little Mark. If the government chooses their proposal, the foundation will own the building and fund its restoration, with Harpswell officials providing oversight. “I’m not going to do anything to disappoint anyone,” Reiche says. “So I’m happy to have a partner looking over my shoulder.”

How did you get involved in preservation?

I grew up in a 1797 house in Falmouth. My folks, grandparents, and great-grandparents were antiques dealers, and my cousin is state historian Earle G. Shettleworth Jr. So I knew a lot about history. After I got married, my wife and I bought a fully furnished antique home in Falmouth for $28,000. I can do a lot of construction myself, so we fixed it up and sold it, then did that over and over again. After I did that for a long time, I realized, I guess I’m in historic preservation.

What are some of your most memorable projects?

I’ve restored four buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1991, I bought the 1851 Gilead Railroad Station and moved it to Auburn, where I restored it and used it as an office for my freight-logistics company. Then I gave it back to Gilead, where it houses the historical society. After selling my company, in 2009, I bought the 1907 Charles B. Clarke House, a contributing building in Portland’s Western Promenade Historic District, and turned it into three condos. Then, of course, there was Halfway Rock and, after that, the 1906 Grand Trunk Railroad Station, in Yarmouth, which is now occupied by a bank.

What attracted you to Little Mark?

I’m still doing research, but I think we will find that this is the oldest mariners’ refuge in America. It’s basically a 55-foot-tall stone chimney, shaped like a pyramid, so if someone got shipwrecked, they could make a fire and people would see the smoke. The tower was also a navigational aid and, in 1927, they put a lightbulb on top so it was like a mini lighthouse. Other than repairing the masonry, it doesn’t need a great deal of restoration. We’re still in a competitive process but, if we get it, it’ll be my fifth National Register project.

How do you decide which buildings to focus on?

The historic-preservation world is small, and the abandoned-lighthouse world is even smaller, so projects just seem to come my way. I’m not trying to save the whole state, but when I’ve tackled projects, they’ve tended to wind up better than when I started, so I’ll just keep going along that path.

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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