Maine Lighthouses Ranked

OUR CATEGORICAL (AND CATEGORICALLY TONGUE-IN-CHEEK) RUN-DOWN OF ALL 65 OF MAINE'S BELOVED COASTAL BEACONS.

By Jesse Ellison, Will Grunewald, Brian Kevin, Frances Killea, Genevieve Morgan,
Clark Shepard, Sarah Stebbins, Jennifer Van Allen, Virginia M. Wright

Let’s get one thing straight: there are no bad lighthouses. Maine’s squattest beacon is still an engineering marvel, its loneliest still a reservoir of history, its drabbest still a pretty good postcard. Oh, and every one saves lives. Since 1791, when Portland Head Light became the first lighthouse completed in the new United States of America, our coastal sentinels have been synonymous with Maine’s landscape and its character, monuments to ruggedness, ingenuity, and respect for the natural world.

That being said, we have some faves.

Inspired in part by this month’s 10th annual Maine Open Lighthouse Day (Sept. 14), when dozens of towers and keeper’s houses around the state open their doors for guided and unguided tours, we set out to rank every one of the state’s lighthouses, in the spirit of clambake banter and in the name of fun.

A few words on our methodology: While some are lovely, our list doesn’t include freshwater beacons or towers resembling lighthouses that have never served as navigational aids. (Find a map of Maine’s coastal lighthouses here.) Our naming conventions match the U.S. Coast Guard’s Atlantic Coast Light List. Our criteria included scenic character, accessibility, architectural originality, and the entertainment value of historical trivia. Our decisions were made over drinks on a perfect summer day on Maine’s midcoast, and if you don’t like them, you can feel free to visit the Down East Facebook page and (ahem) light into us.

Boon Island Light
Boon Island Light: Is New England's tallest lighthouse a dark horse? It sure has a dark history. Photographed by Frederick Bloy.
Ram Island Ledge Light, from Portland Head Light, in Cape Elizabeth.
It’s privately owned (a coin flip settled a bidding war during a 2010 federal auction), but visitors glimpse #63, Ram Island Ledge Light, from Portland Head Light, in Cape Elizabeth. Photographed by Colin Zwirner.

Ranked

65

Rockland Harbor Southwest Light

Maine’s youngest lighthouse was built by a dentist in the 1980s and pokes out the top of an outbuilding at a private residence in Owls Head. Recognized by the Coast Guard as a legit navigational aid, it’s a nifty little glorified cupola.

64

Doubling Point Range Lights

Standing 21 and 13 feet tall, these plain wooden octagons are none too majestic, but their function is ingenious: keep the two lights lined up, and a mariner heading up the Kennebec River near Arrowsic Island knows she’s in the center of the channel.

63-61

The Ledge Lights: Ram Island Ledge Light, Saddleback Ledge Light, Whaleback Light

Warning of treacherous rocks and shoals, these granite towers are tough to admire except by boat, and each was built in response to shipwrecks. Ram Island Ledge once saw four boats run aground in a day, in 1866, and a ship full of circus animals went down off Saddleback Ledge in 1836. Not much to look at, but function over fashion, eh?

60

Halfway Rock Light

Basically ditto the ledge lights above, but in 2017, the American Lighthouse Foundation gave Maine entrepreneur and preservationist Ford Reiche its Keeper of the Light award for buying and restoring the crumbling 1871 Casco Bay beacon. Bravo to Reiche, who chronicled his efforts in a book and at halfwayrock.com.

59–58

The Lesser Sparkplugs: Lubec Channel Light, Goose Rocks Light

Sparkplug lighthouses are the pugs of the lighthouse world: odd, stubby, kind of ugly-cute. They’re also known as caisson lights, for the watertight, offshore retaining structures they sit atop, usually cast-iron and filled with concrete. Of Maine’s three sparkplugs (there are only 33 nationwide), these two have more workmanlike exteriors, but Goose Rocks Light is cushy inside, and the nonprofit organization that owns it, Beacon Preservation, allows some donors to stay overnight.

57–56

The Lesser Parrises: Libby Island Light, Mount Desert Light

Architect and one-time Portlander Alexander Parris built six lighthouses in Maine between 1839 and 1850, and while his granite cylinders aren’t stunners, three of them made the Top 20 portion of this list. These two (along with Saddleback Ledge Light, above) are mostly neat for their way-out, weatherbeaten locations. Back in the day, Libby Island’s keeper had to travel 10 nautical miles for supplies, in Machias. The keeper at Mount Desert Light, meanwhile, lived some 20 nautical miles from MDI, on tiny Mount Desert Rock, which storm waves periodically submerge.

55

Pond Island Light

Guarding Milbridge’s Narraguagus Bay, it’s sometimes called Narraguagus Light, to prevent confusion with a Pond Island Light off Popham (below). One of 15 lighthouses in Maine privately owned by individuals, its white granite tower is pretty, but really only viewable if you have a boat.

Squirrel Point Light
Size doesn’t matter: the tower of Arrowsic’s lovely Squirrel Point Light, #48, is a just-right 25 feet tall. Photographed by Benjamin Williamson.

54-48

The Sub-25ers: Doubling Point Light, Pond Island Light, Perkins Island Light, Blue Hill Bay Light, Goat Island Light, Browns Head Light, Squirrel Point Light

Let’s hear it for the little guys! All these towers are 25 feet tall or teensier — and cute as a button. Historical aside: Goat Island Light, off Cape Porpoise, was Maine’s last (and the country’s second-to-last) lighthouse to be automated, in 1990. Keepers still live on the island, and the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust can provide info about tours.

47-44

The Little White Lights: Ram Island Light, Franklin Island Light, Little River Light, Tenants Harbor Light

Four unassuming, white-brick island towers that admirers can see from the mainland. Tenants Harbor Light has the celebrity, as it’s in paintings by both Andrew Wyeth and Jamie Wyeth, who now owns it. Little River Light is the best of the bunch, though, since you can sleep in it — the Friends of Little River Lighthouse run it as a cozy inn.

43

Dice Head Light

A comeback story: Dice Head Light, at the tip of the Castine peninsula, was decommissioned in 1937, and a light was placed instead on steel scaffolding nearby. After a storm took that out in 2007, locals petitioned the Coast Guard to reactivate the old lighthouse, and it’s now relit, after seven decades of darkness.

42

Whitlocks Mill Light

With a 25-foot tower, this Calais beacon, owned by the St. Croix Historical Society, could join the little guys above, but it’s our northernmost light station, which counts for something. Before 1910, “Whitlocks Mill Light” referred to a lantern the local mill owner hung from a tree.

Nash Island Light
The square brick tower of Addison’s Nash Island Light replaced a round wooden one back when right angles were (for some reason) all the rage. See #36–28. Photographed by Mark Bilak.

41-37

The Acadia Also-Rans: Baker Island Light, Bear Island Light, Winter Harbor Light Station, Great Duck Island Light, Prospect Harbor Point Light

A few Acadia icons get their due on the pages to come — these harder-to-glimpse fellas are all on islands around MDI and the Schoodic Peninsula, except for Prospect Harbor Light, a recreational asset for U.S. Navy personnel. Not in the navy? You can only admire it from the water or across the harbor.

36-28

The Squares: Burnt Coat Harbor Light, Two Bush Island Light, Crotch Island Light, Indian Island Light, Grindle Point Light, Nash Island Light, Hendricks Head Light, Fort Point Light, Rockland Harbor Breakwater Light

We’re suckers for a square lighthouse. What these nine lights have in common — beside four-sided towers — is that most were built in the early 1870s. Squareness confers no particular advantage, says American Lighthouse Foundation director Bob Trapani Jr. — this was simply an era when it was in style. Fort Point and Hendricks Head lights are easiest to lay eyes on, the former on the mainland, in a tiny state park, and the latter road-accessible on Southport Island. Both cut a similar profile: black-topped towers next to keepers’ houses with striking red roofs. If you’ve ever strolled the Rockland Harbor Breakwater, its lighthouse may not seem at a glance like it belongs in this company, but it’s a square tower with an engine room wrapped around it. A similarly distinctive light gets a nod farther down the list.

27

Moose Peak Light

Some 60 feet tall and weathered, on Jonesport’s wild Mistake Island, this light overlooks a stretch of coast with a reputation as Maine’s foggiest, and you can hike a boardwalk trail across the island to reach it — if you have a boat to get there.

26

Heron Neck Light

Hugging tawny cliffs on Green’s Island, southwest of Vinalhaven, Heron Neck Light helped kick off the modern era of lighthouse preservation. After a fire gutted the keeper’s house in 1989, the Coast Guard (which owned Heron Neck and most active lights) proposed tearing it down. Preservationists, led by Rockland’s Island Institute, objected, arguing that ownership (and upkeep) could shift to a community group, local government, or individual, while the Guard stayed responsible only for operating the beacon and foghorn. The arrangement at Heron Neck gave rise to the Maine Lights Program, under which the Coast Guard relinquished ownership of some two dozen Maine lighthouses, and the program became a model for the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, passed in 2000.

Dramatic when it’s submerged, the Rockland Breakwater is (in better weather) a pedestrian-friendly, less-than-a-mile approach to lighthouse #28.

Photographed by Benjamin Williamson.

25

Machias Seal Island Light

With its cool scarlet dome and 60-foot octagonal tower, this one has real curb appeal. But is it even a Maine lighthouse? Some 10 miles off the Bold Coast, the island is the object of the nation’s oldest territorial dispute — the Canadians claim it, and not only did they build the original light, in 1832, but the Canadian Coast Guard still staffs it (only “for sovereignty purposes,” as the light is automated). We’d rank this higher if we knew where its loyalties lie.

24

Eagle Island Light

A pretty-enough light between North Haven and Deer Isle, and with a story we love. When the light was automated in 1959, the Coast Guard burned the keeper’s quarters and tried to remove the 2-ton fog bell. But the crew lost control, the tale goes, and watched the bell crash down an 80-foot cliff into the ocean. Years later, a lobsterman spotted the bell during a super-low tide. He and some pals wrapped a chain around it and dragged it by lobsterboat to neighboring Great Spruce Head Island, then hauled it ashore. It’s there today, on the estate of the Porter family that has long owned the island (and includes artist Fairfield Porter and photographer Eliot Porter, who made the island quasi-famous in his 1960s photography books).

23

Pumpkin Island Light

Points for being the cutest little island on Eggemoggin Reach. The light guided commercial ships and pleasure boats from 1855 until 1933, but it’s been decommissioned and in private hands since. There’s a fishing pier with a good sightline just across the water, on the northwest end of Little Deer Isle, but the best view is from a boat.

22

Wood Island Light

Deer are known to swim out to Wood Island, a half-mile off the coast of Biddeford Pool, which is where visitors hop a boat for tours offered in summer by Friends of Wood Island Lighthouse. The group is currently restoring the 44-foot, white rubblestone tower. It’s the ghosts that sell the place, though — Wood Island is alleged to have a few, including the spirit of an itinerant fisherman who fatally shot a local sheriff, then himself, in 1896.

Burnt Island Light
Boothbay’s Burnt Island Light, #21, has long attracted day-trippers, to the dismay of some 19th-century keepers. Photographed by Benjamin Williamson.

21

Burnt Island Light

The second-oldest lighthouse tower in Maine, Burnt Island Light stands stoic against some awesome exposed bedrock at the entrance to Boothbay Harbor. Old-school to its core, it didn’t transition from kerosene to electricity unti 1962 or automate until 1988. The state owns it now, and the Keepers of Burnt Island Light offer living history tours, complete with costumed docents, in July and August.

20

Cape Elizabeth Lights

A package deal: one entry, technically two lights. Visit Two Lights State Park to see Maine’s first twin lighthouses, originally erected in 1828, though today’s white and stately towers are replacements built in 1874. Only the eastern tower is still lit; its western counterpart became a private residence in 1924. Edward Hopper painted the eastern tower in 1929, a famous work that now hangs at the Met in New York.

19

Petit Manan Light

What locals call ’Tit Manan (or even more colloquially, the ’tit) is as unapproachable as a prom queen, on its own island 2½ miles from the peninsulas of Steuben, within the Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge (in season, it’s surrounded by seabirds). At 123 feet, it’s Maine’s second tallest light and has long been off-limits to the public. It’s best viewed on boat tours from Bar Harbor or Milbridge or (for hikers) from atop Steuben’s Pigeon Hill.

18

Whitehead Light

The gray granite tower is a bit drab (Alexander Parris designed it), but this little light on Muscle Ridge Channel, off the midcoast’s St. George Peninsula, is the domain of a nonprofit that hosts adult enrichment programs in the keeper’s house — knitting retreats to home-brewing seminars. There’s some interesting history — keepers used an ingenious tide-powered fog bell here in 1840 — but mostly, it’s a testament to the role a decommissioned lighthouse can play in the 21st century: one part beacon, one part community center.

Egg Rock Light
In 1976, the Coast Guard replaced Egg Rock’s lantern with huge floodlights called aerobeacons. It was so ugly that #14 got its lantern back 10 years later. Photographed by Mark Bilak.

17

Monhegan Island Light

Some 10 miles off the midcoast, this granite cylinder (another Parris) marks the crown of Monhegan Island. It’s the rare light where the views from it — of the harbor and adjacent Manana Island — are more breathtaking than the views of it. The former keeper’s house and outbuildings house the Monhegan Museum of Art & History, one of Maine’s best small museums.

16

Isle au Haut Light

This 40-foot brick-and-granite tower in Penobscot Bay is, at 112 years old, one of Maine’s youngest lighthouses. The town took it over from the Coast Guard in 1998, and a nonprofit is working to raise $350,000 to restore it and open it to the public. For now, the best way to see it is from the mailboat-cum-ferry that leaves from Stonington. The 4-bedroom keeper’s house, an inn since 1986, is on the market for $1.9 million — lighthouse not included.

15

Seguin Light

Arguably Maine’s best lighthouse day trip. A ferry runs two to four days a week from late May through September (a half-hour ride), and Friends of Seguin Island hosts visitors who want to hike the hilly island’s trails and admire the 19th-century tramway and 53-foot tower, which dates to 1857 and still has its original lens (a first-order Fresnel — the most powerful). Members of the Friends group can even camp or stay overnight in the keeper’s quarters.

14

Egg Rock Light

It’s been called “Maine’s ugliest lighthouse,” but we love this squat, weird little structure on an island in Frenchman Bay, east of MDI. The square tower was built in 1875 at the center of a single-story keeper’s house. The second story and its eye-catching dormered roof came later. Legend has it that publisher and rusticator Joseph Pulitzer so hated its foghorn — which penetrated the three-story, otherwise soundproof wing of his Bar Harbor estate, nicknamed the “Tower of Silence” — that he lobbied the feds to silence it, and they eventually pointed it away from town. Easily viewed from Acadia’s high points or on an MDI boat tour.

13

Owls Head Light

Short and stout atop a whaleback hill 80 feet above Penobscot Bay, Owls Head Light looks stunning from the water, offers a sweet view of the bay if you climb the stairs to reach it, and is super accessible — it’s part of a fee-free state park, and volunteers lead tours in summer. The American Lighthouse Foundation has tour info online and runs an interpretive center in the keeper’s house.

12

South Portland Breakwater Light

Like most Portlanders, you may know this little beauty as Bug Light, nicknamed for its petite stature (the tower’s just 24 feet tall). It was built of wood in 1855 and replaced in 1875 by the current cast-iron, Greek Revival edition, possibly designed by Thomas U. Walter, who also worked on the U.S. Capitol. Owned by the City of South Portland, Bug Light has a ceremonial feel and great skyline views, a perfect backdrop to picnicking, kite-flying, and outdoor summer movies in Bug Light Park.

11

The Cuckolds Light

A pair of islets south of Southport Island that seem barely to crest the surface, the Cuckolds were the bane of mariners entering Boothbay Harbor before the light station was built in 1892. Viewed from Cape Newagen, at the tip of Southport, it cuts a neat profile against the horizon, the 48-foot tower rising up from the fog-signal building, and the unique conical roof adds character. After the Coast Guard gave up the property in the mid-2000s, a nonprofit org made extensive renovations and, in 2014, opened the swank Inn at Cuckolds Lighthouse, now a mainstay on luxe-lodging Best Of lists.

Owls Head Light
Owls Head Light has only a 30-foot tower, but our #13 pick sits atop a high promontory. Photographed by Dominic Trapani.
Bug Light, #12, was built to resemble the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, a stone pillar in Athens, Greece, built in 334 BCE.

Photographed by Benjamin Williamson.

South Portland Breakwater Light, Bug Light
Bug Light, #12, was built to resemble the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, a stone pillar in Athens, Greece, built in 334 BCE. Photographed by Benjamin Williamson.

10

MATINICUS ROCK LIGHT

Two stone beacons loom over Matinicus Rock, a treeless slab of granite 18 miles offshore, and one of them, designed by Alexander Parris, is still functional. Keepers used to call this posting “Alcatraz,” and the hardscrabble setting produced a bona fide 19th-century hero in Abbie Burgess. She was a teenager when a storm stranded her dad, the keeper, in Rockland. As swells swept the island, Burgess evacuated her siblings, her unwell mother, and the family’s chickens to the north tower, then maintained the lights through weeks of heavy seas. Burgess’s story inspired two children’s books, Keep the Lights Burning and Abbie and Abbie Against the Storm. Sightseers these days come for the puffin colonies.

Matinicus Rock Light
Photographed by Dominic Trapani.
Spring Point Ledge Light
Photographed by Benjamin Williamson.

9

SPRING POINT LEDGE LIGHT

Sparkplug lighthouses tend to have a cast-iron, utilitarian-looking exterior, and most are offshore. Not South Portland’s postcard-pretty light: it’s the country’s only caisson-style light that visitors can walk to, along a 900-foot breakwater, and its white-brick tower has a weathered elegance. Volunteers from Spring Point Ledge Light Trust offer tours a few times a week in summer, and period furnishings inside give a feel for what keepers’ days were like back when they had to row ashore. They were glad for the 1951 breakwater, and so are we — it’s hard to beat the view of the lighthouse, Fort Gorges, the Casco Bay islands, and the occasional sailboat cruising by.

8

MARSHALL POINT LIGHT

It’s not Maine’s only light with a long wooden runway, but it’s the most recognizable, and the ends-of-the-earth feel is why Forrest Gump location scouts tagged it in the early ’90s as the eastern terminus of Tom Hanks’s cross-country run. But while Gump pauses for a fraction of a second at the tower before turning to run back, we suggest trotting over to the keeper’s house, where an impressive little museum explores the lineage of lighthouses at Marshall Point (the current one dates to 1858), as well as the lobstering and quarrying heydays of Port Clyde. One of Maine’s most popular photo-ops and a neat history lesson besides.

Marshall Point Light
Photographed by Dominic Trapani.
Bass Harbor Head Light
Photographed by Darylann Leonard.

7

BASS HARBOR HEAD LIGHT

Bass Harbor Head Light is to Acadia National Park what Old Faithful is to Yellowstone or El Capitan is to Yosemite: a single, stirring feature that encapsulates what the park exists to celebrate and protect. In Acadia’s case, that’s a craggy coastal landscape that somehow feels enhanced rather than diminished by its conspicuous human footprint — where a white-brick, 32-foot tower atop a pink-granite cliff stands as a salute and not a rebuke to the formiddable power of ocean and rock. The light was built in 1858, decades before the park’s designation, to signal the entrance to the harbor at MDI’s southern tip. For the hundreds of thousands who clamber onto the rocks to photograph it each year, it is no less a guiding light.

6

CURTIS ISLAND LIGHT

It’s been called the “jewel of the Penobscot,” but you’re not likely to find Curtis Island Light on many Maine T-shirts or souvenir mugs. The dramatic contrast of the white buildings and their red-shingled roofs, together with the Camden Hills backdrop, makes for quite a tableau, but Curtis Island, a public park owned by the town, flies a bit under the radar. That it’s accessible only by private watercraft is part of its charm. Generations of locals have crossed Camden Harbor by dinghy, kayak, paddleboard — you name it — to play on the giant swing along the main path or picnic on the lawn overlooking the bay.

Curtis Island Light
Photographed by Mark Fleming.
Portland Head Light
Photographed by Benjamin Williamson.

5

PORTLAND HEAD LIGHT

It’s the lighthouse that launched thousands of screensavers and Instagram posts (yes, we see your Twitter header, Anna Kendrick). But New England’s most photographed light station isn’t just a pretty face — it has history as colorful as the roof on its keeper’s quarters. The state’s oldest lighthouse and the first in the country built by the federal government, it was dedicated in 1791 by the Marquis de Lafayette, the Revolutionary War hero. One 19th-century keeper, Captain Joshua Freeman, augmented his government income by selling rum to visitors for three cents a glass. A few decades later, Captain Joshua Strout and his wife, Mary, entertained poet
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, whose “The Lighthouse” was likely inspired by Portland Head. On Christmas Eve 1886, the family famously rescued the crew of the Annie C. Maguire after the clipper ship hit a ledge, using strips of kerosene-soaked blankets as torches and laying a ladder across boulders to form a bridge. In 1912, the Strouts’ grandson, John, painted a memorial to the wreck on a rock in front of the lighthouse, which you can admire if you visit Cape Elizabeth’s Fort Williams Park — though you can see the 80-foot tower from all over Casco Bay, and there seems to be no bad angle for a photo.

4

CAPE NEDDICK LIGHT

Stark-white Nubble Light, as it’s known, stands on a rocky knob just off York’s shore. The islet is thinly blanketed with deep-green grass, and a picket fence wraps around the red-roofed keeper’s house, which is modest except for its steep gables trimmed in lace. Is this Maine’s most romantic lighthouse? Whenever we visit, we imagine living there, though the closest we can get is Sohier Park, a few hundred feet away, on the mainland, where scores of other would-be keepers gather to admire the 41-foot tower. Sure, the park can get crowded, and sometimes we have to wait for a parking space, but Nubble’s popularity is a testament to the outstanding job the town of York has done maintaining the 140-year-old landmark. As for our frustrated yearnings, they’re nothing compared to what extraterrestrials will feel when the interstellar Voyager II spacecraft someday crashes on their planet. In its hold, they’ll find a disc containing digitized images meant to convey the human story on Earth. Among them, shots of architectural marvels including the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, and Nubble Light.

Cape Neddick Light
Photographed by Jack Milton.
West Quoddy Head Light
Photographed by Benjamin Williamson.

3

WEST QUODDY HEAD LIGHT

So many of Maine’s lighthouses are trumpets; Lubec’s instantly recognizable West Quoddy Head Light is a piccolo. The candy-striped tower marks the easternmost point on the U.S. mainland, and it’s the third to stand in this spot. The first two, built in 1808 and 1831, were white and tough to see in the famously thick Down East fog. Whoever thought to paint stripes on the 1858 tower has the gratitude of generations of mariners, along with those in the Maine tourism, greeting card, and calendar trades. The near-constant fog meant keepers and their families spent a lot of time shouting to be heard over a foghorn. In 1987, a year before the light was automated, the wife of West Quoddy Head’s final keeper told the L.A. Times she’d grown used to it. “Funny thing,” she said, “if the foghorn is blasting during the night and it suddenly stops, we automatically wake up with the silence.”

2

BOON ISLAND LIGHT

Boon Island Light doesn’t get much love from the Maine souvenir industrial complex, as the granite tower is rather austere and — more than 6 miles offshore on a soil-free, storm-battered pile of rocks — more frequently visited by seals than by humans. But it’s a whale of a lighthouse, New England’s tallest, at 133 feet, and a reminder of both the intense isolation keepers once endured and the gruesome tragedies lighthouses were built to stave off. Even 19th-century poet Celia Thaxter, who lived on the similarly raw and remote Isles of Shoals, to the southwest, couldn’t get down with Boon Island, which she called, “the forlornest place that can be imagined. The Isles of Shoals, barren as they are, seem like gardens of Eden in comparison.” The island’s first recorded disaster was in 1682, a wreck that left four men marooned for a month, eating fish and seabirds’ eggs, before someone on the mainland saw their smoke signals. The most famous wreck was in 1710, and it made the era’s scandal sheets when 10 rescued seamen admitted to eating a dead shipmate during three weeks on the island. Storms wreaked havoc on the first two attempts at a Boon Island lighthouse, in the early 1800s. The current imposing structure went up in 1854, tall enough that beachgoers can see it from York’s Long Sands Beach (a few boat tours bring sightseers as well). Majesty, nature’s fury, cannibalism — Boon Island Light has it all, even if it doesn’t make the postcards.

Boon Island Light
Photographed by Frederick Bloy.
Pemaquid Point Light
Photographed by Benjamin Williamson.

1

PEMAQUID POINT LIGHT

Legend has it that if you drink from the puddle in the foreground, your hands will turn into lobster claws and your pupils into two tiny whoopie pies — that’s how classically Maine is this scene from Pemaquid Point, in Bristol. Mainers acknowledged as much in 2002, when they voted to put Pemaquid Point Light on the U.S. Mint’s Maine state quarter. They picked this 1835 landmark (it replaced a shoddily built tower from 1827) over West Quoddy Head Light, Katahdin, and the sunrise itself. So what’s so magical about this midcoast spot? The wave-sculpted ledges half-surrounding the tower are almost hypnotic to stare at and fun to clamber on. The scatter of historic structures — including an oil house and a bell house — are well maintained, and the keeper’s house hosts the fascinating little Fishermen’s Museum. A $3 entry fee, paid to the town of Bristol, covers the museum, plus an art gallery and picnic grounds, and visitors can stroll right up the spiral staircase to the lamp room of the 38-foot tower, where they can check out the original lens, still in use, and take in the endless, exhilarating view of the Atlantic that’s shared by every Maine lighthouse — and by every Mainer.

[dropcap letter=”L”]et’s get one thing straight: there are no bad lighthouses. Maine’s squattest beacon is still an engineering marvel, its loneliest still a reservoir of history, its drabbest still a pretty good postcard. Oh, and every one saves lives. Since 1791, when Portland Head Light became the first lighthouse completed in the new United States of America, our coastal sentinels have been synonymous with Maine’s landscape and its character, monuments to ruggedness, ingenuity, and respect for the natural world.

That being said, we have some faves.

Inspired in part by this month’s 10th annual Maine Open Lighthouse Day (Sept. 14), when dozens of towers and keeper’s houses around the state open their doors for guided and unguided tours, we set out to rank every one of the state’s lighthouses, in the spirit of clambake banter and in the name of fun.

A few words on our methodology: While some are lovely, our list doesn’t include freshwater beacons or towers resembling lighthouses that have never served as navigational aids. (Find a map of Maine’s coastal lighthouses here.) Our naming conventions match the U.S. Coast Guard’s Atlantic Coast Light List. Our criteria included scenic character, accessibility, architectural originality, and the entertainment value of historical trivia. Our decisions were made over drinks on a perfect summer day on Maine’s midcoast, and if you don’t like them, you can feel free to visit the Down East Facebook page and (ahem) light into us.

Boon Island Light
Boon Island Light: Is New England's tallest lighthouse a dark horse? It sure has a dark history. Photographed by Frederick Bloy.

Ranked

65

Rockland Harbor Southwest Light

Maine’s youngest lighthouse was built by a dentist in the 1980s and pokes out the top of an outbuilding at a private residence in Owls Head. Recognized by the Coast Guard as a legit navigational aid, it’s a nifty little glorified cupola.

The Doubling Point Range Lights, #64, are also known as the Kennebec River Range Lights. Photographed by Benjamin Williamson.

64

Doubling Point Range Lights

Standing 21 and 13 feet tall, these plain wooden octagons are none too majestic, but their function is ingenious: keep the two lights lined up, and a mariner heading up the Kennebec River near Arrowsic Island knows she’s in the center of the channel.

Ram Island Ledge Light, from Portland Head Light, in Cape Elizabeth.
It’s privately owned (a coin flip settled a bidding war during a 2010 federal auction), but visitors glimpse #63, Ram Island Ledge Light, from Portland Head Light, in Cape Elizabeth. Photographed by Colin Zwirner.

63-61

The Ledge Lights: Ram Island Ledge Light, Saddleback Ledge Light, Whaleback Light

Warning of treacherous rocks and shoals, these granite towers are tough to admire except by boat, and each was built in response to shipwrecks. Ram Island Ledge once saw four boats run aground in a day, in 1866, and a ship full of circus animals went down off Saddleback Ledge in 1836. Not much to look at, but function over fashion, eh?

60

Halfway Rock Light

Basically ditto the ledge lights above, but in 2017, the American Lighthouse Foundation gave Maine entrepreneur and preservationist Ford Reiche its Keeper of the Light award for buying and restoring the crumbling 1871 Casco Bay beacon. Bravo to Reiche, who chronicled his efforts in a book and at halfwayrock.com.

59–58

The Lesser Sparkplugs: Lubec Channel Light, Goose Rocks Light

Sparkplug lighthouses are the pugs of the lighthouse world: odd, stubby, kind of ugly-cute. They’re also known as caisson lights, for the watertight, offshore retaining structures they sit atop, usually cast-iron and filled with concrete. Of Maine’s three sparkplugs (there are only 33 nationwide), these two have more workmanlike exteriors, but Goose Rocks Light is cushy inside, and the nonprofit organization that owns it, Beacon Preservation, allows some donors to stay overnight.

57–56

The Lesser Parrises: Libby Island Light, Mount Desert Light

Architect and one-time Portlander Alexander Parris built six lighthouses in Maine between 1839 and 1850, and while his granite cylinders aren’t stunners, three of them made the Top 20 portion of this list. These two (along with Saddleback Ledge Light, above) are mostly neat for their way-out, weatherbeaten locations. Back in the day, Libby Island’s keeper had to travel 10 nautical miles for supplies, in Machias. The keeper at Mount Desert Light, meanwhile, lived some 20 nautical miles from MDI, on tiny Mount Desert Rock, which storm waves periodically submerge.

55

Pond Island Light

Guarding Milbridge’s Narraguagus Bay, it’s sometimes called Narraguagus Light, to prevent confusion with a Pond Island Light off Popham (below). One of 15 lighthouses in Maine privately owned by individuals, its white granite tower is pretty, but really only viewable if you have a boat.

Squirrel Point Light
Size doesn’t matter: the tower of Arrowsic’s lovely Squirrel Point Light, #48, is a just-right 25 feet tall. Photographed by Benjamin Williamson.

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The Sub-25ers: Doubling Point Light, Pond Island Light, Perkins Island Light, Blue Hill Bay Light, Goat Island Light, Browns Head Light, Squirrel Point Light

Let’s hear it for the little guys! All these towers are 25 feet tall or teensier — and cute as a button. Historical aside: Goat Island Light, off Cape Porpoise, was Maine’s last (and the country’s second-to-last) lighthouse to be automated, in 1990. Keepers still live on the island, and the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust can provide info about tours.

Goat Island Light, #50, may be small, but the surrounding views of ocean and sky are immense. Photographed by Benjamin Williamson.

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The Little White Lights: Ram Island Light, Franklin Island Light, Little River Light, Tenants Harbor Light

Four unassuming, white-brick island towers that admirers can see from the mainland. Tenants Harbor Light has the celebrity, as it’s in paintings by both Andrew Wyeth and Jamie Wyeth, who now owns it. Little River Light is the best of the bunch, though, since you can sleep in it — the Friends of Little River Lighthouse run it as a cozy inn.

Marking the entrance to Boothbay Harbor is Ram Island Light, #47. Photographed by Benjamin Williamson.

43

Dice Head Light

A comeback story: Dice Head Light, at the tip of the Castine peninsula, was decommissioned in 1937, and a light was placed instead on steel scaffolding nearby. After a storm took that out in 2007, locals petitioned the Coast Guard to reactivate the old lighthouse, and it’s now relit, after seven decades of darkness.

42

Whitlocks Mill Light

With a 25-foot tower, this Calais beacon, owned by the St. Croix Historical Society, could join the little guys above, but it’s our northernmost light station, which counts for something. Before 1910, “Whitlocks Mill Light” referred to a lantern the local mill owner hung from a tree.

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The Acadia Also-Rans: Baker Island Light, Bear Island Light, Winter Harbor Light Station, Great Duck Island Light, Prospect Harbor Point Light

A few Acadia icons get their due on the pages to come — these harder-to-glimpse fellas are all on islands around MDI and the Schoodic Peninsula, except for Prospect Harbor Light, a recreational asset for U.S. Navy personnel. Not in the navy? You can only admire it from the water or across the harbor.

Nash Island Light
The square brick tower of Addison’s Nash Island Light replaced a round wooden one back when right angles were (for some reason) all the rage. See #36–28. Photographed by Mark Bilak.

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The Squares: Burnt Coat Harbor Light, Two Bush Island Light, Crotch Island Light, Indian Island Light, Grindle Point Light, Nash Island Light, Hendricks Head Light, Fort Point Light, Rockland Harbor Breakwater Light

We’re suckers for a square lighthouse. What these nine lights have in common — beside four-sided towers — is that most were built in the early 1870s. Squareness confers no particular advantage, says American Lighthouse Foundation director Bob Trapani Jr. — this was simply an era when it was in style. Fort Point and Hendricks Head lights are easiest to lay eyes on, the former on the mainland, in a tiny state park, and the latter road-accessible on Southport Island. Both cut a similar profile: black-topped towers next to keepers’ houses with striking red roofs. If you’ve ever strolled the Rockland Harbor Breakwater, its lighthouse may not seem at a glance like it belongs in this company, but it’s a square tower with an engine room wrapped around it. A similarly distinctive light gets a nod farther down the list.

Rockland Harbor Breakwater Light
Dramatic when it’s submerged, the Rockland Breakwater is (in better weather) a pedestrian-friendly, less-than-a-mile approach to lighthouse #28. Photographed by Benjamin Williamson.

27

Moose Peak Light

Some 60 feet tall and weathered, on Jonesport’s wild Mistake Island, this light overlooks a stretch of coast with a reputation as Maine’s foggiest, and you can hike a boardwalk trail across the island to reach it — if you have a boat to get there.

26

Heron Neck Light

Hugging tawny cliffs on Green’s Island, southwest of Vinalhaven, Heron Neck Light helped kick off the modern era of lighthouse preservation. After a fire gutted the keeper’s house in 1989, the Coast Guard (which owned Heron Neck and most active lights) proposed tearing it down. Preservationists, led by Rockland’s Island Institute, objected, arguing that ownership (and upkeep) could shift to a community group, local government, or individual, while the Guard stayed responsible only for operating the beacon and foghorn. The arrangement at Heron Neck gave rise to the Maine Lights Program, under which the Coast Guard relinquished ownership of some two dozen Maine lighthouses, and the program became a model for the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, passed in 2000.

25

Machias Seal Island Light

With its cool scarlet dome and 60-foot octagonal tower, this one has real curb appeal. But is it even a Maine lighthouse? Some 10 miles off the Bold Coast, the island is the object of the nation’s oldest territorial dispute — the Canadians claim it, and not only did they build the original light, in 1832, but the Canadian Coast Guard still staffs it (only “for sovereignty purposes,” as the light is automated). We’d rank this higher if we knew where its loyalties lie.

24

Eagle Island Light

A pretty-enough light between North Haven and Deer Isle, and with a story we love. When the light was automated in 1959, the Coast Guard burned the keeper’s quarters and tried to remove the 2-ton fog bell. But the crew lost control, the tale goes, and watched the bell crash down an 80-foot cliff into the ocean. Years later, a lobsterman spotted the bell during a super-low tide. He and some pals wrapped a chain around it and dragged it by lobsterboat to neighboring Great Spruce Head Island, then hauled it ashore. It’s there today, on the estate of the Porter family that has long owned the island (and includes artist Fairfield Porter and photographer Eliot Porter, who made the island quasi-famous in his 1960s photography books).

23

Pumpkin Island Light

Points for being the cutest little island on Eggemoggin Reach. The light guided commercial ships and pleasure boats from 1855 until 1933, but it’s been decommissioned and in private hands since. There’s a fishing pier with a good sightline just across the water, on the northwest end of Little Deer Isle, but the best view is from a boat.

Where in Maine
Wood Island Light, #22, watches over an island with some grim stories. Photographed by Benjamin Williamson.

22

Wood Island Light

Deer are known to swim out to Wood Island, a half-mile off the coast of Biddeford Pool, which is where visitors hop a boat for tours offered in summer by Friends of Wood Island Lighthouse. The group is currently restoring the 44-foot, white rubblestone tower. It’s the ghosts that sell the place, though — Wood Island is alleged to have a few, including the spirit of an itinerant fisherman who fatally shot a local sheriff, then himself, in 1896.

Burnt Island Light
Boothbay’s Burnt Island Light, #21, has long attracted day-trippers, to the dismay of some 19th-century keepers. Photographed by Benjamin Williamson.

21

Burnt Island Light

The second-oldest lighthouse tower in Maine, Burnt Island Light stands stoic against some awesome exposed bedrock at the entrance to Boothbay Harbor. Old-school to its core, it didn’t transition from kerosene to electricity unti 1962 or automate until 1988. The state owns it now, and the Keepers of Burnt Island Light offer living history tours, complete with costumed docents, in July and August.

20

Cape Elizabeth Lights

A package deal: one entry, technically two lights. Visit Two Lights State Park to see Maine’s first twin lighthouses, originally erected in 1828, though today’s white and stately towers are replacements built in 1874. Only the eastern tower is still lit; its western counterpart became a private residence in 1924. Edward Hopper painted the eastern tower in 1929, a famous work that now hangs at the Met in New York.

19

Petit Manan Light

What locals call ’Tit Manan (or even more colloquially, the ’tit) is as unapproachable as a prom queen, on its own island 2½ miles from the peninsulas of Steuben, within the Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge (in season, it’s surrounded by seabirds). At 123 feet, it’s Maine’s second tallest light and has long been off-limits to the public. It’s best viewed on boat tours from Bar Harbor or Milbridge or (for hikers) from atop Steuben’s Pigeon Hill.

18

Whitehead Light

The gray granite tower is a bit drab (Alexander Parris designed it), but this little light on Muscle Ridge Channel, off the midcoast’s St. George Peninsula, is the domain of a nonprofit that hosts adult enrichment programs in the keeper’s house — knitting retreats to home-brewing seminars. There’s some interesting history — keepers used an ingenious tide-powered fog bell here in 1840 — but mostly, it’s a testament to the role a decommissioned lighthouse can play in the 21st century: one part beacon, one part community center.

The surroundings are as or more dramatic than the tower of Monhegan Island Light, #17. Photographed by Benjamin Williamson.

17

Monhegan Island Light

Some 10 miles off the midcoast, this granite cylinder (another Parris) marks the crown of Monhegan Island. It’s the rare light where the views from it — of the harbor and adjacent Manana Island — are more breathtaking than the views of it. The former keeper’s house and outbuildings house the Monhegan Museum of Art & History, one of Maine’s best small museums.

16

Isle au Haut Light

This 40-foot brick-and-granite tower in Penobscot Bay is, at 112 years old, one of Maine’s youngest lighthouses. The town took it over from the Coast Guard in 1998, and a nonprofit is working to raise $350,000 to restore it and open it to the public. For now, the best way to see it is from the mailboat-cum-ferry that leaves from Stonington. The 4-bedroom keeper’s house, an inn since 1986, is on the market for $1.9 million — lighthouse not included.

15

Seguin Light

Arguably Maine’s best lighthouse day trip. A ferry runs two to four days a week from late May through September (a half-hour ride), and Friends of Seguin Island hosts visitors who want to hike the hilly island’s trails and admire the 19th-century tramway and 53-foot tower, which dates to 1857 and still has its original lens (a first-order Fresnel — the most powerful). Members of the Friends group can even camp or stay overnight in the keeper’s quarters.

Egg Rock Light
In 1976, the Coast Guard replaced Egg Rock’s lantern with huge floodlights called aerobeacons. It was so ugly that #14 got its lantern back 10 years later. Photographed by Mark Bilak.

14

Egg Rock Light

It’s been called “Maine’s ugliest lighthouse,” but we love this squat, weird little structure on an island in Frenchman Bay, east of MDI. The square tower was built in 1875 at the center of a single-story keeper’s house. The second story and its eye-catching dormered roof came later. Legend has it that publisher and rusticator Joseph Pulitzer so hated its foghorn — which penetrated the three-story, otherwise soundproof wing of his Bar Harbor estate, nicknamed the “Tower of Silence” — that he lobbied the feds to silence it, and they eventually pointed it away from town. Easily viewed from Acadia’s high points or on an MDI boat tour.

Owls Head Light
Owls Head Light has only a 30-foot tower, but our #13 pick sits atop a high promontory. Photographed by Dominic Trapani.

13

Owls Head Light

Short and stout atop a whaleback hill 80 feet above Penobscot Bay, Owls Head Light looks stunning from the water, offers a sweet view of the bay if you climb the stairs to reach it, and is super accessible — it’s part of a fee-free state park, and volunteers lead tours in summer. The American Lighthouse Foundation has tour info online and runs an interpretive center in the keeper’s house.

South Portland Breakwater Light, Bug Light
Bug Light, #12, was built to resemble the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, a stone pillar in Athens, Greece, built in 334 BCE. Photographed by Benjamin Williamson.

12

South Portland Breakwater Light

Like most Portlanders, you may know this little beauty as Bug Light, nicknamed for its petite stature (the tower’s just 24 feet tall). It was built of wood in 1855 and replaced in 1875 by the current cast-iron, Greek Revival edition, possibly designed by Thomas U. Walter, who also worked on the U.S. Capitol. Owned by the City of South Portland, Bug Light has a ceremonial feel and great skyline views, a perfect backdrop to picnicking, kite-flying, and outdoor summer movies in Bug Light Park.

The vibrant red roofs at the Cuckolds Light, #11, seem to emphasize the starkness of the surrounding rocks. Photographed by Benjamin WIlliamson.

11

The Cuckolds Light

A pair of islets south of Southport Island that seem barely to crest the surface, the Cuckolds were the bane of mariners entering Boothbay Harbor before the light station was built in 1892. Viewed from Cape Newagen, at the tip of Southport, it cuts a neat profile against the horizon, the 48-foot tower rising up from the fog-signal building, and the unique conical roof adds character. After the Coast Guard gave up the property in the mid-2000s, a nonprofit org made extensive renovations and, in 2014, opened the swank Inn at Cuckolds Lighthouse, now a mainstay on luxe-lodging Best Of lists.

Matinicus Rock Light
Photographed by Dominic Trapani.

10

MATINICUS ROCK LIGHT

Two stone beacons loom over Matinicus Rock, a treeless slab of granite 18 miles offshore, and one of them, designed by Alexander Parris, is still functional. Keepers used to call this posting “Alcatraz,” and the hardscrabble setting produced a bona fide 19th-century hero in Abbie Burgess. She was a teenager when a storm stranded her dad, the keeper, in Rockland. As swells swept the island, Burgess evacuated her siblings, her unwell mother, and the family’s chickens to the north tower, then maintained the lights through weeks of heavy seas. Burgess’s story inspired two children’s books, Keep the Lights Burning and Abbie and Abbie Against the Storm. Sightseers these days come for the puffin colonies.

Spring Point Ledge Light
Photographed by Benjamin Williamson.

9

SPRING POINT LEDGE LIGHT

Sparkplug lighthouses tend to have a cast-iron, utilitarian-looking exterior, and most are offshore. Not South Portland’s postcard-pretty light: it’s the country’s only caisson-style light that visitors can walk to, along a 900-foot breakwater, and its white-brick tower has a weathered elegance. Volunteers from Spring Point Ledge Light Trust offer tours a few times a week in summer, and period furnishings inside give a feel for what keepers’ days were like back when they had to row ashore. They were glad for the 1951 breakwater, and so are we — it’s hard to beat the view of the lighthouse, Fort Gorges, the Casco Bay islands, and the occasional sailboat cruising by.

Marshall Point Light
Photographed by Dominic Trapani.

8

MARSHALL POINT LIGHT

It’s not Maine’s only light with a long wooden runway, but it’s the most recognizable, and the ends-of-the-earth feel is why Forrest Gump location scouts tagged it in the early ’90s as the eastern terminus of Tom Hanks’s cross-country run. But while Gump pauses for a fraction of a second at the tower before turning to run back, we suggest trotting over to the keeper’s house, where an impressive little museum explores the lineage of lighthouses at Marshall Point (the current one dates to 1858), as well as the lobstering and quarrying heydays of Port Clyde. One of Maine’s most popular photo-ops and a neat history lesson besides.

Bass Harbor Head Light
Photographed by Darylann Leonard.

7

BASS HARBOR HEAD LIGHT

Bass Harbor Head Light is to Acadia National Park what Old Faithful is to Yellowstone or El Capitan is to Yosemite: a single, stirring feature that encapsulates what the park exists to celebrate and protect. In Acadia’s case, that’s a craggy coastal landscape that somehow feels enhanced rather than diminished by its conspicuous human footprint — where a white-brick, 32-foot tower atop a pink-granite cliff stands as a salute and not a rebuke to the formiddable power of ocean and rock. The light was built in 1858, decades before the park’s designation, to signal the entrance to the harbor at MDI’s southern tip. For the hundreds of thousands who clamber onto the rocks to photograph it each year, it is no less a guiding light.

Curtis Island Light
Photographed by Mark Fleming.

6

CURTIS ISLAND LIGHT

It’s been called the “jewel of the Penobscot,” but you’re not likely to find Curtis Island Light on many Maine T-shirts or souvenir mugs. The dramatic contrast of the white buildings and their red-shingled roofs, together with the Camden Hills backdrop, makes for quite a tableau, but Curtis Island, a public park owned by the town, flies a bit under the radar. That it’s accessible only by private watercraft is part of its charm. Generations of locals have crossed Camden Harbor by dinghy, kayak, paddleboard — you name it — to play on the giant swing along the main path or picnic on the lawn overlooking the bay.

Portland Head Light
Photographed by Benjamin Williamson.

5

PORTLAND HEAD LIGHT

It’s the lighthouse that launched thousands of screensavers and Instagram posts (yes, we see your Twitter header, Anna Kendrick). But New England’s most photographed light station isn’t just a pretty face — it has history as colorful as the roof on its keeper’s quarters. The state’s oldest lighthouse and the first in the country built by the federal government, it was dedicated in 1791 by the Marquis de Lafayette, the Revolutionary War hero. One 19th-century keeper, Captain Joshua Freeman, augmented his government income by selling rum to visitors for three cents a glass. A few decades later, Captain Joshua Strout and his wife, Mary, entertained poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, whose “The Lighthouse” was likely inspired by Portland Head. On Christmas Eve 1886, the family famously rescued the crew of the Annie C. Maguire after the clipper ship hit a ledge, using strips of kerosene-soaked blankets as torches and laying a ladder across boulders to form a bridge. In 1912, the Strouts’ grandson, John, painted a memorial to the wreck on a rock in front of the lighthouse, which you can admire if you visit Cape Elizabeth’s Fort Williams Park — though you can see the 80-foot tower from all over Casco Bay, and there seems to be no bad angle for a photo.

Cape Neddick Light
Photographed by Jack Milton.

4

CAPE NEDDICK LIGHT

Stark-white Nubble Light, as it’s known, stands on a rocky knob just off York’s shore. The islet is thinly blanketed with deep-green grass, and a picket fence wraps around the red-roofed keeper’s house, which is modest except for its steep gables trimmed in lace. Is this Maine’s most romantic lighthouse? Whenever we visit, we imagine living there, though the closest we can get is Sohier Park, a few hundred feet away, on the mainland, where scores of other would-be keepers gather to admire the 41-foot tower. Sure, the park can get crowded, and sometimes we have to wait for a parking space, but Nubble’s popularity is a testament to the outstanding job the town of York has done maintaining the 140-year-old landmark. As for our frustrated yearnings, they’re nothing compared to what extraterrestrials will feel when the interstellar Voyager II spacecraft someday crashes on their planet. In its hold, they’ll find a disc containing digitized images meant to convey the human story on Earth. Among them, shots of architectural marvels including the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, and Nubble Light.

West Quoddy Head Light
Photographed by Benjamin Williamson.

3

WEST QUODDY HEAD LIGHT

So many of Maine’s lighthouses are trumpets; Lubec’s instantly recognizable West Quoddy Head Light is a piccolo. The candy-striped tower marks the easternmost point on the U.S. mainland, and it’s the third to stand in this spot. The first two, built in 1808 and 1831, were white and tough to see in the famously thick Down East fog. Whoever thought to paint stripes on the 1858 tower has the gratitude of generations of mariners, along with those in the Maine tourism, greeting card, and calendar trades. The near-constant fog meant keepers and their families spent a lot of time shouting to be heard over a foghorn. In 1987, a year before the light was automated, the wife of West Quoddy Head’s final keeper told the L.A. Times she’d grown used to it. “Funny thing,” she said, “if the foghorn is blasting during the night and it suddenly stops, we automatically wake up with the silence.”

Boon Island Light
Photographed by Frederick Bloy.

2

BOON ISLAND LIGHT

Boon Island Light doesn’t get much love from the Maine souvenir industrial complex, as the granite tower is rather austere and — more than 6 miles offshore on a soil-free, storm-battered pile of rocks — more frequently visited by seals than by humans. But it’s a whale of a lighthouse, New England’s tallest, at 133 feet, and a reminder of both the intense isolation keepers once endured and the gruesome tragedies lighthouses were built to stave off. Even 19th-century poet Celia Thaxter, who lived on the similarly raw and remote Isles of Shoals, to the southwest, couldn’t get down with Boon Island, which she called, “the forlornest place that can be imagined. The Isles of Shoals, barren as they are, seem like gardens of Eden in comparison.” The island’s first recorded disaster was in 1682, a wreck that left four men marooned for a month, eating fish and seabirds’ eggs, before someone on the mainland saw their smoke signals. The most famous wreck was in 1710, and it made the era’s scandal sheets when 10 rescued seamen admitted to eating a dead shipmate during three weeks on the island. Storms wreaked havoc on the first two attempts at a Boon Island lighthouse, in the early 1800s. The current imposing structure went up in 1854, tall enough that beachgoers can see it from York’s Long Sands Beach (a few boat tours bring sightseers as well). Majesty, nature’s fury, cannibalism — Boon Island Light has it all, even if it doesn’t make the postcards.

Pemaquid Point Light
Photographed by Benjamin Williamson.

1

PEMAQUID POINT LIGHT

Legend has it that if you drink from the puddle in the foreground, your hands will turn into lobster claws and your pupils into two tiny whoopie pies — that’s how classically Maine is this scene from Pemaquid Point, in Bristol. Mainers acknowledged as much in 2002, when they voted to put Pemaquid Point Light on the U.S. Mint’s Maine state quarter. They picked this 1835 landmark (it replaced a shoddily built tower from 1827) over West Quoddy Head Light, Katahdin, and the sunrise itself. So what’s so magical about this midcoast spot? The wave-sculpted ledges half-surrounding the tower are almost hypnotic to stare at and fun to clamber on. The scatter of historic structures — including an oil house and a bell house — are well maintained, and the keeper’s house hosts the fascinating little Fishermen’s Museum. A $3 entry fee, paid to the town of Bristol, covers the museum, plus an art gallery and picnic grounds, and visitors can stroll right up the spiral staircase to the lamp room of the 38-foot tower, where they can check out the original lens, still in use, and take in the endless, exhilarating view of the Atlantic that’s shared by every Maine lighthouse — and by every Mainer.