Last weekend we headed north from Kennebunkport to Freeport for our final week in Maine. Along the way we decided to take ourselves on a mini lighthouse tour. Because with over 60 lighthouses spread up and down the jagged coastline, inlets, and islands that’s what you do in Maine.
Our first stop was one of Maine’s oldest lighthouse — the Portland Head Light. We pulled into Fort Williams Park and maneuvered our way around throngs of people and through several crowded parking lots in search of a spot to park our 45 feet of truck + trailer. We ended up in a small pull through area next to a sign that said “bus parking only.” Tim seemed unconcerned, but I was sure we were going to get some kind of hefty ticket. That is until another trailer parked behind us, and then the bus showed and had more than enough room to park as well. Still…I probably would not recommend trying to park an RV here on a busy summer weekend.
We walked around the lighthouse and poked our heads inside the museum and gift shop, both of which were jammed with people. They don’t do tours here, but from our vantage point on the rocks we could see the rotating beacon shinning from inside the lighthouse. Located on a spit of land marking the entrance to Portland Harbor, this lighthouse is as important to ships today as it was when it was built back in 1781.
Off in the distance we spotted our second lighthouse of the day, the Ram Ledge Lighthouse (not to be confused with the Ram Island Lighthouse in Boothbay). Roughly half of the lighthouses in Maine are like this one and only accessible by boat. Some, like the Seguim Island lighthouse that we kayaked out to, are only a few miles off shore, while others are so far out that nearly no one visits them. And then there are island lighthouses like this one that are easily visible from land, yet are not open to the public.
This historic structure that dates back to 1905, was recently sold at auction to a private citizen. The man (a surgeon from Windham) purchased the lighthouse for a little under $200,000. And while he claims his only motivation was historic preservation, you know he really just wanted the bragging rights of owning both an island and a lighthouse.
We probably could have spent the rest of the day wandering around the trails in Fort Williams park, but we had more lighthouses to see. Next up — the Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse. We left the Airstream behind in our semi-legal parking spot and hopped on our bikes for an easy 2-ish mile ride over to the campus of Southern Maine Community College where the lighthouse resides at the end of a granite breakwater.
The Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse dates back to 1897 and was constructed to warm ships of a dangerous ledge that extends out into the main shipping channel of Portland Harbor. This Caisson, or Sparkplug, style lighthouse contains a three story living area with a cellar below and a watch room with the lantern at the top. We opted to skip the tour, although now that I’ve read more about it I kind of want to see the inside. Darn!
From the end of the breakwater we had a great view not only of the harbor beyond, but also of two old stone forts. The first was Fort Gorges. This granite structure was completed in 1865, just in time for the end of the Civil War. Although the fort never saw any action, it was used during WW II to store submarine mines. Today the fort is open to the public, although there is no ferry service so you are on your own as far as getting there. It sounds like a pretty easy place to paddle out to from East End Beach. Maybe next time we’re in the area we’ll give it a shot.
The second is Fort Scammel. Built in 1808, and then added onto and fortified for years after, this fort holds the distinction of being the only fort in Cacso Bay that was ever fired upon. The incident occurred in 1813, and a far as I can find was not part of any major battles. Fort Scammel is located on House Island and is only open to tours upon request.
Finally we come to our last lighthouse of the day. Another easy bike ride through a marina and down a residential street led us to the Portland Breakwater Lighthouse — better known as the Bug Light.
This elegant looking 30-foot tall lighthouse was first built as a wooden structure in 1855, and then rebuilt in its current form 20 years later. The new lighthouse design was inspired by an ancient Geek Monument with curved cast-iron plates whose seams are disguised by six decorative Corinthian columns.
From the Big Light we enjoyed a fantastic view of downtown Portland
So there you have it. We visited four lighthouses in one day, bringing our Maine lighthouse tally up to seven. Seven out of 61 isn’t bad right?