10 of Maine's Most Interesting Lighthouses

Portland Head Light in background with ragged rocks along the shoreline
Portland Head Light has been illuminating Maine's coast since 1791.

Rapidfire / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Maine's craggy coastline and often foggy weather once made it one of the most dangerous places in the country for ships. Thankfully, modern technology has made navigation near the shore safer, and many of these historic lighthouses, now automated and outfitted with LED beacons, still help boats avoid the treacherous shoreline.

Maine has 65 lighthouses. Many date back to the 19th century, and some were commissioned before the United States was even formed. George Washington ordered the construction of one of the state's most iconic beacons, Portland Head Light, before he was officially elected president. The youngest lighthouse, meanwhile, is still over 100 years old. Each one has a unique history and its own seafaring story.

Here are 10 of Maine's most interesting lighthouses.

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Wood Island Lighthouse

Wood Island Lighthouse, Biddeford Maine

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The Wood Island Lighthouse sits along the Saco River just off the coast of Biddeford. The lighthouse, which is still active, is only accessible by boat. Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Wood Island Lighthouse in 1808, but its original tower was replaced in 1858 with one that is still standing. The staff quarters were built during that renovation project. Modern renovations made the lighthouse, which includes LED lights, fully automated.

The lighthouse is operated by the U.S. Coast Guard, but the nonprofit Friends of the Wood Island Light has helped to maintain and renovate the buildings on the island. Wood Island Lighthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places; it can be viewed from Biddeford Pool or on a seasonal tour.

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Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse

Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse, Maine

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Located in South Portland, the Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse was built in 1897. It marks a major obstacle, its namesake ledge, near the entrance to Portland Harbor. The beacon was constructed after many shipping companies complained that their vessels ran aground in the area because they could not see the ledge. In 1951, a massive 900-foot breakwater, made with granite boulders, was added in order to connect the lighthouse with solid land.

In addition to viewing the lighthouse, visitors also come to fish or picnic along the breakwater. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Spring Point Ledge is a destination for history enthusiasts who often combine the visit with a stop at nearby Fort Preble.

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Portland Head Light

Portland Head Light with snow-covered rocks

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The Portland Head Light on Cape Elizabeth is the oldest beacon in Maine. It was completed in 1791, four years after George Washington ordered it built. Despite being constructed from stones scrounged from neighboring fields, the lighthouse is one of the few 18th-century structures that has never been rebuilt. The tower, however, was raised eight feet during the Civil War to allow ships to spot the harbor more easily.

The former keeper's quarters houses the lighthouse's museum. Visitors can get a variety of views of this beautiful lighthouse from the picnic areas and trails of Fort Williams Park, where the lighthouse is located.

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Pemaquid Point Lighthouse

Pemiquid Point Lighthouse in background with green plants and pink flowers in foreground

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Located in Bristol, the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse is operated and maintained by the Bristol Parks and Recreation Department. The former keeper’s house includes a history museum on the ground floor and an apartment that is available for weekly rentals on the second floor. The light is actually still an active Coast Guard beacon, but visitors are allowed to tour the facility. 

Standing 38 feet in height, the tower is relatively short. However, its location on the high point of the Pemaquid Neck gives it a focal height (height above sea level) of almost 80 feet. The lighthouse is featured on the Maine state quarter, the first lighthouse displayed on U.S. currency.

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West Quoddy Head Lighthouse

West Quoddy Head Lighthouse with sun rising over the ocean

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The West Quoddy Head Lighthouse is easily recognized because of its candy-stripe paint scheme. Located in Lubec, the original lighthouse was commissioned by Thomas Jefferson in 1808. The current tower is from 1858. It sits inside Quoddy Head Park, a 550-acre coastal area with trails, a beach, and a cranberry bog. This is the easternmost point in the U.S. and, as such, is said to be the first place in the country to catch a glimpse of the sunrise.

Not only can visitors see the sun come up over the Atlantic, but during the summer, they may be able to spot whales, including humpbacks, as they migrate past Maine's coastline. Like many other light stations in Maine, the West Quoddy keeper's house is now a museum. The light was fully automated in 1988, much later than most of the other beacons in the state, which were automated by the 1960s.

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Cape Neddick Lighthouse

Cape Neddick Lighthouse with snow covering the base of the lighthouse and surrounding rocks

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Located in York, the Cape Neddick Lighthouse began operation in the 1870s. The beacon is actually located on a small landmass called Nubble Island, which is just offshore. Instead of its official name, the station is often referred to as the Nubble Light or, the Nubble.

Sailors first requested a lighthouse in the area, a busy shipping and shipbuilding hub, in the early 19th century. The government decided on beacons in other places but, eventually, ordered the lighthouse on Nubble in the 1870s after other efforts failed to curb the number of shipwrecks. The light was a popular tourist spot in its early days. Keepers would sometimes offer to row people from the mainland for a small fee. Though sightseers can easily view the lighthouse from the mainland, Nubble Island itself is closed to visitors. Great views of the lighthouse can be found at nearby Sohier Park.

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Whaleback Lighthouse

Whaleback Lighthouse

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The Whaleback Lighthouse is located in Kittery on the border of Maine and New Hampshire. The original beacon was constructed in the early 19th century, but it had to be renovated and rebuilt several times until its current incarnation was erected in the 1870s. The light was automated in the 1960s and now has an LED beacon. After discovering that the volume of the foghorn was causing structural damage to the lighthouse, the volume was lowered in 1991.

The lighthouse is offshore, so it cannot be directly accessed by the public. However, cruise ships pass within a short distance of the tower and sightseers can get good views from shore on both the Maine and New Hampshire sides of the Piscataqua River.

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Burnt Island Lighthouse

view of Burnt Island Lighthouse from the water

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The Burnt Island Lighthouse, located in Boothbay Harbor, is the second-oldest surviving lighthouse in Maine. Other beacon sites are older, but the original Burnt Island structure, built in 1821, is still standing. The keeper’s house, however, was rebuilt in 1857. When it was eventually automated in 1988, it was one of only 11 staffed lighthouses in the country.

A living history education program and seasonal tours are offered by the nonprofit group Keepers of the Burnt Island Light. To access the lighthouse, boaters can moor their vessels at a pier, and a local cruise company offers ferry service to the island.

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Whitlocks Mill Lighthouse

aerial view of Whitlock's Mill Lighthouse

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Whitlocks Mill, located in Calais, is the northernmost lighthouse in Maine. It was also the final beacon to be constructed in the state. Built on the St. Croix River, the light sits near the U.S.-Canada border. Unlike most lights, which guide oceangoing vessels, the Whitlocks Mill beacon marks a dangerous bend in the river. The original light was nothing more than a bright lantern hung in a tree by the mill owner, named Whitlock, at the request of the Coast Guard.

The current compound was built in 1910. The lighthouse is owned by the St. Croix Historical Society, and the light is operated by the Coast Guard. The keeper's house and other outbuildings are privately owned.

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Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

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Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is located in Tremont on Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park. Owned by the National Park Service, Bass Harbor Head was first lit in 1858. Visitors can get close to the tower via a path that runs next to the property. The trail also provides great views of the surrounding shoreline.

While the interior of the lighthouse is off-limits to the public, the light is visible 13 nautical miles out into the ocean.