If this photo looks familiar to you, it is because you have seen it on Yankee Magazine’s cover as part of its “Best of New England” feature. This is the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse which has found its way on the Maine state quarter as well. The lighthouse itself is quite striking as a structure and has enough historical significance to fill a book but what draws people to drive long hours to spend a day exploring the grounds and the tower is the location. Pemaquid Point marks the entrance to Muscongus Bay on one side and to Johns Bay on the other. The rocky grounds provide the perfect backdrop for one of Maine’s most beautiful lighthouses.
If you visit the tower at Pemaquid Lighthouse, a guided tour is the best way to go. The fog bell on the lawn is a replica of the original, but gives a pretty good idea of navigational tools in those days. The way to the lantern room includes climbing steps, ladder steps and hauling yourself up through scuttles. When you are in the lantern room, you are advised not to touch the lens (the oil on the fingers creates a smudge on the lens, the smudge catches and concentrates the heat and that weakens the glass). Way back in the 1850’s, ship captains complained that American lighthouses were inferior to those in France and England and as a result, Fresnel lenses were installed all over the country shortly after. Pemaquid Point lighthouse got its first taste of the technologically advanced lens in 1857. The keeper’s house was rebuilt the same year and looked a lot like what we see today. Only the stone wall has been replaced by a picket fence.
In 1934, Pemaquid became the first automated lighthouse in Maine. In 1939, the US Coast Guard took ownership of the lighthouse, and in 1940, the town of Bristol purchased the park from the US Govt. The fog bell house and white triangular tower were torn apart by storms and hurricanes in 1991 but the structures were rebuilt the next year. In 2000, the American Lighthouse Foundation received a license to maintain the tower and in 2003, it was opened to the public by the Friends of Pemaquid Point Lighthouse. The exterior of the tower was fully restored in 2007 (using donation and a grant from Lowe’s) and the interior was restored last year using funds from a 2009 Federal Appropriation.
Unfortunately, lighthouses, gorgeous as they are, are often built in the wake of horrifying shipwrecks and as it happens, Pemaquid Light has a few stories to tell as well. In 1635, the “Angel Gabriel” fell prey to the rocky coastline and then in 1903, it was the “Edmund” and “Sadie and Lillie”. One ship, although wrecked did not have any fatalities, it was the “Willis and Guy” in 1917. But the story that is favored by visitors has nothing to do with wrecks, it is a heartwarming story about a baby whale rescue, A True Whale Tale.
If you are wondering how I got to know so much about the lighthouse in just one visit, you have Mr. Marty Welt, the President of the Friends of Pemaquid Point Lighthouse to thank for that.