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 Pond Island, ME    
Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.Lighthouse appeared in movie.
Description: Ten-acre Pond Island is located on the western side of the entrance to the Kennebec River. On the ocean side of the island, cliffs rise precipitously to a height of sixty feet or more, but the island tapers down to the west, where in calm seas it is possible to make a landing.

Pond Island Lighthouse circa 1885
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
On March 31, 1821, Congress appropriated $10,500 for the construction of three lighthouses in Maine: on Cross Island near Machias, on Burnt Island near Boothbay Harbor, and on Pond Island at the mouth of the Kennebec River. The first Pond Island Lighthouse was a conical stone tower, likely similar to the Burnt Island Lighthouse that was constructed at the same time and remains today as the second oldest lighthouse in Maine. A light on Seguin Island, situated two miles farther offshore, had been constructed a quarter century earlier, but an additional beacon was needed to more adequately mark the mouth of the Kennebec River. The lights along the Kennebec River would not be erected until the end of the nineteenth century.

How Pond Island received its name is not known, but it is certainly not for any body of water found on the rocky mass. In 1823, Keeper S. L. Rogers petitioned the government for a well or cistern on the lighthouse: “I am the keeper of the Light House on Pond Island at the entrance to the Kennebec River and live on the same Island. I suffer great inconvenience on account of having no means to obtain fresh water but by transporting it from the mainland. It is usual I am told to have a well or Cistern on the Islands where Light Houses are placed.” The keeper’s plea produced the desired result as Stephen Pleasonton, overseer of the Lighthouse Establishment, directed that a cistern be built on the island if water could not be obtained by digging a well.

Water wasn’t the only resource lacking on Pond Island. In the 1880s, The New England Magazine was informed that the island provided sufficient pasturage for one cow, but upon closer observation, the magazine determined that the cow “must be content with two meals a day, or get an occasional donation from the meadows on the mainland.”

On more than one occasion, the keeper of the Pond Island Lighthouse solicited an increase in salary due to the isolated nature of his position. An official familiar with island lighthouses of Maine noted that although Pond Island offered no wood or cultivatable land, the keeper “has some advantage in entertaining the company that resort there in summer.” The keeper at Seguin Island did receive a $50 raise, but it was felt that the salary of the keeper at Pond Island could not be raised without raising the salaries of several other island lighthouse keepers.

Pond Island Lighthouse circa 1980
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
The present Pond Island Lighthouse, a twenty-foot-tall, brick tower, was built in 1855, at which time it was also outfitted with a fifth-order Fresnel lens. The cylindrical tower was attached to a one-and-a-half-story, wooden keeper’s dwelling by a work shed, and was similar in design to the Brown’s Head Lighthouse, which retains its dwelling today.

On September 8, 1869, a hurricane swept along the coast of Maine uprooting trees and causing a great deal of damage to various structures. A newspaper in Portland called it the severest storm to strike that city, and in Bath damages were estimated to be between $25,000 and $50,000 (in 1869 dollars). On Pond Island, the hurricane blew down the pyramidal fog-bell tower, damaging the striking machinery. Not surprisingly, the bell escaped uninjured. In 1890, a new 1,200-pound bronze bell was hung in place of the old steel bell that was badly corroded.

Besides the lighthouse, dwelling, and fog-bell tower, Pond Island was also equipped with a boathouse located on the shoreward side of the island. In 1885, a frame fuel-house was built on the island and a new wooden cistern with a capacity of about 1,000 gallons along with fourteen feet of rain pipes were supplied for the keeper’s dwelling. An oil house was added in 1905.

In the 1960s, the lighthouse was automated , and all of the station’s buildings save the brick tower were razed. Though many today consider this a tragic lost of historic structures, the removal of man’s footprint has allowed the island, which was transferred from the Coast Guard to the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1973, to be re-established as a tern colony. Pond Island was home to a tern colony up until 1937, when an expanding gull population forced the terns from the island. With help from the National Audubon Society, a tern restoration effort was initiated on the island in 1996, through the removal of nesting gulls. Tern decoys were then deployed around the island, and tape recordings of a tern colony were played to entice nesting pairs of terns to the island. These efforts were rewarded in 1999 when the first common tern chick in more than sixty years was hatched on the island. In 2003, the first successful breeding pair of endangered roseate terns was documented on the island. The success of the restoration effort has attracted the attention of predatory great horned owls, which have limited tern productivity in recent years.

References

  1. Annual Report of the Light House Board, various years.
  2. Maine Lighthouses: Documentation of Their Past, J. Candace Clifford and Mary Louise Clifford, 2005.
  3. U.S. Fish and Wildlife website.

Location: Located near the entrance to the Kennebec River, just off Popham Beach.
Latitude: 43.74
Longitude: -69.77029

For a larger map of Pond Island Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: This lighthouse is best viewed from the water, but a reasonable view of the lighthouse is possible from Popham Beach State Park. To reach Popham Beach, take Highway 209 south from Highway 1 in Bath and follow it for just under 16 miles to its end at Popham Beach. The lighthouse is visible on the island just offshore.

Public cruises that pass the lighthouse are offered by the Maine Maritime Museum and Long Reach Cruises out of Bath, and Cap'n Fish's out of Boothbay Harbor.

The island and lighthouse are owned by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and are part of the Pond Island National Wildlife Refuge. The island is managed by the Audubon Society. Grounds open September through March, tower closed.

Find the closest hotels to Pond Island Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
The Pond Island Lighthouse is another one of those lighthouses that has appeared in a movie. In "Message in a Bottle," the lighthouse can be seen in the background as Kevin Costner navigates a sailboat near the island. The house used in the movie is located in Popham Beach (Pond Island Lighthouse can also be seen in the background during shots at the house), and Shaw's Lobster Pound in charming New Harbor also appears in the film.

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