|Pemaquid Point, ME|
Description: Pemaquid Point Lighthouse is the only place in the United States where you can tour Maine’s first land-based lighthouse opened to the public, get married, spend your honeymoon, and pay for it all using the only U.S. money ever to bear the image of a lighthouse—Maine’s official quarter featuring Pemaquid Point Light.
This picturesque light has attracted many, including Edward Hopper, who captured its image in his 1929 watercolor, “Pemaquid Light.” Today, Pemaquid Point is one of New England’s most visited and photographed lighthouses, drawing over 100,000 visitors annually.
When Bartholomew Gosnold sailed to Pemaquid in 1602, the area was already a port of call for French, Portuguese, Spanish and English fishermen and the occasional coastal trader. Still, it was bit surprising to see Native Americans in western garb board the Dartsmouth and greeted Gosnold in English.
After the region had been settled for over two centuries, an act dated May 18,1826 finally provided $4,000 for the construction of a rubblestone lighthouse and a twenty by thirty-four-foot keeper’s house, with an attached 10 x 12-foot kitchen at Pemaquid Point. The light station’s plot was purchased for $90 from Samuel and Sarah Martin, descendants of survivors of the Angel Gabriel shipwreck. Jeremiah Berry of Thomaston built the structures, which ended up costing $3,503, and Pemaquid’s fixed white light went into service on November 29, 1827.
Although Stephen Pleasonton, the Treasury auditor in charge of lighthouses, recommended Esais Preble to be Pemaquid Point’s first keeper, the honor went to forty-year-old Isaac Dunham of Bath, Maine. Dunham had served as a privateer in the War of 1812, then moved to Maine and turned to farming before becoming a lighthouse keeper at $350 per year.
A scant eight years after Pemaquid Lighthouse was built, a replacement tower was required. To avoid past mistakes, the contract specified that the mortar was “never to have been wet with salt water.” Joseph Berry of Georgetown, nephew of the original builder, received the contract for the conical granite tower. The need for the accompanying lighting apparatus was advertised in March 1835, and Winslow Lewis was awarded a contract to supply eight oil lamps and fourteen-inch reflectors.
This second tower, the one that survives today, measures thirty feet to the lantern deck, is sixteen feet in diameter at the base, and ten feet in diameter at the top. The original interior stairway was of “good sound hard pine,” and an octagonal, domed iron lantern capped the tower. Keeper Dunham oversaw the job and certified that “a Better Tower and Lantern never was Built in this State. Also the Lamps reflectors and apparatus is according to Contract.”
Isaac Dunham, his wife and five children were joined in February 1831 by a baby boy, whom they named Benjamin Franklin Dunham. When Keeper Dunham’s father, Capt. Cornelius Dunham, passed away while at the station in July 1835 he was buried in a small cemetery near the light.
Dunham patented a system for keeping lamp oil from congealing in winter. Although Congress ordered the Treasury to adopt Dunham’s invention in 1837, it is not known to what extent it was used.
When Nathaniel Gamage Jr. took over after Dunham in 1837, Dunham requested and received $1,100 from Gamage for outbuildings he’d built at the station. When four years later a political appointment saw Gamage replaced by Jeremiah S. Mears, Keeper Gamage also asked to be paid for the buildings, but received only a little money from Mears.
The normally critical lighthouse inspector I.W.P. Lewis praised the tower at Pemaquid Point during his 1842 inspection, calling the “general state of the tower good,” even though it leaked during storms and had eleven broken panes of glass in its lantern.
The keeper after Mears was Joseph Lawler, whose wife, Sophronia, gave birth to a baby girl at the light in 1868. The next keeper was Marcus H. Hanna, son of James and Eliza Hanna who kept Franklin Island Lighthouse. After four years at Pemaquid Point, Hanna used his influence as a Republican and veteran of the Civil War to persuade President Grant to transfer him to Two Lights at Cape Elizabeth, Maine. His arrival was not well received by James Mariner, the keeper already in place there. On March 3, 1873, Mariner wrote in the station’s logbook: “Mr. Hanna from Pemaquid Light Station will take my place but not with my consent. I am no longer a Republican.”
By the late 1800s, Pemaquid Point was a desirable location for families, as it was easily accessible by land and allowed a keeper to raise animals and crops. Pemaquid Point was not, however, easy to reach by water. Lighthouse tenders were forced to anchor offshore and lighter supplies to the station, making it an unpopular destination for the tender crews.
William L. Sartell remained at Pemaquid Point from 1873 to 1883, and he was followed by Charles A. Dolliver (1883-99). After his stint at Cuckolds Fog Signal Station as assistant keeper, Clarence Marr transferred to Pemaquid Point Lighthouse as head keeper in 1899. When Marr retired in 1922, the Kennebec Journal wrote:
Captain Marr is one the most widely-known lighthouse men on the Maine coast.... As an expression of their feelings of appreciation toward Captain and Mrs. Marr for the many acts of kindness conferred and of regret at their retirement and departure, the summer visitors here have presented to the retiring keeper and his wife a purse of money and a souvenir book, bound in fine leather and containing an appropriate letter and the signatures of the donors.
In 1889, the site was surveyed, and the station’s boundaries were properly marked in 1891—the station’s property turned out to be larger than had been thought. In 1897, a brick bell house was built for duplicate oil-burning steam engines that rung a new fog bell, substituted for the old hand bell. This method for tolling the bell was apparently problematic, as it was replaced two years later by a weight-powered Stevens striking mechanism. A wooden pyramidal tower was built next to the bell house for the weights.
After Marr’s retirement, Herbert Robinson became keeper. Next came Leroy S. Elwell, who was commended for his heroism by the Secretary of Commerce for his rescue of three people from a capsized sailboat on August 6, 1930.
In 1934, Pemaquid Point Light was one of the first in Maine to convert to automatic acetylene gas operation. The Coast Guard removed the station’s fog bell removed in 1937, but a smaller bell is now suspended from the seaward face of the bell house.
In March 1940, Bristol residents voted to purchase the lighthouse property, minus the tower, which was to remain with the Coast Guard. The town paid $1,639 to the government over a period of four years and renamed the site Bristol’s Lighthouse Park. The Pemaquid Group of Artists added an art gallery to the park in 1960, and the keeper’s house opened as The Fishermen’s Museum in 1972. In May 2000, the Coast Guard licensed the tower to the American Lighthouse Foundation, much to the chagrin of locals who didn’t want outsiders running their lighthouse.
Pemaquid Light’s tower now gleams in the sun following extensive restoration, confirming Keeper Dunham’s estimation that the tower was finely crafted. While restoring the exterior of the tower in 2007, masons discovered a forgotten, filled-in window on the east, ocean-facing side of the tower. The masons drew attention to the fact that the granite work closing the window was of poorer quality than the original structure and placed it as later work. Documents detailing exactly when and why the window was removed have yet to be found. Although the window was covered over again, its existence has been well documented in photographs. The tower’s interior brick veneer, which was added along with the cast-iron staircase during the mid-to-late 19th century, was restored in 2010.
Restoration funds were donated by Lowe’s Companies, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and private persons through the efforts of the American Lighthouse Foundation.
Located at the southern end of the finger of land separating Johns Bay and
Muscongus Bay. The Coast Guard has leased Pemaquid Point Lighthouse to the
American Lighthouse Foundation, and the
tower is opened to visitors by the Friends of Pemaquid Lighthouse, a chapter of the foundation. The keeper's dwelling is home to The Fishermen's Museum, which has the Fresnel lens from Maine's Baker Island Lighthouse on display. Both the tower and museum are typically open daily from mid-May through Columbus Day. A one-bedroom apartment in the keeper’s house is available for weekly rental through Newcastle Square Vacation Rentals.
The Coast Guard has leased Pemaquid Point Lighthouse to the American Lighthouse Foundation, and the tower is opened to visitors by the Friends of Pemaquid Lighthouse, a chapter of the foundation. The keeper's dwelling is home to The Fishermen's Museum, which has the Fresnel lens from Maine's Baker Island Lighthouse on display. Both the tower and museum are typically open daily from mid-May through Columbus Day. A one-bedroom apartment in the keeper’s house is available for weekly rental through Newcastle Square Vacation Rentals.
Notes from a friend:Kraig writes:
It might not be immediately obvious, but the lighthouse on Maine's commemorative state quarter is the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse. Also included on the quarter is Maine's state tree, the White Pine, and the three-masted schooner Victory Chimes. With accommodations for forty guests, the Victory Chimes is the largest passenger sailing vessel under the US flag.
See our List of Lighthouses in Maine
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.