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 Bass Harbor Head, ME    
Lighthouse accessible by car and a short, easy walk.Photogenic lighthouse or setting.Active Fresnel Lens
Description: In 1855, W.B. Franklin, the lighthouse inspector for Maine and New Hampshire, reported: "There is a very good harbor about four miles west of Mount Desert harbor, called Bass harbor. A light is necessary to assist vessels in entering it; and I recommend that $5,000 be appropriated for a light-house on Bass Harbor Head."
Aerial view of Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
Congress allocated $5,000 on August 18, 1856 for purchasing the necessary land and constructing Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. Two acres on the southwestern tip of Mount Desert Island were purchased for eighty dollars, but before the Attorney General approved the title, it was too late for work to begin in 1857.

Construction of the lighthouse was carried out in 1858, and afterward the remaining amount of $16.65 was returned to the surplus fund. On September 1, 1858, John Thurston climbed the stairs in the tower, lighted the lamp in Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse for the first time, and the beacon began guiding mariners into Bass Harbor and Blue Hill Bay. The lighthouse's white cylindrical tower is only thirty-two feet high, but its light is fifty-six feet above sea level thanks to the granite bluff on which it stands. Originally outfitted with a fifth-order Fresnel lens, the lighthouse was upgraded in 1902 to a fourth-order lens. A red chimney was placed over the lamp inside the lens to produce a colored light that was visible for thirteen nautical miles.

The original keeper’s dwelling was a forty by twenty foot wooden structure connected to the tower by a covered twenty-one-foot-long wooden walkway. The residence had two stories with five rooms, consisting of a kitchen, living room, and dining room on the ground floor, with two bedrooms upstairs. There was an outhouse about fifty feet away from the structure. In 1893, a boathouse with a 100-foot railway was added.

A tall, pyramidal bell tower was added to the station in 1876, and then in 1897 a brick fog signal building was erected a few yards closer to the rocky cliff. A 4,000-pound fog bell was suspended outside the fog signal building. This mighty bronze bell was later replaced by an 1,800 pound version, and then in 1949, a 1,500 pound bell was mounted on a stand near the tower and electrified. A brick oil house was added in 1902, and a barn in 1905.

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Modifications were made to the keeper’s house over the years. In 1900, it was enlarged to add an office and to make the kitchen larger. Upstairs, a third bedroom and a bathroom were added.

The lighthouse was automated in 1974 and remains an active aid to navigation. An occulting red light (four seconds on and one second off) is produced by an acrylic shroud that covers the Fresnel lens. Since automation, it has been the quarters for the Commander of the Coast Guard Group Southwest Harbor. The barn has since been converted into a garage to house the now preferred mode of transportation, but according to one coastguardsman chew-marks are still evident in the wood inside the garage. The grounds are open to the public, although the lighthouse itself is not. The station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2012, Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse was featured on the back of a quarter issued as part of the U.S. Mint’s “America the Beautiful Quarters Program,” which features one site in each state plus Washington, D.C. and the five U.S. territories.

Head Keepers: John Thurston (1858 - 1861), John Rick (1861 - 1865), John Wilson (1865 - 1869), Charles. B. Gilly (1869 - 1872), James L. Wilson (1872 - 1880), Charles F. Chase (1880 - 1890), William T. Holbrook (1890 - 1894), Willis Dolliver (1894 - 1912), Joseph M. Gray (1921 - 1938), Elmer Reed (1930 - 1940), Leverett S. Stanley (1940 - 1950).

Photo Gallery: 1 2 3 4


  1. The Keeper’s Log, Spring 2005.

Location: Located south of Bass Harbor in Acadia National Park.
Latitude: 44.22201
Longitude: -68.33725

For a larger map of Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.

Travel Instructions: From Highway 1 at Ellsworth turn south on Highway 3, which leads to Acadia National Park. After just over nine miles you will cross a bridge onto Mount Desert Island. At this point Highway 3 will turn east to Bar Harbor, but continue straight on Highway 198 for 4.3 miles to Highway 102. Turn left on Highway 102 and drive for 8.6 miles passing through Southwest Harbor to Highway 102 Alternate. Take Highway 102 Alternate south for 1.6 miles passing through Bass Harbor. At this point Highway 102 Alternate will make a sharp turn to the east, but continue straight on Lighthouse Road to the lighthouse.

To get a picture of the Bass Harbor Lighthouse from the water, you can take a cruise with Island Cruises out of Bass Harbor.

The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard, with the dwelling being used by Coast Guard personnel. Grounds open, dwelling/tower closed.

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Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.