|Spring Point Ledge, ME|
Description: Numerous ships have met their end on the rocks of Spring Point Ledge, which extends from Fort Preble out to the westerly side of the main shipping channel into Portland Harbor. The ledge reportedly received its name from a spring that once flowed from the nearby bank. On September 7, 1832, the lime coaster Nancy hit the reef. Water and lime make a volatile mixture, and the seawater entering the hold combined with the lime to ignite a large fire that was difficult to extinguish. The inhabitants of Portland helplessly watched as the ship burned to the waterline.
The wreck of the newly commissioned 393-ton bark Harriet S. Jackson proved to be the final straw. During a fierce storm, which caused damage all along the New England coast on March 20-21 of 1876, the ship ran hard aground on Spring Point Ledge in the middle of the night. The crew hung on until dawn, when they were astonished to find that they were so close to the beach at Fort Preble that they laid down a plank at low tide and simply walked ashore. Two days of hard work were required to remove the damaged vessel from the ledge.
Two steamers and seven steamship companies petitioned the Lighthouse Board, stating that they collectively carried over half a million passengers past the dangerous reef each year, and a better warning beacon was needed to avoid the otherwise inevitable human calamity. The Lighthouse Board eventually agreed, and in their annual report of 1891 they recommended the construction of a fifth-order light and fog bell on Spring Point Ledge near the entrance to Portland Harbor, reasoning that the “importance of the harbor, the very large number of vessels which annual resort to it for refuge, the great number of passengers carried into it, which will doubtless steadily increase with the increasing number of people who resort to the coast of Maine in mid-summer, and the frequency and density of the fogs at the very period when the passenger traffic is greatest” merited such a measure.
Mariners could use the bell at Spring Point to indicate a turning point in their course towards Portland in times of fog. Previously, captains were forced to determine their position by keeping track of the elapsed time from a bell buoy off Cushing Island or the fog signal at Portland Head, some two miles distant. However, meeting other vessels, which thronged the harbor or were at anchor in the channel in the midsummer season, could easily throw off this reckoning and endanger a ship.
The new cylindrical white-brick tower, perched atop a cast-iron caisson, had four floors topped by the watchroom and lantern room. The lowest level was a cellar for coal and equipment storage. The next floor up was the kitchen, and above that a floor for the head keeper and another one for the assistant keeper’s quarters. A fog bell hung outside the watch room, although it had to be wound up from inside. The original beacon was a fifth-order Fresnel lens that flashed white every six seconds, with two red sectors. Below the cellar, two cisterns were housed in the caisson for storing water collected from the gallery roof. A hand pump in the kitchen brought the water up for use by the keepers.
Unlike the situation at some offshore lights, it was normally quite easy for keepers at Spring Point Ledge to get ashore when they wanted. An exception was during the severe storm of January 27-28 of 1933. After the storm, a local newspaper quoted a Spring Point keeper:
“As we have a good harbor, we were not affected much by the storm except that we were marooned off here with a small supply of food, therefore our stomachs gave us the most trouble. It is our custom to go ashore daily for fresh home cooked food, so as the duration of the storm extended beyond that of an ordinary one, we were on the rocks for eatables. And although the senior keeper, Mr. Wilson, is nearing the age of 70, he still has his childish desires for milk and must have at least one quart a day. By the time the storm was over, he was very near weaned. But our wives were eager to see us and had a large supply of food awaiting, so we made up for all that we had lost.”
The Army Corps of Engineers was authorized to build a 900-foot breakwater at Spring Point in 1946, but Congress didn’t approve the necessary funding until 1949. Fifty thousand tons of granite blocks, each weighing between three and five tons, were put in at a cost of $200,000. In June of 1951, the breakwater, whose construction had been contemplated for more than a hundred years, was finally completed.
The station was automated in the 1960s and the Fresnel lens replaced by a 300mm lens. The foghorn was also automated, and now lets out a blast once every ten seconds. This light is one of three of the spark-plug lights left in Maine.
Under the Maine Lights Program, the station was transferred in 1998 to the Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse Trust, a group formed by the Portland Harbor Museum. The trust opened the lighthouse for tours in 1999, making it the first caisson lighthouse open to the public. The iron canopy over the gallery circling the lighthouse was replaced in 2004. The interior of the lighthouse has been restored and staged with period furniture.
Located at the end of a short breakwater
near the entrance to Portland's harbor. The lighthouse is owned by the Spring Point Ledge Light Trust. Grounds open, tower open occasionally.
The lighthouse is owned by the Spring Point Ledge Light Trust. Grounds open, tower open occasionally.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.