With roughly 3,500 miles of tidal coastline, Maine has long been home to large fishing and commercial shipping fleets. The Bath Ironworks , founded in 1884, continues to build some of the world’s most advanced naval vessels. In today’s harbors, pleasure craft dock side by side with windjammers and lobster boats. The state’s dozens of harbors have long been guarded by scores of lighthouses since Portland Head Light in Fort Williams Park was activated in 1791 on the orders of George Washington. Today, 63 lighthouses survive. Some have been decommissioned and the rest have been automated with the keeper’s houses and grounds often donated or leased to local governments or non-profits.
During our recent visit to Maine’s mid-coast we had the opportunity to visit four of these beautiful buildings, and appreciated how much comfort they must have brought to mariners seeing their lights shining out to sea on rainy and foggy nights. Each lighthouse has its own history and story. If you plan a family vacation with kids, teens or tweens be sure to plan in visits to one or more of these living pieces of history. Portland Head Light is an easy daytrip from Boston or a nice stop to break up a ride north. The grounds are expansive with plenty of picnic tables but bring your own lunch as there is no snack bar. History buffs will enjoy visiting the historic fort and naval defense fortifications that were active until 1963.
Further North, Pemaquid Point Lighthouse erected in 1835 and the keeper’s house built in 1937, overlook a spectacular rocky shoreline that is open to the public and maintained as part of the Town of Bristol’s Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Park. While the lighthouse itself is still owned by the Coast Guard, the keeper’s house now houses the fascinating volunteer-run Fishermen’s Museum. When the lighthouse is open there is often a line to walk the stairs to the top of the tower. Be sure to spend some time scrambling on the rocks as well.
Farther north the towns of Owls Head and Rockland offer more lighthouse viewing activities. The Owls Head light is maintained by the Friends of Rockland Harbor Lights which leases it from the US Coast Guard. The surrounding land, including a classic rocky pocket beach, is open to the public as part of Owls Head State Park. Built in 1825 it guards the entrance of Rockland Harbor on Western Penobscot Bay. This lighthouse holds many stories — there are rumored to be not one, but two resident ghosts. Many tales have been told about mysterious footprints appearing after rain or snow. We didn’t see any during our visit however, although it had rained earlier in the day.
On the other side of Rockland Harbor, an almost mile long breakwater extends into the Harbor. Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse sits at the end of the breakwater. The light is still active and maintained by the US Coast Guard, however, the keeper’s house is boarded up and looks pretty forlorn. We enjoyed the hiking the breakwater and then got views from the water from aboard the Schooner Isaac Evans during our windjammer. The Friends of Rockland Lights have an ongoing fundraising and renovation program underway to restore the site to its former glory.
No trip to Maine is really complete without visiting a lighthouse. We encourage your family to visit as many as you can!