Portland Breakwater Light

Oct. 7, 2019

Portland Breakwater Light (Bug Light), South Portland, Maine

Built in 1855.


Station Established: 1855
Year Current Tower(s) First Lit: 1875
Operational? NO
Automated? 1934
Deactivated: 1942
Foundation Materials: GRANITE BLOCK CAISSON
Construction Materials: IRON PLATE W/BRICK LINING
Tower Shape: CONICAL
Relationship to Other Structure: SEPARATE

Historical Information:

  • In November 1831 Portland Harbor was devastated by a storm. A 2,500 foot breakwater was proposed to secure the harbor. A lighthouse was included in the plans for the breakwater. The project began in 1836 but the funding ran out. This halted the building of the lighthouse. The breakwater was only 1,800 feet when the work stopped. 
  • On August 1, 1856 a wooden octagonal lighthouse was built. A keeper’s house was not built at the site. The keepers had to climb over the breakwater to get to the lighthouse. This 1,800 foot walk was a battle against wind, waves, ice and whatever else Mother Nature could throw at them. 
  • The small tower was fitted with a sixth order Fresnel lens.
  • Finally in 1877 the break water was extended 200 feet. A new lighthouse was built on a granite foundation at the end of the breakwater. The original lighthouse was moved to Little Diamond Island and was used as a lookout tower for the buoy tenders.
  • The new lighthouse was locally known as “Bug Light” and was built to resemble a 4th century Greek Choragic Monument of Lysicrates. The tower was made out of cast iron. Columns hide the seams. The light was fitted with a sixth order Fresnel lens though it is unclear if it is the same lens from the original tower. 
  • When the lighthouse was completed there was no keeper’s quarters built. The walk was only slightly easier. In 1889 a small wooden keeper’s house was built adjacent to the light. In 1903 an attic and additional rooms were added.
  • In 1934 both the Portland Breakwater Light and the Spring Point Ledge Light were electrified. The keeper’s house and much of the breakwater were removed. Responsibility for the light was given to the keeper at Spring Point Ledge.
  • In 1942 the light was extinguished and the lighthouse was sold to a private party. In 1985 it was donated to the city of Portland. It has been partially restored. It is now part of “Bug Light” park. In 2002 the light was re-lit. It is a private aid to navigation.

Researched and written by Melissa Buckler, a volunteer through the Chesapeake Chapter of the U.S. Lighthouse Society.