Portland Head Light

Oct. 7, 2019

Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, Maine

Originally built in 1791.


Station Established: 1791
Year Current Tower(s) First Lit: 1791
Operational? YES
Automated? YES 1989
Deactivated: n/a
Foundation Materials: NATURAL/EMPLACED
Construction Materials: RUBBLE STONE W/BRICK LINING
Tower Shape: CONICAL
Markings/Pattern: WHITE W/BLACK TRIM
Relationship to Other Structure: ATTACHED
Original Lens: FOURTH ORDER, FRESNEL 1855

Historical Information:

George Washington engaged two masons from the town of Portland in 1787, while Maine was still part of the colony of Massachusetts, and instructed them to take charge of the construction of a lighthouse on Portland Head. They were Jonathan Bryant and John Nichols. George Washington reminded them that the colonial Government was poor and that the materials used to build the lighthouse should be taken from the fields and shores. They could be handled nicely when hauled by oxen on a drag, he said.

The old tower, built of rubblestone, still stands as one of the four colonial lighthouses that have never been rebuilt. Washington gave the masons 4 years to build the tower. While it was under construction the Federal Government was formed in 1789 and it looked for a while, as though the lighthouse would not be finished. But the first Congress made an appropriation and authorized Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury, to inform the mechanics that they could go on with the completion of the tower. The tower was completed during the year 1790 and first lighted January 10, 1791.

During the Civil War, raids on shipping in and out of Portland Harbor became common place, and because of the necessity for ships at sea to sight Portland Head Light as soon as possible, the tower was raised 8 feet. Today Portland Head Light stands 80 feet above ground and 101 feet above water, its white conical tower being connected with a dwelling. The 200,000 candlepower, second-order electric light, is visible 16 miles. An air-chime diaphragm horn blasts every 20 seconds, for 4 seconds during fog.