West Quoddy Head Lighthouse

Lubec, Maine
West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, at the easternmost point of the United States in Lubec, Maine, is a historic tower with red and white stripes.
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About This Location

Nestled in the quaint town of Lubec, Maine, the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse stands as a beacon of maritime history and natural beauty. With its distinctive red and white candy-striped tower, it’s not only an iconic landmark but also the easternmost building in the United States. Since its establishment in 1808, this lighthouse has played a crucial role in guiding mariners and has captured the hearts of countless visitors.

A Picturesque Location

The West Quoddy Head Lighthouse is perched atop West Quoddy Head, a peninsula that extends eastward into the Atlantic Ocean, offering breathtaking views of the rugged Maine coastline. Its strategic position overlooks Quoddy Narrows, a strait that separates Lubec from Canada’s Campobello Island. This picturesque setting provides access to Passamaquoddy Bay, a vital waterway for trade and navigation.

A Rich History

The history of this remarkable lighthouse dates back to 1806 when the local community recognized the need for a guiding light at the entrance to Passamaquoddy Bay. In early 1807, President Thomas Jefferson’s administration allocated $5,000 for the construction of a lighthouse on West Passamaquoddy Head. The tower was intended to mark the bay’s entrance and protect vessels from treacherous basaltic outcroppings.

The Early Years

The initial lighthouse, completed in 1808, was a wooden octagonal tower standing at a modest 45 feet in height. Adjacent to it, a keeper’s house provided a home for the first keeper, Thomas Dexter, who earned an annual salary of $250. Unlike some lighthouse keepers who could cultivate crops and raise livestock, Dexter’s rocky surroundings made it impossible. He was compensated with a salary raise to $300 in 1810 to account for the additional challenges he faced in procuring supplies.

Fog Warnings and Challenges

The Bay of Fundy’s frequent fog banks posed a significant challenge for mariners navigating these waters. To address this, a 500-pound fog bell was installed at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse in 1820, making it one of the earliest fog bells in the nation. The keeper at the time, tasked with ringing the bell during foggy weather, lobbied for a pay raise, eventually receiving an additional $70 a year after seven years of petitioning.

However, the original fog bell’s range was limited, and mariners struggled to hear it in time to avoid the rocky shores. The station experimented with various sound signals, including high-pitched bells, a 1,500-pound deeper-sounding bell, and even a 14-foot triangular steel bar. None proved satisfactory. Today, West Quoddy Head relies on a powerful foghorn activated by a robotic fog-sensing device.

New towers and a Fresnel Lens

In March 1831, recognizing the deterioration of the original wooden tower, Congress approved funds for a replacement. The task fell to Joseph Berry, who constructed a sturdy rubblestone tower for $2,350. On August 1, 1831, its ten lamps in the lantern room cast their guiding light.

This 1831 rubblestone tower was not well-built. In 1857, a new tower was constructed along with a new light keeper’s house. This 1857 tower, which currently stands at West Quoddy Head today, is 49 feet tall and has a focal height of 83 feet. Its conical shape is fitted with a powerful Third-order Fresnel lens that emits a distinctive white light, flashing twice every 15 seconds, visible to mariners up to 18 nautical miles away. But what truly sets this lighthouse apart is its striking red and white candy cane paint scheme.

A Fog Signal Record

In 1885, the steam whistle at West Quoddy logged an astonishing 1,945 hours of operation, surpassing all other fog signals in the United States. This statistic underscores the lighthouse’s vital role in maritime safety during that era.

Expansions and Modernization

Throughout its history, the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse saw several expansions and renovations. In 1887, the current brick fog signal building was added, followed by a brick oil house in 1892. By 1899, the dwelling received two kitchens and pantries on the west side, transforming it into a duplex to accommodate two keepers and their families.

Changing Fuels and Automation

The lighthouse’s illumination has evolved over time. Initially fueled by whale oil, it transitioned to lard oil in the 1860s and later to kerosene around 1880. In 1934, the light was electrified, and a flasher mechanism altered its characteristic to a flashing white light every fifteen seconds. The fog signal also underwent a change in 1934, shifting to an air diaphone.

Coast Guard Era and Automation

In 1940, the Coast Guard took control of the lighthouse, although families continued to operate it for several decades. In 1988, West Quoddy Head became one of the Coast Guard’s six remaining “family-operated lighthouses” before finally being automated. The last keeper, Malcolm Rouse, was transferred to Owls Head Lighthouse near Rockland, Maine.

Preservation and Transfer of Ownership

Ownership of West Quoddy Head Lighthouse was transferred from the Coast Guard to Maine’s Bureau of Parks and Land under the Maine Lights Program in 1998. That same year, it was incorporated into West Quoddy Head State Park which encompasses 541 acres of pristine landscapes, including 4.5 miles of hiking trails, forests, bogs, and diverse habitats for rare plants. Amid this natural beauty stands the striking red-and-white-striped West Quoddy Head Light.

Visitor Experience and Tours

Visitors to the lighthouse can explore the state park and conveniently park within its grounds. The park is open daily from May 15 to October 15, with admission fees of $3 for adult Maine residents, $4 for adult non-Maine residents, and $1 for senior non-Maine residents. Children aged 5 to 11 are charged $1, while children under 5 enjoy free admission. Maine residents aged 65 and older also enjoy free admission. Visitors can continue to enjoy the park during the off-season by parking outside the gate and walking in during the same hours. Facilities are closed during the off-season.

West Quoddy Lighthouse is still operational and continues to use the 1857 third-order Fresnel lens. Since 2002, volunteers from the West Quoddy Head Light Keepers Association have operated a visitor center in the keeper’s dwelling. Tours to the top of the tower are given at intervals during the summer, typically every Saturday in July and August, during the West Quoddy Annual Lighthouse Celebration in July, and on the second Saturday in September for Maine Open Lighthouse Day. Check for upcoming dates or call the visitor center for the summer schedule.

A Symbol of the Easternmost Point

A stone sign proudly proclaims the lighthouse as the “easternmost point in the U.S.A.” While it is indeed the easternmost building in the United States, the actual easternmost point extends further eastward from the shore. Nonetheless, this distinction adds to the lighthouse’s charm and allure.

A Historic Honor

On July 4, 1980, West Quoddy Head Lighthouse received a significant honor by being added to the National Register of Historic Places. This recognition celebrates the lighthouse’s historical significance and the crucial role it played in safeguarding maritime activities in the region. The inclusion on this prestigious list ensures that the lighthouse’s legacy will be preserved for future generations.

As you explore the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, you can also appreciate its reference number, 80004601, on the National Register of Historic Places, signifying its enduring importance in American history and culture.

Location

Address: 973 South Lubec Road, Lubec, Maine
Place GPS Coordinates: 44.815139, -66.950417
Parking GPS Coordinates: 44.815139, -66.950417
Parking Notes: The lighthouse is located at the very end of South Lubec Road in Quoddy Head State Park. There is a parking area just before reaching the lighthouse. Another parking area can be found a few hundred feet southwest of the lighthouse. There are park fees charged from May 15 through October 15. They are payable at the self-service collection station at the picnic area parking lot. During the season, the gate to the state park opens at 9am. Off-season, visitors are welcome during daylight hours but should take care in inclement conditions.

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