Thursday, July 23, 2009

The West Quoddy Lighthouse

It has been awhile since I have shared a lovely lighthouse with you, so I think I will favor you with a few pictures and a bit of history from the last one I visited, the very picturesque West Quoddy Lighthouse in Lubec, Maine. So cute, with it's red and white stripes and it's beautiful setting on the rocky coast.

A bit of history for you first. This lovely light stands at the tip of West Quoddy Head, at the end of Maine’s St. Croix River and Passamaquoddy Bay, separating the USA from New Brunswick, Canada. Of course, as is so often true with lighthouses, the present one is not the first that has stood at this spot. The first was constructed in 1808, after a sum of $5000 was authorized in 1806 by Thomas Jefferson for it's construction. It was a wooden tower that had to be replaced in just two decades, due to deterioration, replaced by a rubble stone tower. Again, there was an issue of poor construction, as Lighthouse Keeper Alfred Godfrey describes.
"The house leaks all about the eaves and windows in rainy weather. The chimneys smoke badly…we have no rain water cistern, no well. Our water for domestic use is obtained from a spring about 200 yards from the house. The lighthouse stands 110 feet from my house door, on the edge of the cliff...The tower is built of rubble stone, badly laid. In winter the walls are coated with ice from the effect of leakage. The windows of the tower blow inward in storms from being insufficiently framed...In winter the inside of the glass is coated with ice, from the condensed vapors of the burning lamps, and in summer the glass is also covered with sweat and condensed vapor."
Happily, the better built brick tower with her third-order Fresnel lens manufactured by L. Sautter of Paris and wooden keeper's house were constructed in 1858 and both remain standing, in excellent condition, until today. The present tower, on a masonry foundation, is 49 feet high, and stands 83 feet above sea level. Such a cute little lighthouse...

Another issue over the years at West Quoddy was the need for some some of audible guide for ship in addition to the light, due to the great amount of fog they receive there. West Quoddy Light has the historic distinction of having America's first fog bell.
Over the years a number of solutions were tried and found lacking. The first bell, weighing 500 pounds, was installed in 1820,after a Congressional Act provided “a sum not exceeding one thousand dollars...for placing a bell near the light-house on West Quoddy Head.” It did not prove up to the task and a number of other solutions were tried over the years, until a 8-inch steam whistle was installed in 1868. In 1885, the steam whistle at West Quoddy logged more hours of operation than any other fog signal in the United States – an amazing 1,945 hours, since the coast there is foggy about half the time in summer. It must have been wonderful for those that lived there, don't you think? To quote New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide
"In Down East magazine, Ruth L.W. Draper recalled visiting West Quoddy Head as a girl in the early 1900s. On one visit Ruth and a friend were awakened by the "fearsome shrieks" of the fog horn, which proceeded to blast for 56 straight hours."
The light was automated in 1988 and is now own by the state of Maine and is part of the Quoddy Head State Park. The grounds and the keepers house, now staffed by the West Quoddy Head Light Keepers Association, are open to the public and they operate a Visitors Center and small museum and art gallery in the house. The park and the lighthouse are also quite near the very scenic town of Lubec and right across a short bridge from Lubec, there is Campobello Island, in New Brunswick Province, Canada. Campolbello is where the Roosevelt family had a summer home and young Franklin Roosevelt often spent the summers. The Roosevelt Campobello International Park on the island is on Canadian soil but staffed by both US Park Service and Parks Canada staff and supported by both governments.

Besides it lovely setting and very nice grounds and a number of trails worth exploring, West Quoddy is noteworthy for several reasons. First, despite the name, it is the eastern most spot on the US mainland and of course, the light is well known for it's distinctive red and white, horizontally striped day mark. It is one of only two painted that way in the US, the other being Assateague Light in Virginia. It is believed it was painted that way shortly after the present tower was finished because the color made it stand out against a snowy winter background and was very common in nearby Canada.
Whatever the reason, it makes for a charming sight and a lighthouse well worth a visit if you find yourself in 'Down East' Maine.


  1. I'm so excited that you've started to share your lighthouses from your trip. You guys over there on the northeast coast have the best lighthouses. I love this one, and I love getting the history as well!

  2. The stripes make this one so nice...but I must say that I love the very tall lighthouses we have here in the mid-Atlantic and South best.
    I must get to Assateague Light in Virginia which has both!

  3. Thanks for the pictures - and the history - I really like the stripes.

  4. This is a beautiful lighthouse! I love the setting! I adore Maine and it's beautiful lighthouses.
    I'll post some history about Brant Point Light in my blog soon!


  5. Wow...that's my favorite lighthouse in's one of the highlights of our honeymoon--we returned last year after not having been for over 20 years. It was still as gorgeous as your pictures show. Great write-up. Did you get a chance to visit the new Maine Lighthouse Museum in Rockland. I worked there as a docent for awhile and it is definitely a must for all lighthouse lovers.

  6. No, I did not!! I had to rush off to Canada and catch those time fish, but that is just another reason to have to visit Maine again.
    Not that I need an excuse....


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