In 1787, while Maine was still part of the colony of Massachusetts, George Washington engaged two masons from the town of Portland, Jonathan Bryant and John Nichols, and instructed them to take charge of the construction of a lighthouse on Portland Head. 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 four 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. 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 American Civil War, raids on shipping in and out of Portland Harbor became commonplace, and because of the necessity for ships at sea to sight Portland Head Light as soon as possible, the tower was raised eight feet. When Halfway Rock Light was built, Portland Head Light was considered less important and in 1833 the tower was shortened 20 feet and a weaker fourth-order Fresnel lens was added. The former height and second-order Fresnel lens was restored in 1835 following mariners' complaints. The current keepers' house was built in 1891.
The station has changed little except for the rebuilding of the whistle house in 1975 due to it being badly damaged in a storm. 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, DCB 224 airport style aerobeacon is visible from 16 miles away. The grounds and keeper's house are owned by the town of Cape Elizabeth, while the tower and fog signal are owned and maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard as a current aid to navigation.
Portland Head Light to get washed, painted ; The sprucing up is expected to be completed by Memorial Day, in time for tourists and photographers.
Mar 02, 2005; ANN S. KIM Staff Writer Portland Press Herald (Maine) 03-02-2005 Portland Head Light to get washed, painted ; The sprucing up is...
Portland Head Light's face-lift finished ; Work included painting the 72-foot-tall stone portion of the tower and replacing some lighthouse windows.
May 25, 2005; ANN S. KIM Staff Writer Portland Press Herald (Maine) 05-25-2005 Portland Head Light's face-lift finished ; Work included...