Lighting the way along Maine’s coast

U.S. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), Special to The County
9 years ago

Scattered throughout Maine’s thousands of miles of jagged coastline are more than 60 lighthouses. These iconic symbols of our state’s rugged beauty and maritime heritage are more than just postcard-worthy buildings – for hundreds of years, they have helped seafarers navigate our rocky shores.
From Nubble Light in York to West Quoddy Head Light in Lubec, Maine’s lighthouses serve as indispensable beacons of safety up and down our coast, guiding sailors, fishermen, and recreational boaters home. Some of these impressive structures are almost as old as America itself.
It was President George Washington who signed the Lighthouse Act of 1789 into law, establishing a federal role in the support, maintenance, and repair of lighthouses. The ninth act of the first Congress, this law stands out as the first public works act in the history of the young United States. It played a pivotal role in the construction of Maine’s first lighthouses, including Portland Head Light, where whale oil lamps were first illuminated in January of 1791.
Maine’s second oldest lighthouse, Seguin Island Light Station, was commissioned by President Washington in 1795. Towering over the mouth of the Kennebec River from its perch on Seguin Island, it has the distinction of being the highest lighthouse in Maine. Anyone who has made the trip out to Seguin knows that it is truly one of Maine’s special places. On a clear day, you can even see Mount Washington in the distance.
Although the original light tower on Seguin was replaced in 1857, the current lighthouse is as impressive as the island it sits on. Seguin Island Light Station is home to a very rare lens. Seguin’s First Order Fresnel lens is made up of 282 identical glass prisms, which help concentrate the light into a single beam. Seguin’s signal is visible from over 20 miles away.
Seguin Island Light Station and Portland Head Light are just two of Maine’s many treasured lighthouses. And just as these building have guided mariners for two centuries, it falls to us to preserve and protect them for future generations. Congress recognized this fact in 2000 when it passed the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, and a long list of organizations – including the American Lighthouse Foundation in Maine, the Maine Lights Program and The Maine Lighthouse Museum in downtown Rockland – work tirelessly to promote lighthouse heritage and preservation.
Last year, Sen. Collins and I worked to designate August 7, 2013 as National Lighthouse and Lighthouse Preservation Day to mark the 224th anniversary of the Lighthouse Act of 1789. I’m hopeful that we can do something similar this year. As the lights continue to burn on the coast of Maine and along America’s shores, we strive to honor our state’s and nation’s proud lighthouse heritage.