Spring Point Ledge is a
dangerous obstruction on the west side of the main shipping channel
from the south into Portland Harbor. Many vessels ran aground on the
ledge before requests from seven steamship companies in 1891 convinced
the federal government to build a lighthouse. The steamship companies
had carried more than 500,000 passengers through the area during the
Spring Point Ledge Light is a fairly typical "sparkplug"
style lighthouse of the period, built on a cylindrical cast-iron
caisson. Unlike many of this type, however, the tower is built of brick
rather than cast-iron.
The contractor who built the lighthouse, Thomas Dwyer,
was also responsible for some prominent buildings in New York City,
including a wing of the Metropolitan Museum and several buildings at
It was first lighted May 24, 1897 by Keeper William A.
Lane. The 54-foot lighthouse has a storeroom and cistern in the
basement, topped by four levels including a keeper's office and two
levels of living quarters.
The lantern was fitted with a fifth-order Fresnel lens.
An oil room in the basement contained a 239-gallon tank for the
kerosene that fueled the light in its early days, until it was
electrified in 1934.
A fog bell hung on the side of the tower, which sounded
a double blow every 12 seconds by means of a striking mechanism powered
by a clockwork mechanism with 800 pounds of weights.
U.S. Coast Guard
Early photo of Spring Point
Ledge Light. From the collection of Edward Rowe Snow, courtesy of
Spring Point Ledge Light was a "stag station," with a
male keeper and assistant keeper living inside the tower. Keepers had
to be creative in their means of exercise. Somebody figured that it
took 56 jogs around the tower's main deck to make one mile. Once, a
keeper was running laps in this fashion and forgot to close a trap
door. He slipped through the opening and only a ladder prevented him
from falling 17 feet to a rock ledge and swirling waves.
In its early years, the lighthouse's foundation was
battered and damaged by ice. Granite blocks were piled around the
foundation to protect it, and there have been no further problems.
Daniel J. Doyle was keeper from 1915 to 1918. He
occupied his spare time by playing cribbage and building ship models.
Keeper Doyle had a family living in Portland. His schedule called for
him to come ashore after two weeks at the lighthouse, but stormy
weather sometimes prevented him from leaving the station for up to two
months at a stretch.
Doyle's daugher, Barbara Ward, told the Portland Press
Herald, "It was a rough life. It was confining... and you had to be
really alert and pay attention to what you were doing." Just the same,
she says, "he enjoyed every minute of it."
of the light's best known keepers was Augustus Aaron "Gus" Wilson,
a native of Tremont, Maine. He earned a living as a fisherman and
boatbuilder before joining the Lighthouse Service at the age of 50. His
first light station was Great Duck Island. When he arrived there,
he found there was no Parchessi board, so he made one out of wood.
After time at Great Duck Island, Marshall Point, Goose Rocks, and Cape
Elizabeth, he came to Spring Point Ledge Light in 1917 and remained
there until 1934.
gained wide fame as one of New England’s most accomplished carvers of
wooden bird decoys. He carved a variety of ducks, shore birds,
seagulls, and songbirds; it’s been estimated that his total production
was in excess of 5,000 carvings. “Gus whittled every spare moment,”
said Fred Anderson, a local man who spent much time with the
|Wilson carved duck decoys by the hundreds and sold them
to a store in
Portland for 75 cents each. He was renowned for his carving skill and
imagination, and his work became highly collectible. One of Wilson’s
decoys fetched $195,500 at a 2005 auction. His work has been displayed
at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and at the Shelburne Museum in
Spring Point Ledge Light was electrified in 1934. For some years, the
keepers at Spring Point Ledge also monitored nearby Portland Breakwater
Attleson, an Iowa native who served as a Coast Guard keeper for about
two years during World War II, later told stories about how he hated
rowing through the pack ice in winter to get supplies. Attleson was wed
during his stint at Spring Point.
A display in the lighthouse tells the
story of Gus Wilson and his decoys.
U.S. Coast Guard photo, circa
1950. Notice that the breakwater hadn't been completed.
|In 1951, a 900-foot breakwater was constructed with
50,000 tons of granite, joining the lighthouse to the mainland.
Under the Maine Lights Program coordinated by the Island Institute of
Rockland, Spring Point Ledge Light was expected to be transferred from
the Coast Guard to some other group.
The City of South Portland applied to co-own the property with Southern
Maine Technical College, but in October 1997 the city council voted to
withdraw the application after 90 minutes of debate. A
handicapped-rights activist had threatened to take the city to court if
the lighthouse wasn't made handicapped-accessible, which would have
cost approximately $250,000.
- In March 1998, the Spring Point Museum (now the Portland Harbor Museum)
was allowed to make a late application to the Maine Lights Selection
Committee. The museum put together the Spring Point Ledge Light Trust,
made up of local residents, business people, museum members and city
representatives. The chairman of the museum's board of directors
answered the handicapped access issue by pointing out that the Army
Corps of Engineers owns the breakwater, so the owner of the lighthouse
is not legally reponsible for access. On April 28, 1998, the Maine
Lights Selection Committee announced the transfer of Spring Point Ledge
Light to the Spring
Point Ledge Light Trust.
On Saturday, May 22, 1999, Spring Point Ledge Light was opened
to the public for the first time in its history. About 500 people
visited that day, braving a cool wind that swept the breakwater.
|In 2004, a six-year effort by the Spring Point Ledge Light Trust
culminated in the replacement of the badly deteriorated iron canopy
over the structure's lower gallery. Atlantic Mechanical Inc. of
Wiscasset, Maine, completed the overhaul in July 2004. During the first
stage of the $52,000 job, Atlantic Mechanical workers removed all 32
plates of the canopy, then cleaned and painted all the supporting
rafters and fittings.
New panels made of steel were fabricated using the
originals as templates, and the panels were powder coated using a high
heat process prior to installation. When the lighthouse was built in
1897, the canopy plates were installed using rivets. Since that type of
construction isn't done anymore, the new panels were installed with
stainless steel bolts that look much like the earlier rivets (see
The canopy plates were refurbished and the lighthouse
was painted in 2011. There are plans in the works to restore the
Spring Point Ledge Light is easily reached by land, and
tour boats and ferries leaving Portland pass the lighthouse. The campus
of Southern Maine Community College
adjoins the property.
The old fifth-order Fresnel lens from this lighthouse is now in the
collection of the Maritime Exchange Museum in
A view of the breakwater from
the top of the tower.
The lighthouse displays a
flashing white light,
with two red sectors produced
by the red glass in the lantern.
Leslie Barteaux, a trustee
of the Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse Trust, speaks to visitors in the
This display panel
in the lighthouse pays tribute to Rusty
Nelson, a longtime dedicated volunteer.
The old fog bell is on
display on the gallery outside the lighthouse, next to the modern
A door on the upper
part of the lighthouse was paid for by a grant from the New England
PLEASE NOTE: The
following list of keepers is not complete. It is a work in progress,
and any additional information is welcomed and appreciated; you can
email me at email@example.com. If you copy this list to another site,
you do so at your own risk. I can't guarantee its accuracy.
William A. Lane (1897-1901); William Harry Phillips (assistant,
1897-1898); Harris S. Grant (first assistant 1898-1901, head keeper
1901-1902); Frank Cotton (Cullen?) (1902); Charles E. B. Stanley (first
assistant 1902, head keeper 1902-1908?); Charles A. Burke (first
assistant, 1901-1902); Joseph W. Cameron (first assistant 1902-1904);
Jerome C. Brawn (first assistant 1904); Otto A. Wilson (1908-1931);
Leroy Elwell (first assistant, 1908-1909; principal keeper c. 1935-36);
Edward Merritt (first assistant, 1909-? ); Daniel J. Doyle (1915-1918);
John W. Cameron (assistant. c. 1920s); Augustus A. Wilson (assistant
1918-1931, principal keeper 1931-1934); Douglas Larrabee (c. 1936-?);
John Attleson (Coast Guard, c. 1943-1945); Ralph Norwood (Coast Guard,
1951-1954); Joseph Bakken (Coast Guard,