Friday, June 19, 2009

Lighthouse Ghost Hunt on September 19

Join Ron Kolek, Maureen Wood, and other members of New England Ghost Project, along with representatives of Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse for an investigation of one of New England's most haunted lighthouses.

Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse and adjacent Fort Constitution were featured on SciFi’s Ghost Hunters TV show. The lighthouse is on an active Coast Guard station, so access to these structures is normally limited -- don’t miss this rare opportunity to explore this site with the New England Ghost Project.

For the novice, you will learn about the inner workings of a ghost hunt and the scientific and spiritual techniques needed to successfully complete one. For the expert, test your skills and compare the evidence you collect with previous evidence collected at the site. Don’t miss this rare opportunity. Sign up now. Space is limited. The event will be from 8:00 p.m. to midnight on September 19.

Go to to reserve your space!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Lighthouse of the Week - Saddleback Ledge Light, Maine

Saddleback Ledge is a wave-swept granite outcropping at the southern entrance to East Penobscot Bay (also known as Isle au Haut Bay), approximately four miles from the southeastern corner of Vinalhaven to the west and three miles from the southwestern coast of Isle au Haut to the east.

In 1836, the ship Royal Tar, carrying circus performers and animals, caught fire and sank near the ledge. In March of the following year, Congress appropriated $5,000 for a lighthouse on Saddleback Ledge.

The noted architect and engineer Alexander Parris (1780–1852) designed the tower. Construction was carried out in 1838–39. Another $10,000 was appropriated for the project in July 1838; the total cost of $15,000 made this an expensive lighthouse for its time. The lighthouse is a 43-foot-tall conical granite tower, originally topped by an octagonal wrought wrought-iron lantern.

The first keeper was Watson Y. Hopkins, a Maine native. Hopkins lived at the lighthouse with his wife, Abigail, and seven children, ranging in age from infancy to the late teens. The large family was crowded into living quarters inside the lighthouse tower that consisted of a living room with a cooking stove, two bedrooms, and a cellar. Hopkins painted a dismal picture of the living conditions at the lighthouse in 1842:

I was appointed keeper of this light, December, 1839, upon a salary of $450. I live with my family in the tower, which is the only building on the ledge. . . My family consists of nine persons. There is a living room and two chambers in the tower, besides a cellar. The copper spout carried round the tower to catch rain water has been so injured by the surf, that it is no longer of any use. The iron railing, which was secured to the rock around the tower, has been all swept away; also, the privy, which was carried away the first storm after its erection. The windows all leak in storms, the shutters having no rebates in the stone work.

The station was eventually assigned an assistant keeper, and there were two assistants by 1880. An attached wooden building was added, finally improving the cramped living conditions to some degree.

Robert Thayer Sterling interviewed Keeper W. W. Wells for his 1935 book, Maine Lighthouses and the Men Who Keep Them. Wells described life at the remote station:

It’s not so bad in the summer. We have lots of visitors, for then the sea is smooth . . . Winter we all hate the most, beginning when the summer guests have gone and the hotels on shore are closed. This means we will have to bank up the old station, get some good reading matter and snuggle down for a long period of isolation.

The light was automated in late 1954. The Fresnel lens was replaced by a modern optic, and the light continued as an automatic aid to navigation. The remains of the attached wooden building were blown up as a Green Beret assault exercise sometime around 1960, but the hardy lighthouse tower seems poised to weather many storms to come.

For much more on this lighthouse, see my new book The Lighthouses of Maine.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Boston Light, Massachusetts

Boston Light, Massachusetts, originally uploaded by nelights.

A personal favorite among my photos -- Boston Light at sunset.

Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse from the water

This view of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse was taken from last night's cruise with Captain and Patty's Cruises of Kittery Point, Maine. These early evening cruises will continue every Tuesday until September, with proceeds benefiting the Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse. See for details.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Lighthouse of the week: Pomham Rocks Light, Rhode Island

Pomham Rocks is a stark islet of approximately one-half acre rising out of the Providence River, about 800 feet from the east shore in the Riverside section of East Providence. It's named for a Narragansett Indian sachem who was killed in King Phillip’s War in 1676. Some locals will tell you it’s pronounced with equal emphasis on both syllables—“Pom-ham” rather than “Pom-um.”

With increased shipping traffic heading toward Providence, Pomham Rocks was an obvious place to establish a navigational aid. A pyramidal daymark was erected around 1828, but something more was needed to help ensure the safety of the parade of vessels that passed day and night. Congress granted an appropriation of $20,000 on July 15, 1870, for three lights on the river—at Pomham Rocks, Sassafras Point, and Fuller Rock.

At Pomham Rocks, a wooden dwelling with a mansard roof was built on a granite foundation, 28 by 28 feet, with a hexagonal lighthouse tower mounted on the front center of the building. The light was first exhibited on December 1, 1871, with a sixth-order Fresnel lens showing a fixed white light. On October 1, 1872, the characteristic was changed to fixed red.

The first keeper, C. H. Salisbury, had a long 22-year stay. Adolph Herman Aronson was keeper for a 29-year stretch beginning in 1908. Aronson was a native of Sweden who came to America in 1890, when he was 18. After service on the Hog Island Shoal Lightship and the lighthouse that replaced it, he went to Pomham Rocks with his wife, Nellie (Johnson), and their three children.

Sometimes in winter it was possible to walk to shore on the ice, but usually Keeper Aronson transported his children to East Providence by boat so they could attend school. If the water was rough near shore, he’d wear rubber boots so he could carry them to dry land from the boat.

A feline member of the family named Tommy 3rd landed the Aronsons in newspapers around the country. It seems Tommy the tabby would perch on the edge of the island watching for unsuspecting fish, waiting for the right moment to dive in and catch them.

Adolph Aronson retired from lighthouse keeping in 1937. The next keeper was William J. Howard, who moved to Pomham Rocks with his wife and their teenage son, Bill Jr. Although Pomham Rocks was scarcely more than a stone’s throw from East Providence, it was frequently a nightmare to get ashore, especially in winter. Young Bill Jr. commuted via rowboat to attend the Rhode Island School of Design, and sometimes in rough weather he’d be hours late for class.

Howard Beebe retired in 1956 as the last civilian keeper at Pomham Rocks. He was followed by a succession of Coast Guard crews. The fog bell mechanism still needed to be wound every few hours and the light still ran on kerosene until November 1956, when a cable from shore brought electricity to the island for the first time.

In the spring of 1974, the Coast Guard relocated the navigational light to the top of a skeletal tower erected near the lighthouse, and the last Coast Guard crew was reassigned. By May 1978, the General Services Administration had declared the lighthouse surplus federal property. The General Services Administration accepted sealed bids for the lighthouse in August 1980. The highest of 30 bids—$40,100—came from the Mobil Oil Company, which maintained a large refinery and terminal near the lighthouse in East Providence.

The last few years has seen the birth of a new group of guardians for the historic structure—the Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse (FPRL), a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation (ALF). The Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse was officially launched as a chapter of ALF in late 2004. In June 2005, a contract was signed by Keith Lescarbeau of the Abcore Restoration Company Inc. to begin restoration work.

The first phase of restoration included repairs to the roof, lantern, siding, and trim. The tower, which had developed a seven-degree tilt, was straightened and secured. About 40 percent of the original siding was salvaged, and a window that had been covered for years by the new siding was reconstructed.

On July 30, 2006, the navigational light was returned to the lighthouse. The Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse plan to install exhibits in the restored building and to open it periodically for the public. The motto of the Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse is, appropriately, “Guiding the Way Along the Bay since 1871.” It appears that this tradition will continue for many years to come.

For more, click here, or get the book "The Lighthouses of Rhode Island."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

"Lighthouses of Maine" book signings

I'll be making a number of appearances to sign copies of my new 562-page book, "The Lighthouses of Maine," published by Commonwealth Editions. Here's the schedule:

Wed. June 24 12:00-2:00 Sherman's, Boothbay Harbor
Sun. June 28 12:00-4:00 Kittery Trading Post, Kittery
Sun. July 5 12:00-3:00 LL Bean, Freeport
Sun. Aug. 9 12:00-3:00 Borders, South Portland
Thurs., Aug. 13 12:00 noon lecture at Maine Historical Society, Portland
Wed. Sept. 2 7:00 pm lecture Maine Maritime Museum, Bath
Sun. Sept 13 12:00-4:00 Kittery Trading Post, Kittery
Sun. Oct. 11 12:00-3:00 Maine Coast Book Shop, Damariscotta

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Nubble Light

IMG_4661adj, originally uploaded by nelights.

I took this photo of the Cape Neddick "Nubble" Lighthouse in York, Maine, this past Sunday. I never get tired of visiting this lighthouse. The variations in the sky, clouds, lighting, etc., make it different every time.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Lighthouses of Narragansett Bay Cruise Saturday, June 20, 2009, 10:30 a.m.

Join the American Lighthouse Foundation for a fun and educational cruise of Rhode Island's beautiful Narragansett Bay on Saturday, June 20, 2009. All proceeds benefit the foundation's lighthouse preservation efforts.

This cruise aboard the Bay Queen Cruises vessel Vista Jubilee will pass close to Nayatt Point, Conimicut Point, Warwick Point, Bristol Ferry, Hog Island Shoal, Prudence Island (Sandy Point), Conanicut Island North Light, Poplar Point, Plum Beach, Pomham Rocks, Rose Island, Newport Harbor (Goat Island) & Ida Lewis (Lime Rock) lighthouses. Weather dependent, we may also see Castle Hill & Beavertail Lights.

A buffet lunch is included in your ticket price and will feature Baked Scrod and New England Style Roast Beef, garden salad, veggies and dessert. The cruise will last approximately 5 hours.

$50 per person, special ALF members-only price $45 per person! You can purchase tickets for this cruise online (CLICK HERE) or by calling the American Lighthouse Foundation’s Rockland, Maine, office at 207-594-4174.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

New! Tuesday evening lighthouse cruises from Kittery, Maine

Beginning June 16 and continuing until September, Captain & Patty's Cruises ( is offering a special Tuesday evening cruise from Kittery Point. The 80-minute narrated cruise leaves at 6:30 p.m. from the town dock at Pepperrell Cove in Kittery, behind Frisbee Store and Capt’n Simeon's Galley restaurant on Route 103 (Pepperrell Road). Join Captain Neil Odams for a historical tour of the Piscataqua River basin, with points of interest on both the Maine and New Hampshire shore including historic forts, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Whaleback Lighthouse, and Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse. Representatives of Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse will be on board to tell about the organization's preservation efforts. All proceeds from these cruises benefit Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse.

There's room for 15 people on each cruise. The cost is $18 for adults, $15 for children 12 and under. You can call 603-431-9155 or email to make a reservation.