Cape Elizabeth Twin Lights // 1873

East Light.

At the southern tip of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, two lighthouses have long provided a beacon to ships that sailed the rocky coast where the town protrudes into the ocean. The story of Cape Elizabeth’s Two Lights begins in 1614, when Captain John Smith, who sailed along New England’s shores, gave the appellation to the cape in honor of Princess Elizabeth, King Charles’ sister. After the American Revolution, Portland Harbor became an important trading port, and ships from all over the world would dock there. In 1827, the decision was made to use two lights at this location, a fixed light in the east tower and a revolving light in the west one, so the station would not be confused with the lights at nearby Portland Head Light or Wood Island Light in nearby Biddeford. After land was purchased for a mere $50, the towers were built, spaced by 895 feet and topped by octagonal wrought-iron lanterns housing lamps and reflectors, first shone their lights in October 1828. The stone towers were poorly constructed and keepers would consistently complain about poor working and living conditions. A $30,000 appropriation was made in 1873 to fund the erection of two matching sixty-seven-foot, brick-lined, cast-iron towers set 923 feet apart and featuring elegant Italianate details. In 1878, a new wood-frame, one-and-a-half-story dwelling was built for the principal keeper near the east tower, designed in the Gothic Revival style. During World War II, the west tower became an observation tower after a cylindrical turret was installed atop, which had had its lantern room removed after being discontinued. It was auctioned to the highest bidder in 1959. In 1971, actor Gary Merrill, ex-husband of Bette Davis, purchased the west tower for $28,000. Merrill sold it in 1983, and a new house was built next to it. The keeper’s cottage at the east tower is also privately owned, but the tower is retained by the Coast Guard, and is automated today.

West Light.

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