The Maine coast is rugged and jagged with many inlets, dangerous reefs and complex shipping channels. There are nearly 70 lighthouses along the coast and rivers and at last count at least 50 were still operating.
Lighthouses are among the most romantic reminders of our country's maritime heritage.
Marking dangerous headlands, shoals, bars, and reefs, these structures played a vital role in indicating navigable waters and supporting this nation's maritime transportation and commerce.
Lighthouse preservation is very strong in Maine, as evidenced by the large number of local preservation societies and trusts. The Maine Lights program, passed by Congress in 1996, led to the transfer of 28 lighthouses from the Coast Guard to local preservation groups or other agencies and served as a model for the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000.
Except for eight privately-owned towers, all but a handful of Maine's lighthouses now have local support groups. In addition, two powerful national forces for lighthouse preservation, the American Lighthouse Foundation and the Lighthouse Digest, all are based in Maine.
Please use this directory to get a better understanding of Maine's rich lighthouse history. In addtion to photos and a brief profile of each lighthouse, you can link to more detailed histories of each and planning guides if you are considering visiting one (or more) of these treasured landmarks in the near future.
The first lighthouse completed under the Government of the United States of America was Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. It was completed in 1791. However, construction of the lighthouse had been started by the State of Massachusetts under the orders of Gov. John Hancock. At that time, Maine was part of Massachusetts.
The oldest standing lighthouse in the USA is Sandy Hook Lighthouse. Located in New Jersey, it protects the entrance to New York Harbor. It was completed in 1764.
The state with the most lighthouses is Michigan with 124.
A lightship is a floating lighthouse. They were stationed in areas where it was too expensive or too dangerous to build a lighthouse. Lightship duty was considered the most dangerous duty of all in the Lighthouse Service and later in the Coast Guard. Lightships were not allowed to leave their position under any circumstances and no matter how severe the weather was. Lightships are no longer used and were replaced by modern ocean and deep water buoys.
There are only 14 lightships left in existence, with a few having been restored such as the Ambrose Lightship in New York and Huron Lightship in Michigan. Efforts are underway to save the rest of them.
All lighthouses in the United States are automated with the exception of Boston Lighthouse. Because Boston Light is the oldest station in the United States, Congress has declared that Boston Light will always be a staffed station where the keepers must still turn the light on at night and turn it off at daybreak. Boston Light is the only official lighthouse with an active keeper.