New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide
Fort Point Light
Stockton Springs, Maine
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History

Fort Point Light was established in 1836 in Stockton Springs, at the west side of the mouth of the Penobscot River, to aid vessels bound for Bangor, a leading lumber port. The town of Stockton Springs was also a lumber port and a shipping point for Maine's potato industry.

The lighthouse gets its name from adjacent Fort Pownall, built by order of Massachusetts Governor Pownall (Maine at that time was part of Massachusetts) in 1759 to guard against the French.

The first lighthouse was a granite tower. The first keeper was William Clewly, who had sold his land to the government for the station.

Fort Point Light c. 1890s (U.S. Coast Guard photo)
old photo
Fort Point Light c. 1890s
From the collection of Edward Rowe Snow, courtesy of Dorothy Bicknell

The present 31-foot square brick lighthouse was built in 1857. A new wood-frame two-story keeper's house, attached to the tower, was built the same year. In 1890, a bell tower and a barn were added, and an oil house was built in 1897. All of these buildings are still standing, making Fort Point Light an unusually well-preserved light station.

The pyramidal bell tower is one of the few left in New England and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The bell, replaced by a foghorn, hangs outside the tower.

The lighthouse's 1857 Fresnel lens remains in use.

The bell tower
This bell hangs on the bell tower but is no longer used as an aid to navigation.

The oil house

For a time a hotel was in operation close to the lighthouse. Mary Bradford Crowninshield's 1886 book All Among the Lighthouses described the scene at Fort Point Light:

The view up the river is a lovely one from this place, and also seaward, over the bay filled with its many islands, when the day is clear... There were brightly dressed children playing about in the grounds of the hotel, and summer visitors wandering about the wild paths, or walking over by the lighthouse bank, for the hotel and the lighthouse are very near each other.

hotel
The Fort Point Hotel, in operation 1872-1898 (courtesy of Fort Point State Park / Terry Cole).
two keepers
John Thurston (left) was keeper 1902-1919. The other man is John Spurling, who was keeper at Dice Head Light in Castine, ME. Courtesy of Danny Harrison and Fort Point State Park/Terry Cole.

Because of its beautiful and accessible location, Fort Point Light was a sought-after station for keepers. A total of only four men kept the light from the 1880s into the 1930s.

Keeper and wife
Elizabeth and Keeper Arthur Mitchell by the fog bell. Mitchell was keeper 1929-1952. Courtesy of Arthur Curtis and Fort Point State Park/Terry Cole.

A letter submitted by Keeper Ernest Mathie to a newspaper called the Maine Coast Fisherman in September 1956 offered an interesting glimpse of life at the lighthouse:

Have been busy mowing lawns and trying to get the spruce green on the windows and doors. The weatherman has kept me mowing lawns on pleasant days when I should be painting. He is not at all cooperative.

There are quite a lot of summer visitors around and the cottages on Fort Point Road are full. Colby Wardwell and family of Bangor are spending the summer at their cottage. The Robert Fosters and many friends are at their summer house for several weeks. The Clarence Costales and friends and the Mitchells and Hoyts will be along soon for their vacations at their cottages.

Hoyt Chane's three granddaughters made the headlines in Lubec, saving two young men from drowning. It took quick thinking and prompt work and much courage on the girls part to bring the victims safely ashore. He must be very proud of them and we are also. The time passes quickly and fall weather is here evenings. Our little garden has produced radishes, beet greens, and carrots with cukes to follow. The flowers have been beautiful, nature waters them.

Our old dog, Cody, walked out and started pulling at the bell rope one day last week as a tanker was going in the river. She barked and seemed quite spry for an old lady dog when they saluted. She had an audience at the time and that is what she likes. Am looking forward to my fall vacation. Bye fellow keepers.

(Thanks to Seamond Ponsart Roberts for the transcription of this letter.)

The light was automated in 1988, and Larry Baum was the last Coast Guard keeper at the family station. Baum had previously served 20 months at Great Duck Island Light Station, far offshore. Baum, his wife, Valerie, and their three young daughters appreciated life at Fort Point, close to schools and shopping.

The lighthouse grounds are now part of Fort Point State Park. Since 1988, the resident "keepers" for the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands have been Lawrence "Terry" Cole and Jeralyn Cole. 

Terry was the keeper at Fort Point Light back when he was in the Coast Guard in the early 1970s, and was thrilled to come back to the station. One of the Coles' daughters was married at the lighthouse.

Terry and Jeri
Terry Cole, caretaker, with his wife Jeri and Molly, the lighthouse dog
stairs inside tower

Fort Point Lighthouse is a rare case of a square tower on the outside, but inside its brick lining is round, with a circular iron stairway. The only other lighthouse in Maine that fits this description (to the best of my knowledge) is Deer Island Thorofare Light near Stonington.

In June 2002, I received the following note from Seamond Ponsart Roberts, whose father Octave Ponsart was keeper at several Massachusetts light stations. It may explain the mystery of why a round stairway was put in a square tower, but it isn't clear whether it refers to Fort Point or Deer Island Thorofare light.

Dad was talking with the government carpenter once and the carpenter, a Mr. Reynolds from Fairhaven, said something like, 'Did ya know there's a light in Maine, square on the outside and round on the inside?' and we were amazed. And he said he was told that at the time they built it, they had an old spiral staircase available, but the plans had called for a square outside. So they made it round for the staircase and then square to match the plans. 


view showing water and bell tower
A view from the top of the lighthouse

Under the Maine Lights Program coordinated by the Island Institute of Rockland, the lighthouse became the property of the State of Maine Bureau of Parks & Land in 1998.

The property is part of the Fort Point State Historic Site , (207) 941-4014.

The light and automatic fog signal remain active aids to navigation and are maintained by the Coast Guard.

There are signs on U.S. Route 1 in Stockton Springs pointing the way to Fort Point State Park and the lighthouse, and a 200-foot pier is available for visitors arriving by boat. 
lens
Fort Point Light's still active fourth-order Fresnel lens

 
Keepers: 

(This list is a work in progress. If you have any information on the keepers of this lighthouse, I'd love to hear from you. You can email me at nelights@gmail.com. Anyone copying this list onto another web site does so at their own risk, as the list is always subject to updates and corrections.)

William Clewly (1836-1850); Levi Bowdin (1850-1853); John Odom (1853-1861); Henry Stowell (1861-1866); Hiram Grant (1866-1882); Adelbert Webster (1882-1902); John Thurston (1902-1919); Edward Farren (1919-1929); Arthur Mitchell (1929-1952); Ernest Mathie (Lighthouse Service, then Coast Guard, 1952-1957); Ernest DeRaps (Coast Guard. 1957-?); Wayne McGraw (Coast Guard); Ray Scarborough (Coast Guard); Gene Benner (Coast Guard); Harry Lahaye (Coast Guard); Terry Cole (Coast Guard, 1973-1976); Paul Munroe (Coast Guard, 1976-1979); ? Smith (Coast Guard); Alan Daniel Achorn (Coast Guard, 1980-1984); Larry Baum (Coast Guard, ?-1988).
Last updated 4/20/12
Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any images or text from this website without permission of the author.

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