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The point, at the entrance to Muscongus Bay to the east and Johns Bay to the west, was the scene of many shipwrecks through the centuries, including the 1635 wreck of the British ship Angel Gabriel.
The original stone tower didn’t last long, possibly because Berry may have used salt water to mix his lime mortar. The contract for a new tower in 1835 stipulated that the mortar was “never to have been wet with salt water.” A conical stone tower was built that year by Joseph Berry of Georgetown, who was the nephew of the builder of the first tower.
A separate request for proposals was advertised in March 1835 for the installation of new lighting apparatus, with consisting of eight oil lamps and eight 14-inch reflectors, which Winslow Lewis completed following his own standard design.
The height of the 1835 tower was 30 feet to the lantern deck, with its diameter of was 16 feet at the base at and 10 feet at the top. The tower was given four windows and a wooden stairway of “good sound hard pine.” Atop the tower, an octagonal, domed iron lantern was installed.
Dunham and his wife, Abigail (Cary), had five children when they moved to Pemaquid Point. A baby boy, Benjamin Franklin Dunham, was born to the keeper and his wife at the lighthouse in February 1831. The keeper’s father, Capt. Cornelius Dunham, who had commanded many vessels, died at the station in July 1835 and was buried in a small cemetery near the lighthouse.
Dunham and many of his
successors kept animals, including chickens, at the light station. It
appears that Dunham was also an inventor of sorts. He received a patent
for a system he developed to keep lamp oil from congealing in winter,
and in 1837 Congress decreed that the Treasury was authorized to adopt
Dunham’s improvements. It isn’t clear how widely his invention was
Dunham, who later became the first keeper of Minot’s Ledge Light in Massachusetts, was succeeded as keeper in 1837 by Nathaniel Gamage Jr. Four years later, Gamage was replaced by Jeremiah S. Mears for political reasons. Mears was the keeper when the engineer I. W. P. Lewis visited in 1842 for his important survey of the area’s lighthouses. Lewis was unusually generous in his description of the Pemaquid Point tower, proclaiming the “general state of the tower good.” The keeper’s house was also “in good condition throughout.” The tower was leaky in storms, however, and 11 panes of glass in the lantern were broken. By this time, the lantern held 10 lamps and corresponding reflectors.
A new lantern was installed in 1856,
and the multiple lamps and reflectors were replaced by a fourth-order
Fresnel lens with a single lamp. The original keeper’s house was
replaced by a wood-frame dwelling during the following year.
A fog bell was added to the station in 1897, and steam engines were installed to operate the bell. Apparently this system didn’t work very well, because in 1899 a striking machine was installed, powered by a hand-cranked clockwork mechanism. The bell house built in 1897 was adapted with the addition of a tall tower to enclose the weights for the new mechanism.
Keeper Joseph Lawler and his wife, Sophronia, welcomed a baby girl in 1868; Susie Lawler was the only child ever born at the lighthouse. Marcus A. Hanna, who was later acclaimed for a heroic rescue at Cape Elizabeth, succeeded Lawler in 1869 and stayed until 1873.
William L. Sartell spent a decade as keeper at the station (1873–83), followed by Charles A. Dolliver’s 16-year stay (1883–99) and Clarence K. Marr’s 23-year stint (1899–1922). Marr, born in 1852, was the son and brother of keepers at Hendricks Head Light. Before coming to Pemaquid Point, he was assistant keeper at the Cuckolds Fog Signal Station.
Herbert Robinson became keeper after Marr retired. The wedding of his daughter, Edith, later took place on the porch of the keeper’s house.
Leroy S. Elwell was keeper in 1934 when the light became one of the earliest in Maine to be converted to automatic acetylene gas operation.
In May 2000, the lighthouse tower was licensed by the Coast Guard to the American Lighthouse Foundation (ALF). Around the same time, the Coast Guard hired P & G Masonry and Scaffold of Scarborough, Maine, and workers replaced lantern glass and painted the tower.
Under the leadership of Dick Melville, a local resident, a chapter of ALF, the Friends of Pemaquid Point Lighthouse, was formed. The group soon restored the entryway to the tower and began holding open houses. “I think such an exceptional part of our history should be maintained and be open to the public,” Melville told the Portland Press Herald. Melville died in 2005, but other dedicated volunteers have carried on his legacy.
In February 2007, Lowe’s Companies and the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced that the lighthouse would receive $50,000 toward a $106,000 restoration. In June 2007, personnel from Building Conservation Associates (BCA), analyzed the tower’s coatings, work that was made possible by a $10,000 “New Century Community Program” historic preservation grant from the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. The remaining $46,000 needed for restoration was raised by the volunteers of Friends of Pemaquid Point Lighthouse, much of it a dollar at a time at open houses so they did not have to rely on a business cash advance.
A report by BCA included recommendations for the removal of the exterior coatings. ALF hired J. B. Leslie Masonry Contractors of Berwick, Maine, to remove the coatings and the tower’s deteriorated mortar, and to repoint and paint the tower. Jim Leslie, president of J. B. Leslie Masonry, commented during the work:, “The original masons who built this lighthouse were highly skilled workers. The expert method in which they placed the stonework and tapered the tower is quite evident.”
The tower’s repointing, which utilized the same type of natural cement-based material used during the original construction, was completed by the end of July 2007. A new coat of paint was applied in August.
ALF’s executive director, Bob Trapani, commented, “The minute you drive or walk into Pemaquid Point Park, the lighthouse commands your attention in the wake of its restoration. It’s like a shining exclamation point on a seascape of blue.”
Volunteers of the Friends of Pemaquid Point Lighthouse (a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation) manage the tower only. Volunteers open the tower in season (Memorial Day to Columbus Day) to the public every day from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. There is no charge to climb the tower but donations are welcomed.
A one-bedroom apartment in the keeper’s house is available for weekly vacation rentals. For information, call Newcastle Square Vacation Rentals at (207) 563-6500.
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