New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide Ram Island Ledge Light Casco Bay, Maine Ram Island Ledge Light main page / History / Bibliography / Cruises / Photos / Postcards History
© Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any images or text from this website without permission of the author.
Ram Island, about a mile offshore from Portland Head near the entrance to Portland Harbor, is surrounded by dangerous ledges. As far back as 1855, an iron spindle was erected as a navigational aid on Ram Island Ledge, which extends for a quarter mile from Ram Island. A larger 50-foot wooden tripod was placed there in 1873. These markers were helpful in clear weather, but in bad weather they were virtually invisible.
Shipwrecks continued with frequency. On May 27, 1866, alone, there were four wrecks. Many fishing boats and schooners struck the ledges over the years, often while trying to make Portland Harbor in bad weather. On February 24, 1900, the 400-foot transatlantic steamer California went aground at Ram Island Ledge in a snowstorm. There was no loss of life, and the steamer was refloated six weeks later. This near-tragedy finally convinced the federal government that a lighthouse was called for.
By the end of September, the tower reached a height of 32 feet. A crew of 25 men worked from April to July 1904 to complete the tower.
Joe Johansen was an assistant keeper at Ram Island Ledge from 1949 to 1950. He told an interviewer for the Island Institute about his life there:
Johansen once spent 45 days straight at the light during rough winter weather. As their food supply ran low, he and another keeper were reduced to eating oatmeal three times a day.
The light was electrified in 1958 via an underwater cable extending from Portland Head. The automated light and fog signal were monitored remotely by the keepers at Portland Head Light Station, enabling the Coast Guard to remove the keepers from Ram Island Ledge in 1959.
Under the Maine Lights Program coordinated by the Island Institute in Rockland in 1997-98, Ram Island Ledge Light was expected to become the property of some local organization, but none applied due to the lighthouse's relative inaccessability.
The light was converted to solar power in January 2001. The solar panels mounted on the south side of the tower provide power for two large batteries supplying the light and fog signal.
In 2009, the lighthouse again became available to a new steward under the provisions of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. There were no applicants, and the lighthouse was put up for auction to the general public in the summer of 2010. On September 14, 2010, it was sold to Dr. Jeffrey Florman of Windham, Maine, for $190,000.
Ram Island Ledge Light can be clearly seen from Portland Head Light and from some of the tour boats leaving Portland.
Keepers: The following list of keepers is not complete. It is a work in progress, and any additional information is welcomed and appreciated; you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you copy this list to another site, you do so at your own risk. I can't guarantee its accuracy.
William C. Tapley (1905-1929); Arnold B. White (first assistant, 1909); ? Merritt (assistant, 1905-?); ? Latham (assistant, 1905-?); Walter L. Emerson (second assistant, 1914-?); Robert Thayer Sterling (assistant, c. 1915); Leroy L. Myers (c. 1935); R.J. Carr, assistant (c. 1935); L. McBride, assistant (c. 1935); Joe Johansen (Coast Guard assistant, 1949-1950); Irving T. Sparrow (c. 1950)
All images on this page, unless otherwise noted, are from the collection of Edward Rowe Snow and are used with the permission of Dorothy Bicknell
Last updated 5/4/11 © Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any images or text from this website without permission of the author. Ram Island Ledge Light main page / History / Bibliography / Cruises / Photos / Postcards