MAINE 200 — A visible fixture of Maine’s maritime culture, lighthouses dot the rocky coastline, serving naval navigation and drawing thousands of tourists, photographers and artists each year.
The Portland Head Lighthouse is perhaps one of the most famous of the iconic structures in the state and was the first built after the United States separated from the British Empire.
While still a district of Massachusetts, Maine’s treacherous coastline drew the attention of then-President George Washington.
Upon passage of the 1789 Lighthouse Act, which placed the construction and control of lighthouses under federal jurisdiction, Washington asked for the construction of the Portland Head light, with Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton approving and allocating the funds.
Originally powered by whale oil lamps, the tower was active from 1791 onward, warning and guiding Portland’s extensive naval trading business. One of the few remaining early-Republic Era lighthouses, Portland Head was constructed from local stone by Portland masons Jonathan Bryant and John Nichols and remains operational, although automated in 1989, for visitors and sailors to see today.
(Vintage Photo Credit: “Collections of Maine Historical Society, courtesy of VintageMaineImages.com, Item No. 23422, 22276, 10788)