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Beacons in the storm guard a rocky coast


The fictitious Maine lighthouse in Stephen King's eerie miniseries "The Storm of the Century" may have toppled, but dozens of real ones still remain along the state's coastline.

While Interstate 95 heads north toward Augusta, Maine, U.S. 1 skims the coastline and passes through the center of quaint little towns such as Damariscotta, Wiscasset, York, Ogunquit and Kennebunk.

We thought we had pretty good maps with directions to the lighthouses, but we discovered they were vague. We would have saved some time if we had invested in a guidebook with specific directions.

Our first lighthouse sighting turned out to be one for shoppers, not ship pilots. It was the Lighthouse Depot in Wells, Maine. This shop screamed "Stop! See!" and because we were on a lighthouse quest, there was no way we could pass it up.

It's a huge store packed to its second-story rafters and filled with lighthouse stuff: hand-signed replicas, souvenirs, lighthouse models, clothing, magnets, books, videos, artwork, toys and collectibles. The store even had 6-foot ornamental lawn lighthouses. It would take days just to get through it all, but our time was limited, so we were off to see the real things.

Our first real-thing sighting was the Cape Neddick Light in York. It also is called Nubble Light, referring to the rocky island, the Nubble, where it sits.

Nubble Light, which was built in 1879, is the southernmost of Maine's many lights. The tower is 41 feet, flashes red every six seconds and can be seen for 13 miles.

Unfortunately, we had to settle for a view of this island beauty from afar because there is no visitor access to the grounds.

The oldest lighthouse on the Maine coast is the Portland Head Light in Fort Williams Park, Cape Elizabeth. It was built in 1791 under orders from President George Washington. It is 72 feet high.

If you have time to see only one lighthouse, this is the one.

It has everything: a beautiful lightkeeper's home, massive lighthouse and a fabulous view of the ocean.

We stood at the edge of the rocky cliffs and watched cruise ships sail past on their way into Portland's harbor.

Until last December, it was possible to rent the second floor of the lightkeeper's quarters.

However, when the last residents' lease was up, it was decided not to rent it because the museum and museum shop needed it for storage.

Another lighthouse stop was Pemaquid Point, which was 16 miles from the U.S. 1 turnoff from Damariscotta. However, we easily were distracted by the many antiques and craft shops, such as the Ducks in New Harbor, along the way. The proprietor of the small, cottage-style store was a charming woman who sold an array of enchanting wooden toys, quilts and dolls, all handmade by her family members.

Pemaquid Point Light is breathtaking. The tower is only 38 feet tall, but its placement on a rocky ledge gives it a focal plane of 79 feet. Pemaquid tower flashes a white, 11,000-candlepower light beam every six seconds and can be seen up to 14 miles. It was commissioned by John Quincy Adams and built in 1827.

Most of the Maine coastline is rocky, but the rocks at Pemaquid were massive. There are signs warning visitors that hiking is done at your own risk and could be fatal. Lives have been lost in the crashing waves. It is a risk, but it's worth the view. Waves crashed onto the rocks with a fierce pounding, even during low tide.

There was a small gift shop and restaurant with a top-of-the-cliffs view of the ocean.

Our last lighthouse stop was Owls Head Light, West Penobscot Bay, at the entrance to Rockland Harbor. We were hesitant about pursuing this one because the pavement ended abruptly.

When we arrived at the dirt parking lot, we had about a quarter-mile walk beyond that, through the woods and along the cliffs.

The station was built in 1825, and its first keeper, Isaac Sterns, made $350 a year. It is now a U.S. Coast Guard residence, and although the grounds are open to the public, the home is not.

Thirty feet tall, the lighthouse was stubbier than the previous lighthouses we'd seen, but just as intriguing.

At the base of the steep stairway leading to the light is a sign warning visitors of an active foghorn: "Danger, physical harm will occur past this point if the alarm sounds."

We spent two nights near Camden, a charming New England coastal town. Large, two-story, Victorian-style houses that have been converted to bed-and-breakfasts line the densely wooded streets. Downtown Camden is jammed with gift shops and restaurants.

It was in Camden harbor that we satisfied our hunger for local lobster.

We found the perfect seafood restaurant on Bayview Landing Wharf, one of three wharves on the harbor, at Bayview Lobster.

It was a no-frills place but had exactly what we were seeking: picnic tables outside so we could enjoy the view and, of course, delicious lobster.

Although we had time to visit only half a dozen lighthouses, there are more than 62 to visit along the Maine coastline. They are truly sights to behold.


* For maps, brochures and some history of the lighthouses, call Maine's Bureau of Parks and Lands at 207-287-3821.

* For general information about Maine and planning a trip there, contact the state's tourism department at 888-624-6345.

Pub Date: 02/28/99

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