Since 1808 lighted towers have stood guard over the most easterly land in all the United States, but not until this year will a Visitor Center and small museum interpret the rich history of historic West Quoddy Head in Lubec, Maine. In those days this light station beckoned not only to navigators, but also toward England as a warning that our still-new nation would hold this then-disputed land less than a mile from Canadian claims.
Fundy Bay forces shaped human hazards where western Atlantic meets eastern America. The frozen spume of ancient volcanoes caused great danger for early seamen entering Lubec Channel, like a beckoning funnel with razor- sharp jeopardy about its rim. Safety called for a light station at that rim. The need remains. Today, even in modern times the automated West Quoddy Lighthouse continues its vigil under Coast Guard auspices.
Now, the light station houses the first ever visitor’s facility for those who come to stand at this easternmost point of land of the United States of America. Located inside the 1858 Keeper’s House, the free museum and informational site has been developed by a local group. The West Quoddy Head Light Keepers Association, Inc., formed in 1998 in Lubec, secured grants to help pay for the Maine Department of Conservation’s Bureau of Parks and Lands renovation.
The small museum displays the development of the lighthouse and the keeper’s house in early and modern photos. Still a working Coast Guard tower, its interior, unfortunately, remains off limits to the public, however a short videotape allows visitors to take a tour up the 1858 iron stairs to the top. With a light station history rich in fog warning failures, another exhibit recounts experimental efforts to succeed, some bizarre. A hand-fired cannon, assorted bells (including a 14-foot triangular “dinner” bell), an air trumpet, a steam whistle, then the 20th century development of diaphones and foghorns are shown. The interactive pushbuttons recreate some of the sounds. Another pushbutton activates an actual lighthouse bulb, inviting you to watch the convenient sweep second hand and replicate West Quoddy’s unique sequence: two seconds on, two seconds off, two seconds on, nine seconds off.
Visitors are also invited to enjoy Quoddy Head State Park’s trails along the rocky cliffs to peat bogs and past delicate plants, which survive on moisture from fog rather than roots. All this from the little community of Lubec where the 2000 census counted but 1600 souls.
Local business owner, Junia Lehman, and member of the volunteer group said, “You cannot visit the easternmost lighthouse in the United States and not be intrigued about how it all began. In past years tourists have always asked for more information at the lighthouse that told about its history. Now, that’s all here for them. “ Another native, Norma Hampton, who at 88 attends every meeting because, “I want Lubec to offer this to the world.”
Then there is Dr. Deane Hutchins and his nurse wife Virginia, practicing in distant and often remote parts of the world. “We always planned to return to our home in Maine after living overseas. After we arrived we enrolled in an adult education class on the history of the West Quoddy Lighthouse. A realization of the role this lighthouse has played in maritime history made it that much more important to become involved in its restoration.” And Allan Rudolph, retired Boston architect of large medical facilities, giving freely his professional advice. “I never dealt with domestic architecture...until the West Quoddy light keeper’s house.”
The West Quoddy Visitor Center will operate from Memorial Day to Labor Day, seven days a week. The people of the small community of Lubec, Maine are ready to welcome the world to their twin glories in the real “Downeast” Maine; the red and white striped West Quoddy Head Light, and the easternmost point of mainland of the United States of America.
This story appeared in the
May 2002 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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