Maine is famous for the lighthouses off its coast. Some of the lighthouses of Maine are now open for tours, and if you ever have the opportunity to travel to our nation’s most northeastern state, I’d recommend you take the time to visit one of these historical landmarks. On the southern coast of Maine, close to Biddeford Pool in Saco Bay is a beautiful lighthouse that is being carefully restored. Touring Wood Island Lighthouse is so very enjoyable, I’ve been there a few times, and thought I’d share with you a little of what’s it like.
The thought of living on an island tending a lighthouse evokes such romantic feelings. And on a beautiful warm, clear day, like the day we visited Wood Island, it’s easy to imagine the joys of a simpler life here. In reality, there was a huge burden of responsibility on the lighthouse keeper, and life on an island was challenging due to many factors such as the terrain and the isolation not to mention the severe weather.
Wood Island is located within sight of the little community of Biddeford Pool, so that’s where the tour starts. All of the people who help with the tours are volunteers.
At Biddeford Pool, as the tour group was gathering, about a dozen of us total, the tour guide volunteer shared with us interesting historical facts about the lighthouse, life as a lighthouse keeper, and even about this huge bell which is now mounted on the mainland, across the bay from Wood Island Light. She explained how it had originally been used at the island, and even how one of the lighthouse keepers had trained his dog to ring it.
A boat takes the tour people out to the island. There is only one spot on the island where a boat can safely dock, it’s on the bay side of the island, so the boat ride is a fairly gentle ride across the bay.
As our tour boat pulled up to the landing spot, they explained how it would have been when the lighthouse keeper and his wife lived there. They would have needed to load and unload their boat up to the wooded rails, (getting it safely out of the over 9 foot tides that could easily take their only mode of transportation away) and then one of them in the boathouse, and the other manning the boat, would hook a rope up to the boat and with a huge pulley system, manually crank from the boathouse to get the boat up the rails safely into the boathouse at the top. This took both of them, using teamwork.
Once they got their boat secured in the boathouse, they would have to walk/hike across the entire island all the way back to the lighthouse, carrying their supplies and groceries with them. That would have been about a mile walk across fairly rough terrain.
For us now, on the tour, there is a level boardwalk that cuts straight across the center of the island.
The boardwalk makes the walk so much easier. As the land slopes up and down, the boardwalk maintains a level flat walking path. And what a lovely walk it was, as we were gently almost hovering above the island, through the woods and over the creeks and valleys. Visually taking in the terrain, but not having to fight our way through it.
There is one area in the woods where the boardwalk is above a huge bed of ferns in the woods. So lovely and peaceful.
And as we were there in the early summer, the seagulls and their babies were plentiful… if you could see them…
It was amazing, they’d be right next to you and it was nearly impossible to spot them. Can you see the baby seagull in this picture above? It’s right there…
After about a mile walk on the gently sloped boardwalk we were able to finally see the lighthouse.
Because it was imperative the light was always lit to warn the passing ships of the rocky island they were nearing, inclement weather could not prevent the lighthouse keeper from getting passage to the lighthouse, so the main house is connected to the lighthouse with a covered passageway.
Although now ships mainly use GPS to locate islands and rocks on their journey, the lighthouse still has it’s light working and maintained by the US Coast Guard.
Inside the house, they have a chart of Saco Bay showing all the shipwrecks. This was a solemn reminder of the reality that faced the seamen on board.
There are a total of 59 shipwrecks listed on the chart!
If you’ve seen the coast of Maine, it’s easy to understand how so many shipwrecks could happen.
This is the other side of the island, where it would be impossible to safely land a vessel on the huge jutting rocks in the crashing waves.
As we took turns climbing up the lighthouse tower, the rest of us were free to tour inside the house, and out on the grounds.
The stone well house, makes a happy perch for the seagulls.
Although it would have had it challenges and hardships, it’s hard not to imagine a wonderful part of that life too. As I was sitting on the porch looking out across the meadow to the bold water of the Atlantic Ocean, smelling the salty air, feeling the breeze blow across my face and just listening to the calls of the seagulls I must admit, I did ponder, what would it have been like living here day in and day out, growing a vegetable garden in that meadow, raising children to understand the perils and realities of life by the sea?
Those days are gone. I don’t think any of the lighthouses in Maine are any longer lived in. Many have now been purchased by different non-profit groups that volunteer their time and efforts to raise money to restore and maintain them. Such as this one, Wood Island Light is being restored by “Friends of Wood Island Lighthouse“.
The restoration needs were quite obvious once inside on my first visit there. …
On my second visit there, we were not able to get inside the house because the team was at work in there.
I did have the opportunity to talk to one of the carpenters working on the the interior of the house though, and he told me that restoring lighthouses is all his company does! They travel from island to island and contract just for that. I guess they have their system worked out, because it would be challenging to have to haul every single thing you need, tools and materials, to the island on a boat, and then haul it all back out, including every piece of garbage and scrap off, again by boat. And in this case, they had a little lawn tractor and wagon, they loaded up with the garbage created that day taking the old plaster off and loaded it up on the wagon as they made trips down the boardwalk with it.
After an hour or so touring the inside and outside of the lighthouse and grounds, the tour re-gathered on the island and walked back down the boardwalk to the landing spot.
Once we re-boarded the boat,
our captain took us around to the open water side of the island to see the lighthouse from that angle. It was like a different world on the other side of the island. Once we were out there, in the bold water of the Atlantic Ocean, the waves were so much bigger. The bay side seemed so safe and secure, but the bold water side was a whole different story, and one could quickly realize how treacherous this gorgeous water could be.
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