Digest>Archives> April 2000

Maine's Other Lighthouse with Red and White Stripes

By Joe Kiebish


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The eastern lighthouse at Cape Elizabeth, before ...
Photo by: USCG photo

West Quoddy Head is well known for its distinctive red and white stripes. However, for a short period in the 19th century, there was another Maine lighthouse that had stripes. The twin lighthouses at Cape Elizabeth were also painted red and white to serve as daymarks.

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This long lost photo shows the original Cape ...

The government constructed two stone towers on the point in 1828 to help distinguish this light station from others in the area. The lantern room on both lighthouses was modified over the years and the original reflectors were replaced with Fresnel lenses in 1854.

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Cape Elizabeth's east tower, as it appears today

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The first Cape Elizabeth west tower at one time ...

It would seem logical that two white lighthouses at Cape Elizabeth would be sufficient enough to aid mariners in determining their location on the Maine coast. The government, however, felt the need to do more. Edward Rowe Snow writes in his book, Famous Lighthouses of New England, that in 1865, "an unusual change was made for daytime recognition. The west tower was painted with one broad, vertical red stripe, and the east light was given four horizontal bands of red. It is believed no picture of this color combination is in existence." This arrangement presumably lasted until 1874 when both lighthouses, badly in need of repair, were replaced by the two cast iron towers that stand there today. The white tower and keeper's house in the photograph (above left) is of the original east tower built at Cape Elizabeth in 1828. The other photograph (above right) is a stereo view of an unidentified lighthouse with stripes. The features on the keeper's house, the shape and location of the tower, and even the position of the windows in the tower are the same in both pictures. A close comparison of the two pictures indicates that the unidentified striped lighthouse in the stereo view is indeed a long lost view of the east lighthouse at Cape Elizabeth when it was painted with four horizontal red stripes. The only significant difference between the pictures is that one lighthouse has stripes and the other does not. This is possibly the first time that any picture like this of Cape Elizabeth has been published in a magazine or a book.

This exciting find raises some interesting questions. Is there a photograph or stereo view of the west lighthouse at Cape Elizabeth with the vertical red stripe? If this once missing picture of the east lighthouse has been found, could it be possible that a picture of the original Cape Hatteras lighthouse will be located in the future? The lighthouses at Cape Elizabeth and Cape Hatteras were both rebuilt within a few years of each other. Take a look at the old stereo views, postcards, and photographs of unidentified lighthouses. One of them may be the only known picture of the original Cape Hatteras or even another lighthouse. Will you be the one to find that long lost photograph and claim the Lighthouse Digest reward?

This story appeared in the April 2000 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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