The magnificent and massive first order Fresnel lens at Maine's Seguin Island Lighthouse is being saved, thanks to the United States Coast Guard.
The nine-foot high lens has been in place since it was installed in 1851 and is the only first order lens still in operation north of Rhode Island. Although the tower only stands 53-feet tall, at 186-feet above sea level; it is the highest lighthouse in Maine.
Built on an island off the coast of Maine's Kennebec River, the island and ownership of the lighthouse was transferred under the Maine Lights Program in 1998 to the Friends of Seguin Island, who now
have seasonal caretakers and a small museum on the island.
The lens, the largest of its kind has had its share of controversy over the years. In the 1980's after the lighthouse was automated, a Coast Guard crew arrived to dismantle the lens and remove it from the island. The local lobsterman, in a standoff with the Coast Guard, refused to allow them to remove the lens, which is reportedly valued at
In 1999, the lens controversy arose again when the Coast Guard felt that the lens should be removed from the tower and placed in a museum on the mainland. They would then replace it with a modern solarized optic, which would allow them to abandon the underwater cable that supplied electricity to the island. Public outcry and some hard work by the Friends of Seguin Island again convinced the Coast Guard to change their minds.
In 2005, Jim Woodward, a leading expert on lighthouse lenses visited the island and did emergency repairs to the lens apparatus and prepared an assessment of the condition and future care of the lens. Later that same year, CWO Joe Cocking, USCG, inspected the lens for the Coast Guard and provided a detailed report on the serious condition of the lens apparatus and the lens itself.
Now, Joe Cocking is back at Seguin as the owner of Lighthouse Lamp Shop of Orange Park, Florida. He was there with Nicholas Johnson of Carolina Lens Works of China Grove, NC, to finally make the necessary repairs to the lens apparatus and lens itself. In an about face of the Coast Guards plans of several years before, they had been awarded a Coast Guard contract for the work. Being former Coast Guardsmen, both were again working for the Coast Guard in a trade they had learned while in the service. The pair worked and lived on the island during their stay in which they replaced broken and
fractured lenses and stabilized its working mechanisms.
The first order lens is the largest of all lenses made. The lenses bear the name of the man who invented them, French physicist Augustine Fresnel.
This story appeared in the
October 2006 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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