Digest>Archives> September 2008

What The First West Quoddy Lighthouse Looked Like

By Ronald Pesha


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This drawing by Eileen Fitzpatrick is believed to ...

After years of petitioning, the 1807 the sea-going communities of Maine’s Cobscook Bay saw their efforts rewarded. The government would build a lighthouse at West Quoddy Head, the easternmost point of the nation. Accounts of a wooden structure appear accurate.

Details recently surfaced from a Boston newspaper, the Columbia Centinel, for Wednesday June 17, 1807. The U.S. Treasury Department, operating the Revenue Cutter Service protecting customs collections, let bids for the new lighthouse of either stone or wood.

With 2100 words of specifications, “Proposals will be received...for Building a Light-House on West Passamaquoddy head, in the district of Maine and the state of Massachusetts, of the following materials, dimensions, and description.

“The Light House to be of stone...Separate Proposals will also be received for building in the following manner:--The Light-House to be of wood--the form octagon.”

In 2002 the West Quoddy Lighthouse Visitor Center commissioned an “artist’s conception,” reproduced here. Not far off. “The octagon pyramid of wood is to be of good oak, or white pine timber, without sap, and to be twenty-five feet diameter at the commencement. The height of the Pyramid to be forty five feet from the stone work, to the floor of the lantern, where the diameter is to be nine feet. The frame to be covered with good inch seasoned white pine boards feather edged, over which is to be laid a good coat of cedar or white pine (without sap) shingles and to be painted with three coats of good paint, the last two of which to be white.

“Four windows, each to have eight panes of 10 by 12 glass.” By assuming two other windows exist on the other side, got that right, too, down to the number of panes.

“The lantern to be five feet ten inches diameter and seven feet three inches high from the floor to the bottom of the dome or roof, and to have a roof three feet six inches in height and covered with sheet copper.” But early oil-fired lanterns smoked heavily. “The rafters of the lantern of iron are to be framed with an iron hoop, over which is to be a copper funnel through which the smoke may pass into a copper ventilator in the form of a ball...large enough to secure the funnel against rain: This ventilator to be turned by a large vane, so that the hole for venting the smoke may be always to leeward.” Our drawing lacks the requisite ventilator.

Today’s lightkeepers’ house was built, like the tower, in 1857. We knew little of the original house before reading these 1807 specs: “Separate proposals will also be received for building a frame dwelling house one story of seven feet stud, seventeen feet front by twenty six feet from front to rear, with a cellar...The house is to be divided into three rooms, a parlour, kitchen and bed room. Twelve feet from the front a line is to be run through the house which forms the parlour, and the remainder of the house the kitchen and bed room”

In those days households lacked cookstoves, so “there is to be a good chimney with two fireplaces and an oven and iron mantletrees.”

The bid solicitation also specified a water well and an oil vault. “Persons disposed to contract will be pleased to forward their terms to Benjamin Lincoln, Esq Collector, at Boston, on or before the 15th day of August.”

The aging Collector Lincoln had served in the Continental Army with the rank of Major General, accepting the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781. He later served as Lt. Governor of his native Masschusetts, and as the Collector of the Port of Boston. He died in 1810.

His grandson Thomas Lincoln (no relation to Abraham Lincoln’s father) was a founder of Dennysville, Maine, not far from West Quoddy Head. Possibly he saw the white lighthouse for which his grandfather took bids.

Thanks to Ruth McInnis, Eastport, Maine, owner of the original newspaper.

This story appeared in the September 2008 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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