Over the years the hundreds of thousands of people who have visited Maine’s famous Portland Head Lighthouse in the town of Cape Elizabeth have also seen the Ram Island Ledge Lighthouse that sits on a rocky ledge about a mile offshore. However, most of those people are so enamored with the magnificence of Portland Head Lighthouse and the picturesque area that it is located in that they barely give Ram Island Ledge Lighthouse a second thought.
A few might take a photo of Ram Island Ledge Light or look at it through the binoculars that are mounted on the grounds of Fort William Park where Portland Head Lighthouse is located, but most of their time is surely spent focusing on Portland Head Lighthouse. The same could be said of historians who also seem to have largely ignored Ram Island Ledge Lighthouse. There are few, if any, written memories of what life was like at the lighthouse. And photos of its interior when lighthouse keepers lived there are apparently nonexistent.
There seems to be only one photo of veteran lighthouse keeper William Converse Tapley who was Ram Island Ledge’s first lighthouse keeper. And, although he served at the lighthouse for an amazing 24 years, very little has been written about his life at the lighthouse and very little is known about him. Even noted author and famous lighthouse keeper Robert Thayer Sterling, who served a short stint at Ram Island Ledge, did not write about life at the lighthouse.
Probably the best memories of life at the lighthouse seem to have come from Joe Johanson who was a modern era Coast Guard keeper at the lighthouse in 1949-50, just a few years before it was automated in 1958. Even in those days, Ram Island Ledge Lighthouse did not have an indoor toilet; a privy, high up and out on the pier, served that purpose and if the keepers used it during inclement weather, they were actually risking their life. Electricity did not arrive at the lighthouse until it was automated and the keepers were removed. One cannot help but wonder what went through the minds of the keepers as they would think about the other keepers who were living in near luxury at Portland Head Lighthouse, less than a mile away.
In has been written that, in its early days, Ram Island Ledge Lighthouse was a popular spot for adventurous tourists, yet few close-up photos of the lighthouse from that era have surfaced. If they do exist, they must be in the hands of private collectors. It took nearly three years to build the lighthouse, yet many of the photos of its construction did not resurface until a recent selection of photos came into the possession of Jim Claflin, of Kenrick A Claflin and Son Nautical Antiques, who was kind enough to share the construction photos with us.
Today, Ram Island Ledge is privately owned. It was purchased at a government auction by an individual who, we can only assume, wants either the prestige of owning a lighthouse or the use of it as an adventurous retreat.
This story appeared in the
Mar/Apr 2013 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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