Ram Island Ledge Light, Casco Bay, Maine
August 15, 2017
This was taken while on a Whale Watching tour out of Portland on the Odyssey .
PORTLAND, Maine — The property has a million-dollar view, but the quarters are cramped, the grounds are nothing to brag about and a loud fog horn blares every 10 seconds.
The property isn’t for everybody. It’s hard to get to, located on a wave-swept rocky ledge where landing a boat can be treacherous. Once there, a person has to climb a 30-foot ladder to get into the tower. Inside, the circular rooms are small and bare. The yard, if you can call it that, is a ledge that is underwater half the time whenever the tide is up.
Ram Island, about a mile offshore from Portland Head near the entrance to Portland Harbor, is surrounded by dangerous ledges. As far back as 1855, an iron spindle was erected as a navigational aid on Ram Island Ledge, which extends for a quarter mile from Ram Island. A larger 50-foot wooden tripod was placed there in 1873. These markers were helpful in clear weather, but in bad weather they were virtually invisible.
Shipwrecks continued with frequency. On May 27, 1866, alone, there were four wrecks. Many fishing boats and schooners struck the ledges over the years, often while trying to make Portland Harbor in bad weather. On February 24, 1900, the 400-foot transatlantic steamer California went aground at Ram Island Ledge in a snowstorm. There was no loss of life, and the steamer was refloated six weeks later. This near-tragedy finally convinced the federal government that a lighthouse was called for.
In 1902, Congress appropriated funds for the building of a lighthouse on Ram Island Ledge. In 1903, the federal government purchased the ledges from two Cape Elizabeth families for $500.
The granite tower is nearly a twin of Graves Light in outer Boston Harbor, which was built almost at the same time.
Ram Island Ledge was submerged much of the time, meaning that construction could only take place at low tide. Work began on May 1, 1903. Temporary quarters were set up for the workers on Ram Island.
A Rockland company provided granite blocks from Vinalhaven. The giant blocks were brought to Central Wharf in Portland, numbered to indicate their position, and then ferried to the ledge, which had been leveled to three feet above mean low water. The first stones were laid on Ram Island Ledge in July 1903.
By the end of September, the tower reached a height of 32 feet. A crew of 25 men worked from April to July 1904 to complete the tower.
A 26,000-pound lantern was placed on the tower and fitted with a third-order Fresnel lens. With the lantern, the lighthouse reached a height of 90 feet, with the light 77 feet above mean high water.
An iron pier was added to the ledge, and the kerosene lamp was first lighted on January 23, 1905.