This Region:
Southern Maine
Previous Light:
Wood Island
Next Lighthouse:
Portland Head

Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse

cape elizabeth lighthouse

Cape Elizabeth, Maine
Built in 1829


 

Location:

Overlooking Casco Bay. Found off Route 77 at the end of Two Lights Road near Twin Lights Park. Private residence.

Latitude: 43° 33' 56" N
Longitude: 70° 12' 00" W

Historic Stories:

The Most Dramaic Lighthouse Rescue
Built in 1829 as two towers 300 yards apart this station was called Two Lights. Both lights were rebuilt in 1874.

One of the most dramatic rescues in lighthouse history involved Keeper Marcus Hannah. In 1885, a January winter blizzard kept Hannah up all night sounding the fog whistle with an extremely bad cold to warn mariners of the rocky shoreline. After sunrise, the exhausted Keeper trudged through huge snow drifts from the fog house to the keeper’s house to try to get a few hours sleep. He was soon awakened by his wife who noticed the schooner Australia, shipwrecked on Dyers Ledge at Two Lights.

Hannah ran down to the shoreline and had his Assistant Keeper, Staples, try to get help nearby. The ship's captain had already been washed overboard into the freezing waters before Hannah could get to the vessel in time. The other two crew members were frozen to the ice covered rigging, barely alive.

After a number of ill-fated attempts to throw a line from the shore, and his limbs practically frozen by this time, Hannah risked his life in the freezing January waters and waded waist-deep into the ocean. This time he was able to get a line to the vessel, with the one of the frozen crewmen, Irving Pierce, managing to free himself from the ice covered rigging he was hanging on to, and tie the line around himself. Hanna then pulled the helpless man, who was blinded from the exposure to the white snow, through the waves and rocks to the shore.

Hannah then tried to get a line to the second crewman, William Kellar. Kellar was able to barley get the line around himself, frozen from exposure. Hannah, with his own strength failing from exhaustion and exposure to the cold and freezing waters, tried to pull Kellar towards the shore. Luckily, Assistant Keeper Staples arrived just in time, and with help from two neighbors the four men were able to bring Kellar safely ashore.

It would be two days of round the clock attention by Hannah, his wife, and Staples before both crewmen were able to make the trip to Portland hospital by sled where they recovered from their experience.

Marcus Hanna received a gold lifesaving medal six month’s later for "heroism involving great peril to his life," after one of the greatest lifesaving feats by a lighthouse Keeper.

 

The Shipwreck of the Bohemian
On February 4,1864, the 295-foot steamer Bohemian, was making a winter voyage leaving Liverpool, England, for Portland, Maine. The steamer was carrying about 219 passengers consisting of 200 Irish immigrants and nineteen cabin class passengers. The Bohemian was only a couple of miles away from the rocky shoreline of Cape Elizabeth, and was proceeding dangerously close to Alden’s Rock, as Captain Borland had miscalculated the distance in the hazy foggy conditions. Alden’s Rock was a treacherous ledge in shallow water that at the time was only marked by a silent buoy, not a bell buoy.

By eight o'clock that evening, the Bohemian struck the ledge, ripping a gash in the hull pouring water into the engine room, causing the widespread panic with pasengers and crew, and sank in less than an hour and a half.

In total, two crewmembers and a total of forty passengers, all Irish immigrants from the lower steerage class, perished. The locals of Cape Elizabeth opened their homes in providing food, shelter, and clothing to the exhausted survivors, while the local City Hall provided a temporary shelter area for the next few days as survivors tried to notify their families in England and Ireland. Money was collected by the Portland Board of Trade and distributed to the survivors for clothing.

At least twelve of the forty-two lives that were lost are also remembered in a small monument in nearby Calvary Cemetery in South Portland.

In 1924, the government had the West Tower dismantled.

A Famous 1929 Edward Hopper painting of this lighthouse is displayed occasionally at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It has been duplicated quite often.

cape elizabeth rear

Cape Elizabeth Rear Range Light
(West Tower), Discontinued

 

 

On March 3, 1947, the Oakley L. Alexander broke up in a fierce gale 8 miles out. The stern half of the vessel containing all 32 crew members were miraculously carried to the rocks at Two Lights, where keeper Earle Drinkwater, his crew, and local fishermen were able to rescue all aboard.

In 1970, Two Lights became the first lighthouse on a postage stamp. The Cape Elizabeth Light was one of the most powerful lights on the New England Coast, visible for 27 miles.

In 1994, the original second order lens of the active Cape Elizabeth Light was removed and displayed at the Cape Elizabeth Town Hall until the summer of 2013, when the high price of insurance and increasing stringent regulations forced the town to give the lens back to the government. The Maine Maritime Museum heard of the town's plight and agreed to take the lens to Bath, where it displays prominently as part of the many historical artifacts of this prestigious museum. It has been valued recently at $2.5 million dollars.

 

New England Lighthouses

 

Places to Visit Nearby:

Cape Elizabeth is a quiet town with well-preserved Victorian homes, and clean parks and beaches nearby, including Crescent Beach.

Two Lights State Park, sometimes referred to as Twin Lights State Park, near the lighthouses offers relaxing picnic tables, hiking trails, and ocean views. You can walk from the park to the lighthouses located in a quiet residential neighborhood as private residences. You'll also find the Lobster Shack by the tiny beach to eat and have great shoreline views.

For the lighthouse historians and enthusiasts, inside the lobby of the South Portland Post Office is a mural painting (see above) of the wreck of the R.M.S. Bohemian, which sank off Cape Elizabeth on February 22, 1864. It was Maine’s worst disaster. At least a dozen of those that lost ther lives are also remembered in a small monument in nearby Calvary Cemetery in South Portland.

The town of Cape Elizabeth is also home to Portland Head Lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse in Maine, and one the most photographed. The lighthouse is located inside a forty-one-acre park inside Fort Williams for hiking long the cliff edges, exploring the old fort, or just for picnicking and kite flying in its open areas. The tower is not open to the public, but visitors can explore the Museum at Portland Head Light at the keeper’s house.

 

 

Driving Directions

 

Contact Info:
American Lighthouse Foundation
P.O. Box 565
Rockland, ME 04841
Phone: (207) 594-4174

 

 

 

My 300-page book (with over 360 images), Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Northern New England: New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont, published by Schiffer Publishing, provides human interest stories from each of the 76 lighthouses, along with plenty of coastal attractions and tours near each beacon, and contact info to plan your special trips.

You also find more detailed accounts of the wreck of the Bohemian, and Marcus Hannah's rescue mentioned above, along with plenty more attractions.

Look inside!

book northern New England lighthouses and attractions

 

 

Back to Top