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We occasionally receive a question from a student who is working on a school project. See below for some of the interesting questions we've received and our answers.

If you have a question about the West Quoddy Head Light or a related topic, contact us.

Visit these sites to learn more about downeast Maine.

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Maine Department of Conservation
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West Quoddy Lighthouse Historical Narrative
For over two centuries and more, many a skipper, many a helmsman felt the surge of deliverance upon first spotting the Quoddy Lighthouse, guardian of the most easterly point of the United States. Its fear-mitigating presence began perpetual vigil from West Quoddy Head with the first lighthouse tower in 1808. The West Quoddy name paradox arose because East Quoddy Head lies farther east and a dozen miles north on Campobello Island, outside the U.S. border in Canada.

Today's Tower
A great era of lighthouse construction worldwide came about in the 1850s. High technology of the times developed fresnel lenses, efficiently concentrating light toward the horizon for maximum visibility. The new 1857 West Quoddy tower received such a lens from Paris, together with a spiral iron staircase, . Many new lighthouses replicated the style, creating family resemblances among these beacons of hope and safety.

The Light and the Lens
Preceding the 20th Century fire lit all lighthouses. Weak oil lamps, commonly fueled with whale oil, illuminated the lantern while shiny metal reflectors focused the feeble light toward the horizon. Light keepers carried oil, trimmed wicks, and polished the reflectors. Multiple reflectors, used to span coverage of 300 degrees or more demanded as many lamps. Solid glass lenses originated before 1600, but became burdensome in large sizes. Enter Augustin Fresnel, French physicist and mathematician, whose computations of optical refraction suggested manufacturing lenses in segments. Today's fresnel (fray-nell) lenses, correctly not capitalized, directionalize lighting from theatrical spots to auto taillights with molded segments making in a thinner, lighter lens. For lighthouse purposes the ease of forming individual glass segments into iron-framed cylinders saved weight. Even so, West Quoddy's "third order" fresnel, four feet eight inches high and over three feet in diameter, weighs a ton, and it's not the largest. It magnified oil-fueled light for 74 years until electrification in 1932, and continues to this day.

Automation
Growing reliability and declining cost of technology quelled need for a live crew. Inevitably automation arrived, including weather telemetering by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The termination ceremony took place on June 30, 1988, with last lightkeeper Malcom "Mac" Rouse in attendance. The U.S. Coast Guard turned over the property including structures to the State of Maine. Today the Coast Guard maintains the lantern, the entire upper lamp assembly, while the State of Maine holds responsibility for those colorful stripes. But despite radar and GPS, local fishermen and other mariners remain dependent on the old stone tower with its so-human characteristics of warning sound and light.

Abridged from the book Remembering Lubec, © Ronald Pesha, 2009.



Q: When is the Visitor Center open:

A: Open from 10 am - 4 pm Memorial day to July 4th, 10 am - 5 pm from July 4th to Labor Day, 10 am - 4 pm from Labor Day to closing October 15th.
 

Q. What are the dimensions and specifications of the tower?
 

A. The dimensions and specifications of the tower are as follows:

Tower 49 feet (15 meters) high.

Tower diameter at base, 16 feet (4.88 meters), at top 14 feet
   (4.27 meters).

Tower construction: red brick. Additional courses (veneer) added
   in 20th Century.

Center of lantern 83 feet (25.3 meters) above sea level.

1000 watt bulb, 30,000 candlepower.

Visible 15-18 miles (24-29 kilometers) at sea.

Light flashes (does not revolve) 24 hours per day in this sequence:
   2 seconds on, 2 seconds off, 2 seconds on, 9 seconds off.

Automated in 1988 ~ still a working lighthouse.

50 step circular stairway, then 10 rung ladder to top.

Lens: Third order Fresnel (about 5.5 feet or 1.68 meters) tall.

Illumination: Originally oil from sperm whales; to lard oil in 1860s;
   to kerosene about 1880; to electricity in 1932.

 

Q. Can you tell me if there was any damage to or destruction of the tower in a storm? Was it ever used in a war? How?
 
A. The Quoddy Head Lighthouse is a substantial structure which has received no major damage in the 149 years since it was built. We did receive a copy of a letter from U. S. Coast Guard architect Marsha Levy dated June 21, 2004. She wrote,
 
"A hailstorm that occurred within the last 40 years has severely damaged the copper dome. The sheet copper is covered with thousands of indentations, some deep enough to penetrate the surface. The surface of the copper is also dented and deformed. At the built-in gutter, which is connected to the dome, large fractures in the sheet metal have occurred. The weight of the copper used was also too light, it lacked the strength to withstand deformation from the high wind loads at the site."
 
This led to replacement of the copper dome in 2004.
 
Architect Levy wrote to us in January 2005,

"It is possible that the copper we removed was not original - it might have been a replacement due to some unknown circumstances. From my examination of the lighthouse, I can see that the watch deck panels and the watch deck railing are from the late 19th century (probably late 1880's or 1890's). This suggests that West Quoddy had major repairs toward the end of the 19th century. Perhaps the dome was replaced or altered at this time as well."
 
During the War of 1812, what is now the City of Eastport, Maine, was occupied by the British for a couple of years. Eastport is about eight miles by water from West Quoddy Head. It is said that the lighthouse was occupied briefly by the British at that time, which we have been unable to confirm. This was of course before the present tower was built in 1857. The first tower was wooden, built in 1808.
 
We have also heard that the lighthouse, exposed at the easternmost tip of the U.S., was guarded during the early years of World War II for fear of attack by German submarines. Apparently nothing happened.
 
 
Q. As West Quoddy Head Light stands at the Easternmost point of the continental United States, do you have any information about the other extreme geographical points?

A.

In the 48 adjacent states:
 
Northernmost Point: Northwest Angle, Minnesota, the only part of the 48 States north of the 49th Parallel.
 
Westernmost Point: Cape Alvala, Washington.
 
Southernmost Point: Ballast Key, Florida.

 

In the entire United States:

Northernmost Point: Point Barrow, Alaska 71 23' N 156 29' W
 
Southernmost Point: Ka Lae, Hawaii 18 55' N 155 41' W
 
Westernmost Point: Cape Wrangell, Alaska 52 55' N 172 27' E
 
Easternmost Point: West Quoddy, Maine 44 49' N 66 57' W
 
 
Q. How many steps are there to the tower?

A. There are fifty steps up to the tower, which, looking down from the top, climb clockwise. As you walk up the inside of the tower, the wall is on your left side. Above the steps one passes through a bulkhead and finds ten more steps to the deck, so steep as to be a ladder.
 
 
Q. Do you have any details about the original construction of the Light House?

A. Because of the early date the details of this light house's construction are shadowy at best. Lubec citizens, concerned about the dangerous basaltic outcroppings at the narrowing entrance to Passamaquoddy Bay, urged construction of a light station as early as 1806. The federal government wanted to establish a U.S. presence at a time when the boundary between our nation and Canada was ill-defined.
 
The first tower, wooden, was built in 1808 by order of President Thomas Jefferson. It has been reported that the first officer of the U.S. Coast Guard, Hopley Yeaton, was involved. Yeaton had been appointed as an officer in the Cutter Service, which eventually became the Coast Guard, by George Washington. He had partially retired to North Lubec and his assertive nature involved him in public service here.
 
Border disputes flared in the War of 1812. Indeed, the British occupied the community of Eastport, just three miles north of Lubec, for a few years, and are said to have occupied West Quoddy Light Station very briefly.
 
A treaty dated November 24, 1817, clearly placed West Quoddy Head within the U.S., but did not firmly define the exact course of the boundary line. That required almost a hundred years, to the treaty of April 11,1908! (Maine in the Northeastern Bounday Controvery, by Henry S. Burrage, Maine State Historian, published in 1919).
 
During those years the tower, which stands and operates today, was built...1857 to be exact.
 
There is a modern song about West Quoddy Head Light (actually about its 1988 automation) written by Mr. Noel Vielleux. We suggest that you write to him at wqhls@yahoo.com and ask if you may quote from his copyrighted lyrics for a school project.
 
 
Q. Is West Quoddy Head the oldest lighthouse in Maine?
 

A. No. The oldest lighthouse in Maine is Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth. Construction began under orders of John Hancock, Governor of Massachusetts. At that time Maine was part of Massachusetts. When the federal government took over all of America's lighthouses the construction was completed in 1791. President George Washington personally appointed the first keeper.
 
 
Q. What does the name "Quoddy Head" mean?

A. Passamaquoddy is a bay on the coast of Maine and also the name of the Native American Tribe - the Passamaquoddy. The Passamaquoddy people are known in English as "People of the Dawn".
 
Passamaquoddy is an Indian word meaning "pollock ground" or "pollock-plenty space". Pollock, meaning the fish known as 'pollock'. 'Quoddy' is a Micmac word (Micmac are a Canadian Indian people) meaning "fertile or beautiful place".
 
'Head' is the shortened term of the word 'headland', which means a point of land running out into the sea. Thus, Quoddy Head means: 'a fertile or beautiful point of land running out into the sea'.
 
 
Q. What is the significance of the bell located in front of the Visitor Center?

A. The bell has resided on the property for many decades. Earlier photos show it closer to the edge of the cliff, about where the Easternmost Point granite marker rests now. The State Park Manager tells us that it is an old U.S. Coast Guard bell, but not used at West Quoddy. Its original location is unknown.
 
 
Q. What was the red brick building on the property used for, and which building housed the oil for the lighthouse years ago?

A. The brick building apparently was built with the keepers' house, or very shortly thereafter, but it has been much enlarged. It functioned as the boiler house, a coal-fired steam plant for the assorted whistles, and diaphones, used as fog-warning devices. And possibly for house heating? We don't know. It now houses emergency auto-start diesel generators and fuel tanks, and telemetering apparatus in contact with U.S. Coast Guard Aids to Navigation in Southwest Harbor, Maine. Old photos show a large smokestack along with other buildings - long gone. The frame building on the left was a barn. We do not know the function of the building between the house and the boiler building.
 
The lantern was oil fired for many years before later electrification. The former U.S. Lighthouse Service is said to have been very conservative and traditional before it passed to the U.S. Coast Guard in 1939.The small white structure about one-third of the way along the patch is unidentified. To the right of the barn is a clothesline with a few items drying. Between the house and the brick building (then paintd white) are people watching the airplane/helicopter? On the rear of the house note the two back doors, for it was then still a duplex. The back door on the side away from the sea is now the main entrance to the Visitor Center. The autos and the trailer identify this as a mid-20th Century photo. The family of Keeper Howard "Bob" Gray (1934-52) have told me that the small red building was his workshop.
 

The oil house is the small building to left side of the photo below, a pathway leading to it.
 



Q. What do the folks at West Quoddy Light think of the West Quoddy Replica on Lake Havasu.
 
A. The working 1/3 size West Quoddy model at Lake Havasu, Arizona, was (we believe) either their first or second replica. About five years ago they sent photos of the model in progress, and then when finished. Some of these photos were posted in our Visitor Center for one season. As we host tourists from all over the nation, people from the southwest often remarked on the Lake Havasu exhibit.

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