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Owls Head Light

Owls Head (Rockland Harbor), Knox Co., Maine (August 2009)

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Owls Head Light

Owls Head, Maine

Owls Head Light is a spectacular site on a scenic outcrop, easily accessible from nearby Rockland, Maine. Quite simply it involves an easy swing along the southern shore of Rockland Harbor to the Town of Owls Head. From there follow Lighthouse Road to its terminus at the large parking lot near the end the promontory. The lighthouse marks the rocky southern entrance to the harbor and serves as an active aid to navigation.

Rockland Harbor Lighthouse

Owls Head Light

The Owls Head Light occupies the highest point of the steep, rocky outcrop where Rockland Harbor meets Western Penobscot Bay. The tower is short, almost stubby, only thirty feet high. It doesn't have to be tall, however, because its cliffside perch gives it a focal plan of a hundred feet. It is clearly visible to anyone approaching the harbor, and when combined with the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse across the way it delineates safe passage to or from Rockland by sea. I took this photograph as we passed through the channel on the ferry to Vinalhaven Island

It looks deceptively tranquil. That assumption has been proven false many times over the years since 1826 when a light first shone from its tower. Ships wrecked on the rocks in violent storms and relentless fog. Legends such as the "frozen couple" rescued from a nearby shipwreck and a barking dog that warned mariners away from danger only added to its storied reputation over the years. It's one of the more picturesque and romantic lights to be found along the Maine coastline.

Maine Lighthouse

A Closer View of Owls Head

Native Americans lived here for centuries and may have provided a name for it based on natural features in the cliff that seemed to resemble an owl's head. I had it pointed out to me and could sort-of make it out when I squinted and used my imagination so I can't vouch for the veracity of the claim. Either way, nobody is really sure how Owls Head came to be named so anybody's guess is as good as another. It adds to the mystique and ambiance.

People of European descent most definitely visited this location by the early Seventeenth Century. Samuel de Champlain certainly recorded a stop here in 1605. Step forward a couple of centuries and the United States had already gained its independence from Great Britain. Maine became the 23rd of the United States after separating from Massachusetts in 1820, and Rockland become a busy port. The jagged southern approach to its harbor clearly needed a lighthouse to guide ship traffic safely to and from the bustling wharves and through the channels of Western Penobscot Bay. President John Quincy Adams granted authority to erect a light at Owls Head in the 1825. A cylindrical brick structure upon a granite foundation rose atop the cliff the following year and a light has remained there ever since. Oil lamps and reflectors provided the original rays of light that pierced gloomy nights and relentless fog. A fourth-order Fresnel lens replaced this system in 1856 and only very recently has it been replaced by modern optics.

Although automated in the 1980's, Owls Head Light continues to remain an active aid to navigation maintained by the United States Coast Guard.

Lighthouse Keeper

The Lighthouse Keeper's Quarters

Lighthouses required constant attention until the modern age and the government built a beautiful wood-frame cottage at Owls Head to shelter the keepers in 1854. This must have been an ideal posting for someone in the U.S. Lighthouse Service. The station offered nice quarters, a beautiful view, and a sense of privacy with proximity to civilization and resupply when needed. The Town of Owls Head sat just a couple miles down the road and Rockland a few miles around the southern arc of the harbor either by foot or by skiff. The weather could turn nasty though and the lighthouse wasn't attached physically to the keeper's cottage, requiring a walk up steep wooden stairs to the top of the bluff. That was still a lot better than other lighthouse locations. Civilians manned the station until the 1960's and the Coast Guard provided a keeper all the way up to 1989. The Coast Guard still uses the quarters for housing -- it is not open to the public -- although the current occupants do not serve as lighthouse keepers. Rockland is an active Coast Guard Station and was named an official "Coast Guard City" in 2008 so there are plenty of other activities to keep Coast Guard personnel busy along the waterways.

The entire Lighthouse Station was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

Maine Coastline

The Rocky Beach Below the Lighthouse

Owls Head is more than just a light station, though. It is also a Maine state park with several other activities available. It has a very convenient parking lot to accommodate visitors who wish to visit the light or spend a larger portion of the day here. The walk to the lighthouse is moderately uphill but not too long or strenuous. We packed a lunch and enjoyed sitting at a picnic table with a stunning view of Western Penobscot Bay as fog rolled in and out of the jagged crags. We also took a short hike along the trail to the rocky beach below the lighthouse. Here we climbed among the stones, found great opportunities for beachcombing, and enjoyed the sounds of surf breaking on the shore. The station and its foghorn provided a backdrop almost exactly as one would expect along Midcoast Maine.

Readers who have an interest in lighthouses might also want to check my Lighthouse Index page.