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Little River Lighthouse

The first lighthouse at Little River was built in 1847. It was a stone tower attached to a granite keeper’s house. In 1876 the stone tower was torn down and replaced with a cast-iron tower (brick lined), which still stands today. At one time, the lighthouse was painted red, with a black lantern. Today the lighthouse is painted white with a forest green lantern.

The old granite keeper’s house was demolished in 1888 and replaced by a two-story wooden Victorian-style dwelling that still stands today. In 1881 the old boathouse was demolished and replaced with the present-day boathouse.

For safety reasons (fire hazard) the government built an oil house at the site in 1905. It was constructed from some of the leftover stonework that was part of the original tower. Over time, various types of fuel were used to light the beacon in the tower, including whale oil and kerosene. When electricity came to the island the oil house was no longer needed for its intended purpose. The building was then named “The Paint Locker.”

There were two different fog bell towers at Little River Lighthouse, though sadly, neither survives today. However, the original fog bell is on display in the Cutler Town Circle.

In 1939 the United States Lighthouse Service was abolished and its duties were merged into the United States Coast Guard, officially ending the era of the Lighthouse Service. The lighthouse was originally equipped with a Fifth Order Fresnel lens as its optic. Today, the whereabouts of the Fresnel lens is unknown.

After the station was automated in 1975, the classical lens was removed and replaced by a modern optic atop a steel skeletal tower near where the present-day foghorn and solar panels are now used. The Coast Guard left the island and the government attempted to maintain the station with caretakers, an arrangement they eventually discontinued. The historic light station structures were then boarded up and abandoned.

In 1993, the government offered the lighthouse to a variety of government agencies, such as the Town of Cutler, State of Maine, the National Park Service, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife. All declined ownership saying the lighthouse would cost too much money to restore and maintain. The Little River Lighthouse was offered for adoption under the Maine Lights Program, but again, no one stepped forward to take ownership. In the fall of 1998, the Maine Historic Preservation Society declared the Little River Light Station as one of the “Ten Most Endangered Historic Properties” in the state.

Finally, in 2001, the American Lighthouse Foundation stepped in and proceeded with the restoration of the light tower, boat ramp, and wooden walkway on the island. These projects met the Coast Guard’s criteria for reestablishing a light in the historic lighthouse, which had been decommissioned in 1975.

In October 2002, ownership of the 15-acre island and the light station structures (lighthouse, keeper’s house, oil house, and boathouse) were transferred to the American Lighthouse Foundation. Little River had the distinction of being the first lighthouse in New England, and the third lighthouse in the United States, to have its ownership transferred to a nonprofit group under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000.


A 52 Weeks of Fun Fascinating Fact about Little River Lighthouse

Little River was the first lighthouse in New England to have its ownership transferred to a nonprofit group, The American Lighthouse Association.

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