Of America's roughly 1,000 lighthouses, more than 150 rest dutifully on the craggy coast of the small but mighty Northeast. Time for a scenic tour, guys!
Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, Maine
On the shores of the ninety-acre Fort Williams Park, you’ll find the Portland Head Light, a historic Cape Elizabeth mainstay that’s open year round from sunrise to sunset. Originally built in 1787 on a modest budget of $750 (with John Hancock’s personal approval), it was lit with 16 whale oil lamps. Twenty-first-century visitors can tour the museum, with its artifacts and old-timey photographs, which is housed in the old keeper’s quarters.
Scituate Lighthouse, Scituate, Massachusetts
Believe it or not, the tiny, circa-1811 Scituate Lighthouse originally housed a family of 11 (including 9 children!) and all within an attached one-and-a-half-story house. Flip through your middle schooler’s textbook today, and you might just find the tale of Abigail and Rebecca Bates, two of the original lighthouse keeper’s daughters, AKA the ‘Lighthouse Army of Two.’ During the War of 1812, the sisters warded off a ship full of British redcoats by hiding in the woods with a fife and a drum, playing military tunes loudly enough (and convincingly enough) that they were mistaken for an entire regiment.
Nauset Light, Eastham, Massachusetts
Recognize the Nauset Light? That’s probably because you’ve glanced at its cartoon likeness on quite a few bags of Cape Cod Potato Chips. While the light went up in 1887, its cliffside locale presented a unique problem when in the 90s, decades of erosion left it standing a precarious 50 feet from the cliff's edge. In order to save it, the light was pushed back some 330+ feet, and it’ll have to be moved again in another couple of decades.
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Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, Newcastle, New Hampshire
Built in 1771, the Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse remains New Hampshire’s only mainland lighthouse. Situated along the Piscataqua River, on the grounds of Fort Constitution, a Revolutionary War fortification, the light was the 10th of 11 lighthouses to be built pre-war. Ask locals and they'll also tell you the light is no stranger to hauntings; its frequent paranormal activities have even been investigated on TV shows like Scared! and Ghost Hunters.
Petit Manan Light, Petit Manan Island, Maine
Fourteen miles out from Bar Harbor is the rugged island of Petit Manan in the Gulf of Maine. While visitors can’t check out the light on their own – it’s part of the Petit Manan Wildlife Refuge – boat tours can take you around to catch sights of the puffin colony that calls the island home.
Race Point Light, Provincetown, Massachusetts
Looking for a sweet vacay pad unlike any you’ve ever stayed in before? How about an authentic lighthouse keeper’s quarters complete with 1950s-style Cape Cod decor? First lit in November 1816 (with one of the earliest revolving lights), today people hike 2-miles along the shoreline of Race Point Beach in P-Town to reach the white, brick-lined light – some even choosing to stay the night.
Nubble Light, York Beach, Maine
Compared to the paltry sums other lighthouses on this list were funded with, the Nubble Light, on Maine’s rocky, unforgiving coast, was budgeted a cool $15,000 in 1874 from President Rutherford B. Hayes. While you can’t tour the lighthouse itself – it sits pretty on an island about 100 feet off the shore – you can traverse the rocks along the water to take photos of the scenic beauty.
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West Quoddy Head Light, Lubec, Maine
Eastern Point Light, Gloucester, Massachusetts
Since the 17th-century, the active Gloucester seaport has been a notoriously dangerous harbor. (Hence Eastern Point Light’s silver screen cameo in the George Clooney/Marky Mark tearjerker otherwise known as The Perfect Storm.) Since the town lost hundreds of vessels and thousands of sailors to sea between the early 1800s and early 1900s, the necessity of a lighthouse at the Cape Ann locale was obvious, leading to the long-overdue construction of Eastern Point in 1829.
Saybrook Breakwater Lighthouse, Old Saybrook, Connecticut
Visitors can’t tour the white, cast-iron Saybrook Breakwater Lighthouse up close and personal, but they can admire it (and take copious photos) from a passing boat on the Connecticut River. Sitting on the end of a granite breakwater, the structure has four floors of living space, capped off with a watchroom and lantern room.
Block Island North Light, Block Island, Rhode Island
Unlike others on our list, the current iteration of the Block Island North Light isn’t that old. Today’s structure – a brown granite building with a white octagonal tower – was constructed and relit in 1989, after the original light from 1829 (and three consequent versions) required a crazy amount of restoration. Before it was turned around and restored to its former glory, however, it was sold to the city of New Shoreham for $1 USD. That’s right, a lighthouse for less than the cost of a value fry at Mickey D’s.
New London Ledge Light, Groton, Connecticut
Cute as a 1909 Colonial Revival- and French Second Empire-style three-story, eleven-room button (on its own man-made island, no less), the New London Ledge Light isn’t even most famous for its unique design. Edging out architectural ingenuity, instead, is Ernie, the ghost of an early keeper who now haunts the house. Supposedly, he has a thing for turning TVs off and closing doors all spookily, enough so, anyways, that the light has landed itself on shows like Scariest Places on Earth and Ghost Hunters.
Great Point Light, Nantucket, Massachusetts
Out on the northernmost tip of Nantucket, where the Atlantic Ocean and Nantucket Sound collide, stands the stone Great Point Light. Getting there can pose a problem for some – you need a 4-wheel drive vehicle to traverse the dunes – but once there, you’ll find silky sands, incredible ocean sunsets, and maybe even some curious beach-faring seals.
Bass Harbor Head Light, Acadia National Park, Maine
For a quintessential taste of coastal Maine, the Bass Harbor Head Light is where it’s at. Perched cliffside on the dramatic southwestern edge of Mount Desert Island, within Acadia National Park, the light tower and keeper’s house have remained almost entirely the same as their original 1876 blueprint.
Nobska Light, Woods Hole, Massachusetts
Take the ferry from Woods Hole to Martha's Vineyard on Cape Cod, and you’ll spot the Nobska Light, standing tall over a brick oil house, brick radio beacon house, and one-and-a-half-story Cape-style wood keeper’s house. If you visit the light on foot, from its vantage point – on top of a coastal bluff – you’ll find panoramic views of the Elizabeth Islands and Nantucket Sound.