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Lubec Channel Lighthouse, Lubec, Maine

lighthouse at sunset at low tide
Lubec Channel 2018; Photo ⓒ Madeline Cameron

Due to its location, Lubec Channel Light Station probably is not a highly visited Maine lighthouse. It might not even be on your radar at all even if you do venture to far eastern Maine for the better known West Quoddy Light or Campobello Island. As the name suggests, Lubec Channel Light Station is situated in the center of Lubec Channel (also called the Narrows) between Maine and New Brunswick, and is the second easternmost lighthouse in the United States.

Lubec Channel is one of three remaining sparkplug lighthouses in Maine. Sparkplugs have a variety of interesting names, including coffee pots, bug lights, and the more official sounding caisson lighthouse. The lights are generally comprised of cast iron living quarters, although some brick ones exist, atop a concrete or metal caisson in open water. They were relatively common from the 1870s to 1920s. Generally these lighthouses were prefabricated and considered more durable. There are about 40 sparkplug lighthouses remaining in the US.

lighthouse section plan
Typical elevation of a sparkplug lighthouse, 1893; Courtesy National Archives

The town of Lubec is known for being the easternmost town in the US. It boasts nearly 100 miles of coastline. The area was first settled in 1785 and incorporated in 1811. It is situated in a channel or narrows between the US and Canada, which connects to Passamaquoddy Bay. This area is largely considered to be the northwestern end of the Bay of Fundy. As such, the tides are quite severe (between 30 and 40 feet in the Passamaquoddy Bay) and at low tide many ships cannot even navigate the Narrows between Lubec and Campobello.

map of the bay of fundy
Bay of Fundy tidal chart, Lubec is locate at the channel on the western side of Passamaquoddy Bay; Courtesy YellowMaps, Public Domain

It's probably no surprise why the area of Lubec was chosen for settlement. It's a prime fishing location and is relatively protected from the elements. Herring, pollock, and shellfish are abundant in the bay. "Passamaquoddy" supposedly even translates to mean "pollock plenty place." Lubec was originally incorporated as part of Eastport in 1798 via the Massachusetts legislature, since Maine had not yet become a state. Lubec was incorporated as its own town in 1811.

In the early 19th century, Lubec's economy was sustained by not just fishing but also shipbuilding. From 1814 to 1818, nearby Eastport was occupied by the British until the border was settled between the US and Canada. During this time, many people relocated their families and businesses to Lubec to avoid British customs. This time period is when the first post office, school house, and meeting hall were constructed. Maine became the 23rd state in 1820.

engraving showing the historic town
Lubec as seen from Campobello Island in 1890; Courtesy Library of Congress

Illegal trade of British goods through Campobello Island was hard to curtail given how close the international border was. Lubec also became a massive manufacturer and exporter of smoked fish. As many as 20 smokehouses operated in the town and Lubec became the lead producer of smoked herring in the US. In the mid-19th century, "the smoked herring business employed every male resident over the age of 10" in Lubec, according the local newspaper Maine Register in 1855.

Plaster and grist mills were another massive industry. The mills could harness the power generated from the massive tides. The economic boom in Lubec lasted until shortly after the Civil War, when the herring business experienced a few decades of decline before a resurgence around 1900.

All of these exports of smoked fish had to find their way out of the Lubec Channel and onwards to their destination. It became necessary for there to be some form of navigational aid in the channel by the late 19th century. The Lubec Channel Light Station was commissioned in 1890, and not a moment too soon, since a passenger steamship line from Boston to Lubec was established in 1893.

black and white image of the lighthouse
Undated; Courtesy USCG

After dredging the channel, the US Lighthouse Board recognized the need to position a lighthouse strategically at the center of the wide but shallow narrows between the US and Canada so the waterway could still be utilized to transport goods at night. Congress had appropriated the necessary funds of $52,000 by 1888 and construction was completed by 1890. The light shone for the first time on New Years Eve 1890.

The original lens was a Fourth Order Fresnel lens. Its characteristic was a white flash. The tower was originally brown until it was changed to white in 1903.

From 1880 to about 1910, 23 sardine factories were built along the Lubec waterfront. Entire families, even the children, often worked in these factories and housing was provided seasonally. The population of Lubec peaked at about 3,300 residents in the 1910s and 1930s. Despite a slump after the Great Depression, the sardine and herring businesses supported a thriving Lubec economy until after the Second World War when they sharply declined. Two factories still lingered on in 1976 and the last closed its doors in 2001.

sepia town historic photo of housing and sardine packing plant
Lubec sardine factory and housing, photographed by Lewis Hine 1911; Courtesy Library of Congress

Lubec's population continued to decline after the war and today, hovers right around 1,300. The town relies on tourism to see the 5 nearby lighthouses, Campobello Island, and the McCurdy Smokehouse Museum, and to enjoy the rugged coastline. There is also a vibrant arts and maker community. According to the town's site, the "inhabitants have celebrated their isolated existence and unique, unaffected character, community, and culture for over two hundred years."

Following a horrific tragedy whereby the keeper was asphyxiated from an oil fire, Lubec Channel was automated in 1939. The original lens was replaced with a plastic light by the Coast Guard in 1968.

In the 1980s, the US Coast Guard announced that they planned to discontinue the light station. After this, the light would have had an uncertain future. Locals started a "Save the Sparkplug" campaign raising almost a million dollars for its restoration and repair. The restoration was completed in 1992, and consisted of sand blasting the exterior, repairing the brickwork, stabilizing the structure, rebuilding the landing, replacing the roof and windows, and repainting the structure. Another fresh coat of paint was applied in 2001 by the Coast Guard.

lighthouse and man fishing
Lubec Channel Light, undated; Public Domain

As according to the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000 (NHLPA), the lighthouse was declared as excess and became available for a new caretaker other than the Coast Guard. The Act specifies that a federal agency, state or local government, nonprofit, educational agency or community development organization can assume control of the light at no cost. The group would have to agree to pay for the maintenance and continued care for the light and comply with other NHLPA guidelines. No one applied to take over the post, so the light was auctioned off to a private owner Gary Zaremba for just $46,000.

Although the lighthouse was sold privately in 2007, you can still get a look at the Lubec Channel Light Station from the water or nearby shoreline. When I last visited, it was low tide and I walked out into the channel to get a better look. If you take that course of action, I recommend waders! I ended up having to go barefoot and it was quite a mess.

lighthouse at low tide
Lubec Channel 2018; Photo ⓒ Madeline Cameron


  • Frederick Morong (1890-1898)

  • Loring Myers (1898-c. 1923)

  • Almon Mitchell (c. 1907)

  • Park (unknown)

  • Houlton (unknown)

  • Robinson (unknown)

  • James Doran (unknown)

  • Everett E. Moore (1929)

  • Arthur Robie Marston (c. 1935)

  • Earle B. Ashby (c. 1933-1939)


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