The pleasure of ascending the circular staircase in one of Maine’s coastal lighthouses was once limited to lighthouse keepers. Of course, those lighthouse keepers might not have always described it as a pleasure. The climb to the lantern room meant work, and it wasn’t always easy.

Before electrification and automation in the 20th century, keepers were responsible for replenishing fuel, cleaning the lenses and winding the clockworks. They lived year-round in the shadow of their keep — diligently working through storms and seclusion — to ensure the lamps were lit and the fog bell sounded, warning sailors of the hazards of a harsh coastline.

During Open Lighthouse Day on Saturday, visitors will have the chance to climb lighthouse stairs, without having to lug a tub of oil. More than two dozen Maine lighthouses are participating, and most will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

According to organizers, 18,000 people visited the open light stations last year. The event is coordinated by the U.S. Coast Guard, in partnership with the Maine Office of Tourism and the American Lighthouse Foundation.

Guided and self-guided tours of keeper’s houses and light towers will be available, most at no cost. Some lighthouses taking part in the day may have slightly different hours, fees or special restrictions, so visitors are encouraged to check with the individual lighthouses for specific information (find them at

Among this year’s selection of light stations are the two Kennebec River Range Lights, constructed in 1898 on the river in Arrowsic. The duo work as a team and they’re the only such “range lights” remaining in Maine. They’re also made of wood, a rarity in the U.S.

Before anyone can ascend the stairs to Owls Head Lighthouse, they’ll have to tackle the staircase leading to the lighthouse door. But some say the lighthouse is one of Maine’s prettiest, which makes the climb more worthwhile.

A spirit is reported to have resided at the Owls Head light over the years and it also was home to a “fog dog” — a Springer spaniel named Spot who rang the fog bell by pulling the rope with his teeth.

The popular Portland Head Light will be free to tour, though there will be a limit on the number of visitors who can go inside. Entry to the Cape Elizabeth light will be given on a first-come, first-served basis.

A tour of one or several of Maine’s historic beacons during Open Lighthouse Day is meant to give visitors an idea of what it took to be a lighthouse keeper and why preserving that history is so important to the local organizations and towns that work to maintain the lights.

Although automation in the late 1980s did away with the role of the traditional keepers, most of the lighthouses are still active. They continue to keep watch over the waters along Maine’s coast.

Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 791-6333 or at:

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