Cape Neddick Lighthouse in York is better known as the Nubble. Photo by Matt Rosenberg

When most Americans conjure up an image of a classic lighthouse, it’s something extremely similar to the Cape Neddick Lighthouse, or the Nubble, as it’s known in these parts.

So quintessential is its structure and placement that on the Voyager spacecraft, next to photos of the Great Wall of China, you’ll find images of the Nubble. The beacon of light sits atop a gargantuan rock in York’s Sohier Park about a hundred feet from the surf and is a year-round magnet for picnickers, photographers, painters and visitors from all over the world.

It’s an equal draw for fishing, scuba diving, bird watching and nature enthusiasts. (Besides great black-backed gulls, herring gulls and double-crested cormorants, there are harbor seals to be spotted.)

From May to October, the gift shop is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and restrooms are open during the summer season. There’s plenty of parking, and dogs are welcome but must be leashed.

And then there are the history buffs who show up in droves. In 1874, President Rutherford B. Hayes dedicated $15,000 to build a lighthouse on the park’s “nub” of land. Maine’s rocky coast was dangerous to mariners, so the citizens petitioned the U.S. government for a lighthouse. In 1879, construction began, and it was dedicated by the U.S. Lighthouse Service. In 1985, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places to preserve and protect its historical presence in history, overseen by the U.S. secretary of the interior and the state’s historic preservation office.

The daily maintenance of the lighthouse is managed by the town’s parks department and the U.S. Coast Guard, which makes sure navigation equipment like the light and the horn are in good working order.

The lighthouse stands 41 feet tall, is lined with brick, and is one of the last lighthouses in Maine to still have a historic Fresnel lens, which allowed lighthouses to be seen from much farther away than they had been before it was invented in 1822. (Fun detail: The walkway railing around the lantern room is bedecked with brass replicas of the lighthouse itself.) A planned expansion is in the works, too, to accommodate more visitors every year.

Alexandra Hall is a longtime New England lifestyle writer who recently moved to Maine.


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