The beacon-topped monument on Little Mark Island was built in 1827 as a lightless daymarker. Gordon Chibroski/Portland Press Herald, file

The federal government is giving away a lighthouse on an island off Harpswell, and the town may consider taking ownership.

Little Mark Island Monument is among six lighthouses that the U.S. General Services Administration announced this week it would transfer ownership for free to qualifying nonprofits or government entities, along with four others it plans to put up for auction.

Harpswell Select Board Chairman Kevin Johnson said Friday that the town should consider acquiring the historic lighthouse.

“I just figure it’s in our waters, and who knows if somebody else got hold of it what they would do,” Johnson said. “It’s made of granite and doesn’t seem like it needs a lot of maintenance.”

The U.S. General Services Administration has transferred ownership of lighthouses each May since 2000, when Congress passed the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. This year, the GSA is offering a record number of the beacons.

The lighthouses are no longer critical navigation tools for ships since the advent of GPS. Yet they remain popular cultural icons and historically significant structures.


The Little Mark Island Monument in 2001. Gordon Chibroski/Portland Press Herald, file

For this reason, the federal government requires that government agencies, nonprofits, educational organizations or other groups interested in assuming ownership are willing to maintain and preserve the lighthouses and make them open to the public for educational, cultural and recreational uses.

Johnson said if the town assumed ownership of the Little Mark lighthouse, it would likely just maintain the site as it is, noting that the island isn’t very accessible or often visited.

“There’s no dock or beach, and it’s a rough spot to get into,” Johnson said of Little Mark Island. “It doesn’t get very many visitors, very few people go there.

“The only other people who might be interested (in owning the lighthouse) is maybe Maine Island Trail or somebody like that,” Johnson added, referring to the Portland-based nonprofit Maine Island Trail Association.

Harpswell Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said the town also would want to get input on the matter from its Town Lands Committee. “And ultimately it would need legislative approval by the town meeting voters, but the first step would be putting it on a select board agenda, which I see happening in June.”

Johnson confirmed that he intends to put the matter up for preliminary discussion, likely at the June 8 select board meeting. He said he’s uncertain whether the ownership transfer, if approved, could be completed this year.


“Well, it’s the government, so nothing is fast, whether the federal government or local,” Johnson said.

Ben Turkel at the base of the pyramid-shaped monument and navigational marker in 2001. The interior of the 50-foot granite structure, a space called a mariner’s refuge, was originally stocked with supplies for shipwreck survivors who might wash ashore there. Gordon Chibroski/Portland Press Herald, file

The five other lighthouses being offered at no cost include Lynde Point Lighthouse in Old Saybrook, Connecticut; Nobska Lighthouse in Falmouth (Woods Hole), Massachusetts; Plymouth/Gurnet Lighthouse in Plymouth, Massachusetts; Warwick Neck Light, in Warwick, Rhode Island; and Erie Harbor North Pier Lighthouse in Erie, Pennsylvania.

The 50-foot, beacon-topped stone monument on Little Mark – a 1-acre island in Casco Bay – was built in 1827 as a lightless daymarker, and was a replica of a similar structure built in 1811 on Cape Elizabeth.

The interior of the granite pyramid, a space called a mariner’s refuge, was originally stocked with supplies for shipwreck survivors who might wash ashore there. In 1927, a white beacon light was added to the top of the monument, which can be reached by a ladder along the structure’s south face.

The light was deactivated in 2019, returning the monument to its original role as a daymarker. The structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.

If a new owner is not found through this process, the lighthouse will be offered for competitive sale to the public by GSA through an online auction.


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