The Little Mark Island monument, built in 1827, is topped by a beacon that used to help sailors locate themselves in Harpswell Sound. It was one of six lighthouses offered up by the U.S. government in May to eligible states, municipalities, and nonprofits in exchange for stewardship. Ford Reiche photo

The Little Mark Island Monument, just over a mile off the tip of Bailey Island, looks more like an obelisk than a lighthouse. It’s incongruous, a jolt to the eyes – and yet, rising 55 feet above the chiseled gray water of Harpswell Sound, the granite spire ribbed with shadows somehow fits right in.

There are cracks in the stone near the top of the tower, bushes sprouting from the masonry. Ford Reiche, Maine businessman turned acquirer of lighthouses, said he wants to get those fixed.

“I’m not a particular lighthouse fanatic,” he said Thursday, after the Harpswell officials voted unanimously to partner with his nonprofit, The Presumpscot Foundation, to apply to the federal government to take over ownership and stewardship of Little Mark.

Every spring since 2000, the National Lighthouse Preservation Act has allowed historic light stations that are no longer needed as aids to navigation to be transferred at no cost to nonprofits, state and local governments, and educational or community development organizations – provided those groups take over upkeep.

Reiche has restored four buildings so far on the national historic register, including Halfway Rock, a lighthouse located halfway between the northeast and southwest reaches of Casco Bay, Cape Elizabeth and Cape Small.

“I just like doing it,” Reiche said of preservation efforts. “Halfway Rock badly needed a steward.”


Reiche says Little Mark, which lacks a light (hence its official designation as a “monument”), will be much easier to maintain.

This May, a record number of lighthouses are up for grabs – Nobska Light in Falmouth, Massachusetts; Gurnet Light in Plymouth, Massachusetts; Lynde Point Lighthouse in Connecticut; Warwick Neck Light in Rhode Island; Erie Harbor North Pier Lighthouse in Pennsylvania; and Little Mark.

“The federal government is very thorough about getting these lighthouses in the right hands,” said Reiche. He has been working with the town of Harpswell on an application to the National Park Service, due Dec. 6. Reiche said after Wednesday’s meeting that the paperwork is about 75% complete.

“It was like he fell from the heavens,” Kevin Johnson, chair of the Harpswell Select Board, said of Reiche. Johnson said the federal government had emailed Harpswell directly to inquire whether officials there would like to apply for ownership. When Reiche heard about the offer, he asked to be involved.

Johnson, whose family has been on Bailey Island since the 1700s (predating the monument, which was built in 1827), asked around to see if Harpswell residents could get behind the idea. The response, he said, was overwhelmingly positive.

“I live here and know about half the town,” Johnson said. “Most people around know what (Reiche) did on Halfway Rock.”


Reiche received the top award from the American Lighthouse Foundation for that project in 2017. Besides repairing windows, doors, dock and masonry, Reiche had the interior refurbished to include wood-burning stoves and beds built in old dories that jut out from the gently curved walls.

If the application is approved, the Presumpscot Foundation will become the owner of the property and the town will be involved in creating public access. If Reiche doesn’t keep up the lighthouse to government standards, Harpswell reserves the right to take ownership of the island.

Little Mark, which used to serve as a refuge for shipwrecked mariners, has a doorway at its base, opening to a 12-by-12-foot room that would be stocked with kindling, matches and fresh water.

It’s much more primitive than Halfway Rock – as Reiche said, stepping through the door is like “being inside a chimney.” But although the structure’s usefulness to sailors may have lapsed, it’s still a monument to a way of life, one that Reiche is adamant about preserving.

“Lighthouses are getting more and more associated with the identity of the state of Maine,” he said.

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