Cape Neddick “Nubble” Lighthouse

Cape Neddick. Maine

  • Site Established: 1874
  • Current Bldg. Erected: 1879
  • Height of Light Structure: 41 ft.
  • Focal Plane of Light: 88 ft.
  • Active: Yes
  • Lens: 4th Order Fresnel
  • Beacon Visibility: 14.5 Miles

Historic Significance Score: 4

Receiving its nickname from the geographical term for a small lump of rocks that jets out into the ocean, which is what this lighthouse sits on, the Cape Neddick Lighthouse is affectionately called the “nubble” light. It is one of the most beautiful and photographed lights in the country.

In 1608, an English explorer to Maine dubbed the rock island that the future lighthouse would sit on “Savage Rock,” because it was there where the explorer first met the Native Americans.

In 1842, two different crewmen on the ship The Isidore each had a premonition in a dream that their ship would sink on the next voyage. One sailor refused to set sail, but the other one made the voyage, only never to be seen again, as the vessel sunk off of Cape Neddick. There is folklore that this vessel can be seen in its ghostly form sailing again around Nubble Light.

In 1874, Congress authorized the building and appropriated funds for a lighthouse on this rocky island, which is only 100 yards off the mainland.

One of the unique features of this light is that there is a cable trolley, or hanging basket (seen at the left near the telephone poles on the picture to the right), at the lighthouse, which was used to transport supplies to and from the island over the swishing waterway that separates the lighthouse island from the shore.

David Winchester, a Nubble Light Coast Guard keeper in the 1960s, actually utilized the basket to transport his son to school on the mainland, sending him over the swirling waters below, until the unique technique was publicized in the Boston Globe. Because of the newspaper piece, crowds started to show for the twice-daily event. The U.S. Coast Guard, thinking it was not in the best interest of the child to be 50 feet above the crashing waters, put an end to it.

Even though this lighthouse is a stone’s throw off the mainland, it still could be quickly isolated in bad weather. Because of this threat, there was always at least one month’s worth of supplies inside the lighthouse, and the Nubble Light has a water-collecting system that directs rainwater from the lighthouse’s roof to a holding tank in the basement of the house to provide drinking water.

In 1977, the spaceship Voyager II took a picture of the Cape Neddick/Nubble Light into space to represent “the American lighthouse,” leaving it in space for curious extraterrestrials. The Coast Guard picked the photo of this light to be taken aboard the Voyager, believing it to be the quintessential lighthouse in America.

In 1989, the Town of York entered a leasing agreement with the U.S. government to maintain and preserve the site for posterity.

In 1998, ownership of the Cape Neddick/Nubble Light was handed over to the Town of York, courtesy of the Maine Lights Program.

Majesty Score: 5

This is a prime example of a small lighthouse that carries itself huge! All the pictures that are taken of this light are taken from the mainland, a considerable distance away. This always makes the light look much smaller than it would be up close.

Out of all the lighthouses I have visited, I was most surprised with how awesome this lighthouse carries itself in person when compared with photos of it. This, combined with its featured location, gives Cape Neddick/Nubble Light a 5 for majesty!

At only 41 feet, the tower and light are perched way up on the island looking back at the shore and seem much higher than any corresponding structure on the mainland. It seemingly looks down on us from “high upon the mountain.”

Water View Score: 4

This is somewhat of an ironic score for this lighthouse as the Nubble Light IS the water view! That being said, the water around the light is very hypnotic. It crashes against the rocky shoreline on the mainland while hitting the island the light is on just as hard. The current of the 100-yard waterway between the island and mainland has a strong, back-and-forth rocking motion, which is soothing and great to see! As you can see in the picture above, these crashing waves and currents create vertical sprays of waves and great photo ops.

Preservation Score: 5

The Cape Neddick/Nubble Light is pristinely preserved. The Town of York, which manages the site, realizes the jewel it has and keeps it well-polished. The town is helped by the Friends of Nubble for the light’s restoration efforts.

One of the things that people who have not made the trip to Nubble Light will encounter is the large parking lot opposite the light that serves as the viewing spot for the light. When there are a lot of people around it’s somewhat hectic, but once you park and descend to the rocks surrounding the parking lot you will feel that you are in a more natural setting and will be able to enjoy the light more.

There is a small gift shop at the opposite end of the Nubble Light parking lot where you can buy Nubble memorabilia. The parking lot, viewing areas and shop are all part of Sohier Park.

Since the early 1980s, the lighthouse has been draped with Christmas lights for the holiday season, and this tradition has grown in popularity.

Surrounding Area Score: 4

The Cape Neddick/York area flirts with a 5 on our scoring scale. The beautiful towns with their quaint shops and buildings adjacent to rocky ocean shorelines allow you to experience the Maine Downeast culture within a short car ride over Maine’s southern border.

York’s two mile long Long Sands Beach and its smaller counterpart, Short Sands Beach, are great bustling locations to really enjoy the local atmosphere where restaurants, arcades, ice cream stands, antique shops and a carousel all await.

Besides one of the most photographed lighthouses in America, Cape Neddick offers a little more slower and secluded destination than York and York Harbor.

Although an incredible destination, be aware that Cape Neddick and York can be extremely crowded during summer months.

Accessibility Score: 2

This is the only score that Nubble Light does not do well on. Being that Nubble is on an island, you really can’t physically get close to it.

However, that fact should in no way stop you from visiting this light. Its character and presence makes the light seem closer than it is and makes the light very personable to everyone, despite the distance.

Beacon Score: 4

Nubble has an active fourth-order Fresnel lens that is surrounded by a red plastic shell to give the light a red appearance. It flashes for six seconds, then goes dark for six seconds.

Overall Score and Overview: 28

The Cape Neddick/Nubble Light is definitely a must-visit for any lighthouse enthusiast! Many would argue that this lighthouse is not rated high enough on this Web site!

It will win you over completely with its charm and lend itself to many great photo ops, not to mention memories.

I would suggest finding a nice-weather weekend in the off-season to visit this light. This will increase the enjoyment of your trip and let you really enjoy the great town of Cape Neddick

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