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Halfway Rock Light Station

Aug 31, 2018

Halfway Rock Light Station:
A Granite Ledge 9.5 nm East of Portland, Maine 
by Ford S. Reiche


When writing about lighthouses, it’s almost impossible to avoid lapsing into nostalgia or busting out in Faulkner quotes about the past not being dead or Masefield’s lonely sea and the sky. So it was with a measure of dread that I opened Halfway Rock Light Station. What Ford S. Reiche has done, however, is a singular achievement — first by purchasing one of Maine’s most secluded and rugged island lighthouses, restoring it to its original condition from 1871, and then researching and writing everything there is to know about the lighthouse and its history.

Halfway Rock itself is a granite ledge roughly equidistant between the two boundaries of Casco Bay: Cape Elizabeth to the west and Cape Small to the east. Ten miles out to sea, it’s barely 14 feet above sea level in a calm and hosts not a spoonful of soil. It’s truly desolate and, with the exception of the lighthouse and its equipment, is swept clean by waves with every storm.

The story of purchasing the lighthouse from the federal government at auction, and tracing its title back to “God and the Indians” alone is worth the book’s cover price. Restoring the lighthouse was as difficult as the original construction almost 150 years ago, requiring barge loads of construction equipment and specialized workers. (At one point Reiche nails eight $100 bills to the wall of the boathouse as an incentive to get the scaffolding removed on time before adverse weather closed in.) Reiche then begins the research: finding and reproducing every early chart of the Maine coast, which shows Halfway Rock’s significance to early shipping (from the 1600s until 1871, when the lighthouse was built). He then describes the design, construction and subsequent care of the lighthouse (1871-1975), including its third-order Fresnel lens (which was later lost when the lighthouse was abandoned in the 1970s).

Nautical enthusiasts will delight in the color photos of arcane memorabilia, historical charts and other obscure lighthouse artifacts and marginalia. Halfway Rock Light Station, both well written and fascinating, is at turns funny and scholarly, and while the whole endeavor is almost absurd in its scope, Reiche’s achievement is undeniably impressive and well worth the journey.

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