By following a cart-track for a quarter of an hour one comes to the canal, a stone’s throw across, dividing the cape from the Nubble Rock. On the top of this bare crag the lighthouse-keeper’s dwelling and fog signal stand out bold and sharp against the blue sky. At the east, a clump of blanched ledges stretches off… This prospect comprises everything between Cape Ann and Cape Elizabeth in clear weather, and is every way admirable.
— Samuel Adams Drake, The Pine Tree Coast, 1891
The “Nubble” is a small, rocky island a short distance off the eastern point of Cape Neddick, about two miles north of the entrance to the York River and York Harbor. In 1602, explorer Bartholomew Gosnold met with local Indians on the island and dubbed it “Savage Rock.”
he placement of a lighthouse on the Nubble had been recommended by many local mariners since 1807. An 1837 proposal was rejected on the grounds that there were already enough lights in the vicinity. Even after the wreck of the bark Isidore in 1842, north of the Nubble near Bald Head Cliff, it still took nearly four more decades before the lighthouse was established. The Isidore, according to legend, still reappears as a ghost ship with a phantom crew.
Congress appropriated $15,000 for the building of a lighthouse on the Nubble in 1876. The 41-foot cast-iron tower, lined with brick, was first illuminated on July 1, 1879. At first, the lighthouse was painted reddish-brown, showing a fixed red light through a fourth order Fresnel lens.
The lighthouse still exhibits a red light, but the tower has been painted white since 1902.
The distinctive red oil house was built in 1902, and the walkway connecting the lighthouse to the keeper’s house was added in 1911.
The station originally had a fog bell operated by automatic striking machinery. The skeleton frame bell tower was replaced in 1911 by a white pyramidal tower, itself torn down in 1961.
For a time, the Nubble’s 3,000 pound fog bell could be heard by the keepers at Boon Island six miles away. The bell was later replaced by a diaphragm horn.
Nathaniel Otterson was the first keeper. His replacement, Brackett Lewis, formerly assistant keeper of Whaleback Light, was keeper from 1885 to 1904, the longest stint of any keeper at the Nubble. While Lewis was keeper, his daughter, Hattie, married Charles Billings in the lantern room.
The next keeper, William Brooks, previously at Boon Island and White Island, picked up extra cash by ferrying sightseers and fishermen to the island for ten cents apiece. This was not appreciated by Brooks’ superiors, and the keeper soon “resigned.”
At low tide it was sometimes possible to walk between the Nubble and the mainland. Lucy Glidden Burke Steffen, daughter of keeper James Burke, later described being carried piggy-back by her father across the bar.
Canon Rebel XTi
Canon lens 28-135
focal length: 75