PORT CLYDE — Lighthouses, like people, have characteristics that make them distinct. Portland Head is known as the most photographed lighthouse in the U.S. West Quoddy Head is known for its distinctive red and white stripes.

Then there’s Marshall Point, in Port Clyde. How many lighthouses were a co-star in an Oscar-winning film, as well as offer a museum and picturesque location?

It began in 1832 as seven fixed lard oil lamps atop its 20-foot rubblestone tower, with a keeper’s house nearby. In 1858, the current tower was built at the water’s edge, 24 feet from base to light level, with the bottom half granite, the upper 12 feet brick. A Fresnel lens replaced the lard oil lamps inside a cast iron lantern rising 29.5 feet above sea level, with a ramp connecting it with firmer ground closer to the keeper’s house. A lightning strike destroyed the house in 1895, but a new one was quickly built.

In the 1930s, the light was electrified, then automated in 1971. Automation ended the need for a lightkeeper after 139 years and 22 faithful keepers and their families living there. Eventually, the keeper’s house was boarded up and deserted.

In 1986, it was the St. George Historical Society that helped to breathe life back into the proud site, despite years of neglect. Through fundraising and a 30-year lease worked out between the town of St. George and the Coast Guard, the keeper’s house and grounds became responsibilities of the town while the light, connecting ramp and oil house fell under Coast Guard management.

The Keeper’s House is now a museum thanks to the efforts of the St. George Historical Society. Photo by Susan Sorg

Thanks to the stewardship of the Marshall Point Lighthouse and Museum committee and it’s all-volunteer workforce, this site has come a long way since restoration began 29 years ago. The keeper’s house became the museum in 1990, and in 1995 a “summer kitchen” was added where one had stood until that lightning strike 100 years earlier. The museum and gift shop is now open every day, from Memorial Day through Columbus Day.

Museum director and curator Nat Lyon says this encompasses the lighthouse and the community around it. “It’s a museum and a kind of a part of the town history,” he says.

One corner is devoted to the quarrying nearby, where first Italians and then Scandinavians came to cut granite. “Back in 1905,” says Lyon, “granite cutters worked for 48 hours, for wages of $3 and up per day, depending on what your skill was.”

A restored turn-of-the-century stove, with donated kitchen tools stand along one wall, with the sign advertising a decades-old menu: A small lobster salad for 35 cents and lobster chowder a bargain at 60 cents.

Another area is devoted to the history of fishing and lobstering in this area, with a display of miniature lobster buoys showing the colors and designs of long-time area lobstermen. You see tributes to the lighthouse keepers and their families who called this building home for 139 years with the views they looked out on, a taste of the life they lived.

There’s research material as well for those wanting more on the rich history within these walls. “There are volumes, maps of the town, lighthouses and quarries,” says Lyons, showing the shelves of books available for perusing. “They can come and sit for hours and go through them. We’re just packed with history here!”

But besides history, there’s also a touch of Hollywood, as in “Forrest Gump.”

Remember when Tom Hanks’ character was running and reaching one coastline only to turn around? Yup. That was at Marshall Point Lighthouse, and it’s a scene some visitors like to recreate. “They run out and play ‘Forrest Gump’ and have a picnic, and enjoy the scenery,” says Lyon.

A lot of people do, considering the number of annual visitors, averaging 15,000 through the museum, with another 8,000 to 10,000 just visiting the grounds.

“A number of people come here from countries you would never think of,” adds Diana Bolton, chairman of the museum board. “A lot of Europeans, Australians … every state, I think, has been here in our log book.”

Marshall Point Lighthouse is free to visit, but donations are welcomed. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays, 1 to 5 p.m. all other days. For more information, visit marshallpoint.org.

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