Pemaquid Point Lighthouse has gained renewed popularity.

BRISTOL (AP) – The white granite tower that is one of Maine’s best known lighthouses has been off limits to the public for 175 years.

Now a local organization that cares for Pemaquid Point Light has started letting people climb the iron, spiral staircase that leads to one of the most picturesque views in Maine.

The lighthouse has recently been thrust into the spotlight with its depiction on the new Maine quarter. Hundreds of people are expected to join Gov. John Baldacci Monday at Pemaquid Lighthouse Park to celebrate the quarter’s unveiling.

Pemaquid Point’s supporters say they intend to keep the 48-foot lighthouse tower open for tours as long as they can find enough volunteers to give them. Visitors will be permitted to climb a spiral staircase to a glass-enclosed lantern room that offers panoramic views of Monhegan Island, as well as Johns and Muscongus Bays.

“It’s a piece of Maine history and a piece of Bristol’s history,” said Richard Melville, president of the newly formed Friends of Pemaquid Point Light. “I think such an exceptional part of our history should be maintained and be open to the public.”

Pemaquid Point Light, which was built in 1827 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985, was not always the popular destination it is today.

When keepers occupied the keeper’s quarters the lighthouse tower was closed to the public. And in 1939 when the United States Coast Guard took ownership of the lighthouse, the tower remained off limits.

The town of Bristol created the Pemaquid Lighthouse Park in 1940. After the land around the tower became public property, interest in the lighthouse grew. The town charges a $2 admission fee for each person entering the park.

There is no fee for the lighthouse or for the Fishermen’s Museum.

In 1993, the Coast Guard offered the lighthouse to the town, but officials declined, saying it would be too expensive to maintain.

The federal government continued to make minor repairs to the tower and was responsible for maintaining Pemaquid’s Fourth Order Fresnel lens, an electric-powered flashing light that can be seen up to 14 miles away.

In 2000, the American Lighthouse Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Wells, acquired the license to maintain the tower at Pemaquid Point Light.

The lighthouse opened Memorial Day weekend and will close on Columbus Day weekend in October.

AP-ES-06-05-03 0215EDT



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