Posted in day trip, memories, photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: “bula land” bridges

Sometimes you just stumble onto a treasure by happenstance, and when you do, it develops into a memory – one from the past to remember and revisit in the future.

As often happened during this past year of the you know what, Papa and I were once again grateful for a blessing. What makes us feel so blessed? Living in a rural area.

Even though plenty of travel restrictions prevented us from taking more than one vacation or far-away excursions, living where we do enabled us to venture out on road trips by car, partially satisfying our desire for exploring new-to-us places.

We set out one late summer morning in 2020 for such a trip. We ventured to the state next door – Ohio – for a bit of exploring another rural area we hadn’t visited before and where we wouldn’t have to worry much about social distancing and the like.  

The focus of our destination was to locate covered bridges and on our way back home, catch some glimpses of a couple of lighthouses around Lake Erie. Happily, we accomplished both goals, but the covered bridge excursion truly revealed a treasure for us.

Little did we know that the county we chose to visit in the northeast corner of Ohio is considered the covered bridge capital of that state. Nineteen covered bridges, including the longest and shortest in the entire country (USA), are situated in Ashtabula County. The modern Smolen-Gulf Bridge holds the title of being the longest at 613 feet in length and the touted shortest is the 18-foot-long West Liberty Covered Bridge.

Seventeen of those covered spans are operational and open to vehicular traffic year-round. We managed to see a dozen of them in one trip and I decided to highlight those in three parts for my Tuesday Tour. Look for part 2 next week on May 4 with Part 3 posted on May 11.

The treasure we discovered is that visitors can travel on a 67-mile-long driving tour, called the Ashtabula Covered Bridges Trail or the “Covered Bridge Loop,” via country roads to view these unique bridges by using a self-guided driving map. Five types of construction are visible in the historic Ashtabula County covered bridges: Howe truss, Pratt truss, Town lattice truss, Burr arch, and Inverted Haupt truss.

Our first stop was Netcher Road Covered Bridge, which traverses Mill Creek in Jefferson Township. This bridge, at 110 feet long, 22 feet wide, and 14½ feet high, features a single span of timber arches with inverted Haupt walls and is classified as “Neo Victorian” design. However, it is not a relic from the past but instead is one of the newest covered bridges since it was constructed in 1998 and was funded by a state department of transportation grant. Netcher Road bridge is located about two miles east of Jefferson, Ohio.

Bridge #2 on our driving tour was South Denmark Road Covered Bridge, also crossing Mill Creek. At 81 feet in length, this Town lattice style span was built in 1890.  It’s only 2.7 miles away from Netcher Road Bridge, but because of construction/road closure occurring at the time of our visit, we could not view this bridge.

Another newer bridge, erected in 1986 to celebrate Ashtabula County’s 175th anniversary, is the Caine Road Covered Bridge.  With a single span Pratt truss design, this 124-foot-long structure crosses the Ashtabula River in Pierpont Township and is 6.7 miles from the South Denmark Bridge.

The next stop on our driving tour enticed me even more than previous ones. Sitting in a small park along the south side of Graham Road is the aptly named Graham Road Covered Bridge. Interestingly, this 97-foot Town truss span was re-built from the remains of a damaged bridge that washed downstream during a flood back in 1913. It originally crossed the Ashtabula River in Pierpont Township, but was relocated in 1972 near its original site. Not open to vehicle traffic, a distinguishable aspect of this renovated bridge is the quilt block design painted on its side.

The artwork on the side of a historic covered bridge will remain in my memory and I’ll smile each time I gaze at that photo (at the beginning of this post). Memories of a lovely summer day’s travels and sights are added to yet other special thoughts. That pretty quilt-block design reminds me of my mother, who loved to fashion and create beautiful hand-made quilts.

Memories that last become treasured keepsakes in our minds, don’t they?

“Keep all special thoughts and memories for lifetimes to come. Share these keepsakes with others to inspire hope and build from the past, which can bridge to the future.” ~ Mattie Stepanek

© 2021

Posted in photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: The Bridges of Somerset County

Each time I view photos of the covered bridges I highlight today in this Tuesday Tour, a certain title of a book and movie come to my mind.

You see, these structures are three out of 10 remaining covered bridges in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. And each time I think “the bridges of Somerset County,” my mind leaps to a book written in the 90’s, one that became a popular movie in the same decade, The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller.

“First you must have the images, then come the words.” ~ Robert James Waller, The Bridges of Madison County

The story involves star-crossed lovers: a professional photographer, who travels to Madison County, Iowa to take photos of famous covered bridges there for National Geographic, and a lonely farmer’s wife. I can honestly say I didn’t care much for either the book or the movie (which starred Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep), but for some reason, that title sticks in my mind.

So here are some of the bridges – not of Madison County, but of southern Somerset County – which we visited by happenstance last summer. In the midst of the you know what, Papa and I needed a get-away, so one Saturday we embarked on a day trip out into nature, one where we wouldn’t encounter a lot of people.

After arriving at the 20,500-acre Ohiopyle State Park, which serves as a gateway into the Laurel Highlands, we hoped to enjoy a view of Ohiopyle Falls, a 20-foot waterfall on the Youghiogheny (pronounced YOK-i-gay-nee) River.

But the place was crazy busy with people who had the same idea, so we nixed that,  shelving it for a week-day another time when it might be less crowded. After finding a quiet spot for a picnic lunch, we meandered down country roads and wound up in Somerset County in search of three covered bridges that all cross the same ribbon of water, Laurel Hill Creek.

The first one we encountered was the Lower Humbert Covered Bridge, near Confluence, PA, about a 25-minute drive from Ohiopyle. Also called the Faidley Covered Bridge, it’s located at an intersection of Humbert and Covered Bridge Roads in Lower Turkeyfoot Township.

At 126. 5 feet in length, 12.3 feet in width, and 8 feet high, the double span bridge was constructed in 1891, using Burr arch truss and King-post design. Maintained by the county, Lower Humbert was rehabilitated 100 years later in 1991 when two steel beams were added in order to support vehicular traffic and a concrete pier, encased in stone, near the bridge’s mid-way point was also included.

Today, this covered bridge, is in good condition and we enjoyed driving through it. Research revealed that it was not the only covered bridge that existed in that area in the past. One called the Upper Humbert Bridge, which also had a King-post design, once stood about one mile upstream from the Lower Humbert. Unfortunately, an arsonist destroyed that bridge in 1969 and it was not rebuilt. 

We next found King’s Covered Bridge, also located in Middlecreek Township just off Route 653 about 12 miles southwest of Somerset.  We appreciated the fact that there were ample parking spaces in a park-like setting so sightseers can walk through the bridge, which is not open to vehicular traffic, and that a picnic pavilion is adjacent to it. The site is owned and maintained by the township.

The date this 127-foot long and 12-foot-wide bridge was constructed is not certain. At one time, King’s Bridge was believed to have been built in 1802, but that conflicts with the fact that covered bridges were not erected in that area until the late 1800’s. Research on covered bridges indicates that the first confirmed American covered bridge was bult in 1805 in Philadelphia, PA across the Schuylkill River.

So more than likely, a bridge (not covered) may have been erected there in 1802 but was replaced by King’s Covered Bridge using multiple King-post trusses. Then in 1906, the bridge was rebuilt using Burr arch trusses.

After being bypassed in the 1930’s by a modern, steel bridge, King’s Covered Bridge fell into disrepair and actually was used as a livestock barn for several decades, Thankfully, it was rehabilitated in 2008.

It is beautiful from the outside. However, what disturbed me most about this link to the past was, after waiting for a couple of bicyclers to pass through the bridge (photo at beginning of this post), we walked inside to find its interior walls covered in spray-painted graffiti. What a shame.

King’s Covered Bridge is not far from the ski resort areas of Seven Springs and Hidden Valley. It’s also a short distance from Cole Run Falls, which is a popular set of waterfalls.

Just a few minutes away from King’s Bridge, we located another covered bridge, which I think is my favorite of the three.  (Maybe because there were old-fashioned roses and daisies in bloom beside it.) Barronvale Covered Bridge, the longest of the 10 remaining covered bridges of Somerset County at 162 feet in length, is also known as Barron’s Mill Bridge.

This nearly 14-foot wide, two-span Burr truss structure is not open to vehicular traffic and can be found in Middlecreek Township in a beautiful setting. It is in very good condition, but it is privately owned so visitors need to be respectful of that. Sightseers can park and walk through the bridge though.

A placard at the bridge details its history, stating that a miller named Peter Kooser petitioned county commissioners in 1828 to build a bridge near his gristmill for his patrons. By 1830, Barronvale’s construction was completed by builder Cassimer Cramer at a cost of $300.

In 1845, the two-span bridge needed repairs to strengthen it so heavy Burr arches were installed, which allegedly cost the county $750. Repaired again in 1907, stone supports, which came from a nearby quarry, were installed.

All three of these historic covered bridges were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. They serve as reminders to the past and are worthwhile remembering and visiting.

“The heart never forgets, never gives up, the territory marked off for those who came before.” ~ Robert James Waller, The Bridges of Madison County

© 2021

Posted in Life, photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: to safely cross

It may seem like a silly question, but why does one cross a bridge? Drum roll please….to get to the other side. Much like the chicken who crossed the road.

But there’s more to it. One crosses a bridge also to arrive on the other side in a safe manner, especially when the river, stream, or other waterway that’s being traversed is dangerous.

Years ago, back in my career days, I worked as a newspaper reporter/editor for a twice daily newspaper in a southwestern state. When my co-workers learned I was from the keystone state of Pennsylvania, I found myself answering some silly questions like “What exactly is a Nittany Lion?” and “Is there really a place called Slippery Rock?”

The city editor, a college sports fan, teased me mercilessly about two Pennsylvania institutions of higher learning:  Penn State University and its mascot, the Nittany Lion, and Slippery Rock College (now Slippery Rock University). Those schools amused him to no end and he was a bit disappointed that I hadn’t attended either college but instead graduated from another university.

He just couldn’t imagine why a college was named Slippery Rock or as he called it, Slimy Pebbles. Well, for one reason only – the college is located in the town of Slippery Rock and there actually is a Slippery Rock Creek, named thusly because the rocks in the creek were exactly that – slippery.

Today on our Tuesday Tour, come along with me to an historic, wooden, covered bridge that crosses over Slippery Rock Creek in Slippery Rock Township, near Portersville in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. Papa and I visited this landmark on a day trip back in August 2013.

You’ll find McConnells Mill Covered Bridge located in a state park by the same name, McConnells Mill, named for Thomas McConnell who purchased a gristmill for grinding grains – corn, oats, wheat, and buckwheat – back in 1875.  The first mill on this site beside Slippery Rock Creek was constructed by Daniel Kennedy in 1852. After fire destroyed the mill, he rebuilt it in 1868.

In 1874, McConnells Mill Covered Bridge was erected on stone foundations over the slippery rocks of the creek to transport shipments to and from the nearby mill. However, while the gristmill once was an important part of the surrounding community, it closed in 1928.

The old mill and property surrounding it, including the bridge, was transferred to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy to be preserved in the 1940’s. Eventually, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania acquired ownership and the area became a state park dedicated in 1957.

Both the mill and the covered bridge are well-known historic landmarks in the Slippery Rock Creek Gorge, also in McConnell’s Mills State Park. If you visit this scenic park, you can explore both sides of the gorge, view Slippery Rock Creek as it gushes through the ravine or whitewater kayak on it, go climbing and rappelling, or hike on trails, one being a pretty steep, challenging six-mile hike that’s part of the North Country National Scenic Trail.

For those who prefer safer outings, you can visit the two man-made sites: tour the old gristmill and drive through the quaint covered bridge.

McConnell’s Mills Covered Bridge is one of only four Howe truss designed bridges still in existence in Pennsylvania. To understand a Howe truss form of bridge construction, you can read this.

This bridge is also the longest, at 101 feet, of the four which had not been rebuilt, but it was repaired and revitalized in 1957, when steel girders were added to give better support.  Several years ago, the historic bridge sustained damage from a fierce storm, but  refurbishment, costing over $100,000 with many replacement pieces made by hand, restored it. Reportedly, some original bridge lumber is over 140 years old.

An interesting fact is that covered bridges were not prominent in Lawrence County, unlike the rest of the state’s counties. It is speculated that only five covered bridges were ever built in that particular county and McConnells Mill is one of two that remain today. The other one, Banks Covered Bridge, stands near Volant, Pennsylvania (a small, picturesque town that is an antique and specialty shop haven).

Today, you can tour the historic 19th century mill and drive through the bridge, which is open for vehicular traffic. McConnells Mill Bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

No doubt this bridge was built to provide safe crossing from one side of a rushing, slippery creek to another. Perhaps we need to take a bit of inspiration from this old bridge. To avoid being swept away down slippery slopes into a rapid torrent of turbulent waters, we need to begin building bridges of respect and understanding instead of tearing others down.

“Bridges are built not to cross over it but it is built to lift you to the other side safely.” ~ Edwin Lawrence

© 2021

Posted in photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: hard work and effort

You met me at the bridge today!

Last week, I announced my intention of taking Mama’s Empty Nest readers on another excursion of sorts via a few of my photographs.

Last year, we traveled on my Tuesday Tour of lighthouses I’ve photographed. Today begins our new tour of historical covered bridges.

I’ve often viewed covered bridges, particularly because we live in a state where we have a plethora of them still existing. But I didn’t capture photos of them until July 2012. Back then, one of our chicks, our eldest, had flown back into this empty nest while planning her upcoming wedding.

On a whim, the three of us hit the highway on July 4th for a day-long road trip to Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Our main stop was to visit the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville (site of the third plane downed on that fateful September 11, 2001 day), since our daughter had never seen the site and we hadn’t viewed new landmarks added there since our previous visit several years before.

After our somber viewing of the memorial grounds, we climbed back in the car to meander around some country roads.  Less than two miles from the memorial, we found the Glessner Covered Bridge, north of Shanksville in Stonycreek Township.

This historic two-span structure is one of 10 remaining covered bridges in Somerset County. Originally constructed in 1881 by Tobias Glessner, the 90-foot-long and 12-foot-wide bridge crosses over the Stonycreek River, a tributary of the Conemaugh River.

When Glessner built the bridge at a reported cost of $412, multiple kingpost and burr arch style trusses were utilized in its design. Now that didn’t mean a thing to me so I had to research what those terms meant.

I found that a kingpost style, considered to be a simple truss form, is often used for short-span bridges and roof trusses. It consists of two diagonal lengths of wood meeting at the apex of the truss, one horizontal beam tying the bottom end of the diagonals together, and a king post connecting the apex to the horizontal beam below.

For a bridge, the builder would need to use two kingpost trusses with the driving surface between them. Covering the bridge with a roof would require side by side trusses where the diagonals are rafters, and the horizontal serves as a ceiling joist.

A burr arch truss is a combination of an arch and multiple kingpost trusses. Burr arch trusses were devised by Theodore Burr in 1804 and used especially in covered bridges. If I understand it correctly, the arch truss along with a kingpost truss makes the bridge more stable and capable of supporting a greater weight.

If you’re architectural/construction deficient like me, that is as clear as mud, so I needed a visual to understand that. You can see the trusses on the inside of the bridge, which is covered with a tin gable roof, in the photos below. Two-thirds of the bridge’s exterior is covered with vertical wood planks and one-third of the interior is also planked.

Years took their toll on the Glessner Covered Bridge by 1969, so a concrete pier was added and abutments were reinforced with concrete. However, by 1995, the structure had deteriorated so much, it was closed to traffic.

A major rehabilitation project consisting of a new concrete pier and abutments, replacement of some of the wooden components, and the addition of steel beams underneath the deck were accomplished by 1998.

Currently, Glessner Covered Bridge is in good condition, open to vehicular traffic, and owned and maintained by Somerset County. In 1980, the bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

One of the aspects of this particular covered bridge striking me most is the amount of know-how and hard work the builder must have put into constructing it. Maybe these old covered bridges can teach us a lesson – a lesson from those days of yore that we should utilize now during our uncertain times and into the future.

When we exert a good deal of effort and we work hard at the task before us, our dreams can become reality.

“Effort and hard work construct the bridge that connects your dreams to reality.” ~Daisaku Ikeda

© 2021

Posted in pandemic life, photography, travel

Meet me at the bridge

In this time period of you know what, (my euphemism for pandemic) when one day is much like the one before and when travel too far away from home is restricted, I’m a bit stagnant when it comes to ideas for blog posts.

So, I resort to a process I’ve often relied on in the past – photographs. Photographs speak to me, they inspire me, they conjure up ideas to ponder upon because I am a visual kind of person. Although I adequately use words to express myself whether thinking, writing, or speaking, I also often think in pictures.

When my blogging fodder is running low, I scan back through the myriad of photographs I’ve taken over the years in hopes an idea will percolate, permeate, and present something new to write about.

My photo cache didn’t fail me this time either. A few Mama’s Empty Nest readers shared with me that they enjoyed the Tuesday Tour series I wrote this past year on lighthouses Papa and I visited on various sightseeing trips/vacations in the past. Searching through pictures and researching each lighthouse certainly gave me something enjoyable to occupy my time during this you know what.

So, I’m planning to venture again on another Tuesday Tour and I do hope you join me on this journey. Each Tuesday for the next few weeks, I will showcase other gems, some historical landmarks worthy of viewing. Covered bridges.

Although they are not quite as alluring to me as lighthouses are, covered bridges still intrigue me and cause me to pull out my camera to capture them in their usual scenic surroundings. And they are situated by water, which always seems to draw me near.

At one time here in the United States, almost 14,000 timber-trussed structures covered by a roof, deck, and siding and often completely enclosed, spanned creeks, streams, and rivers. Most of them were one-lane bridges originally designed for wagon, carriage, and foot traffic, but eventually automobile traffic could also be accommodated as well.  

A multitude of covered bridges were built between 1820 and 1900. But time, weather, and even technology caused them to fall into decay and disuse. Currently, less than 900 such structures still exist, but grants for restoring and rebuilding some of those have been available.

About 550 authentic, wooden covered bridges, some over 150 years old, exist in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Vermont. Papa and I are fortunate enough to live in Pennsylvania where the most covered bridges still stand – around 200 located in 37 counties – and the state next door to us has the second most. We have not visited all those sites, that’s for sure.

Before we set off on our tour, maybe you’ll find a few facts establishing background information about these quaint historical landmarks from another time period interesting. You may have wondered, as I did, why these bridges were covered in the first place.

According to research, I discovered the answer is simple: wooden bridges exposed to the elements are exceptionally vulnerable for deterioration. In other words, they rotted easily so covers protected them from weather and resulted in the bridges lasting longer, since, according to bridge engineers, a covered truss made of timber possessed a three times greater life expectancy than an uncovered one.

Uncovered wooden bridges usually only lasted about 20 years and then needed repaired or replaced where covered ones could and have lasted as long as a century. Another fact was that a roof over a bridge would strengthen the entire structure.

Some other explanations for covered bridges have also been offered. Some believe that because the covered spans resembled barns, it was easier to drive farm animals through the structures since they wouldn’t be frightened and possibly stampede. Other theories are that coverings were simply to keep the oiled planks from becoming slippery in rain or to just keep trusses from view because they were unsightly.

Yet other explanations were that covered bridges provided a shelter from storms for travelers and, the most romantic reason of all – that a young man could court his young lady there in private and secretly kiss her, which provided a nickname for covered bridges as “kissing bridges.” I’ve even heard stories of couples getting engaged in modern times inside a covered bridge.

Philadelphia became the first known site of a covered bridge, constructed in 1805, with a length of 550 feet, and crossing the Schuykill River. A nearby land owner suggested that bridge be roofed, sided, and painted. From that suggestion, covered bridges become a popular and common sight on American roads spanning the country.

Eventually with the onset of iron production after the Civil War, wooden bridges were replaced with iron and steel beamed bridges because, of course, metal was more durable than wood. During this time, covered bridges were considered old-fashioned, yet we Pennsylvanians must have still appreciated their charm because at least 1500 covered bridges were newly erected in the state from 1830-1880. And many of those still stand today in 2021.

I do hope you meet me at the covered bridge next Tuesday. (I promise, by the way, there will be no kissing!) That’s when I’ll begin another Tuesday Tour spotlighting my pictures of covered bridges here in Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Ohio. Someday soon, we hope to resume longer road trips to visit more of these picturesque structures.

“A bridge is a meeting place. a possibility, a metaphor.” ~Jeanette Winterson

© 2021

Posted in photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: Sea, what sea?

Some folks say the end is the best part of any story. The Tuesday Tour of lighthouses is complete for now, at least until Papa and I can embark once again on our empty nest travels. As I’ve promised in earlier posts, I believe I have saved the best for last in this series.

When you view the photo below, you may think I’m off my rocker.  But hang on, this one is just the sidekick of a more spectacular one. I almost missed catching a glimpse of Ram Island Ledge Light, an unobtrusive and almost forlorn looking tower, located about a mile offshore from a more famous lighthouse on the coast of Maine.

This particular navigation aid was erected first as an iron spindle in 1855 to mark dangerous ledges near the entrance of the Portland harbor, and later became a 50-foot wooden tripod.

Shipwrecks abounded in the area for many years and when a large transatlantic steamer ran aground during a snowstorm in 1900, the necessity of a lighthouse there became most apparent. Construction began on Ram Island in 1903 and completed the next year, but the 90-foot tall tower was first illuminated in January 1905 with a fog bell added later that year.  Keepers lived inside the tower for two weeks at a time working 12-hour shifts daily and then were granted one week shore leave.

By 1959, keepers no longer were required since the light became automated and on 2001, it was converted to solar power. Eventually, this light tower was placed on the auction block and a private owner purchased it simply because he wanted to preserve this historic place.

Ram Island Ledge Light might be lone and forgotten possibly because it’s almost hidden in the shadows of a famous lighthouse, actually New England’s most visited, photographed, and painted landmark – Portland Head Lighthouse.

Situated in Cape Elizabeth, Maine on the dramatic coastline, Portland Head is rich in history since it is Maine’s oldest lighthouse dating back to 1791 and is noted as the first lighthouse completed by the U.S. government. When we visited in early summer 2017, it didn’t take long to realize this is a popular sightseeing destination.

Cape Elizabeth’s history can be traced back to Revolutionary War times when, in 1776, the newly established town posted soldiers at Portland Head in order to warn of British attacks and protect the harbor. By 1787, partial funding was provided to build a lighthouse there and three years later, the U.S. Congress added enough funds to complete the construction of a 72-foot tower and a small keeper’s dwelling. President George Washington requested that local rubble stone be used to build the lighthouse itself.  

Illuminated by 16 whale oil lamps, Portland Head was first lit on January 10, 1791 after its dedication by none other than Marquis de Lafayette. A Revolutionary War veteran, appointed by President Washington, became the first lighthouse keeper there. His salary? The right to live in the keeper’s dwelling, fish, and farm in the area. Finally, after two difficult years, the keeper received $160 per year. 

Winter was perilous at Portland Head especially when the trek from the keeper’s dwelling to the lighthouse was steep, rocky, and frozen when ocean waves washed over it. By 1816, a new two-story keeper’s quarters was built and part of the former structure was joined to the tower.

During the Civil War era, the tower was elevated another 20 feet after a 295-foot ship wrecked taking 40 lives into the sea with it. Later, on Christmas Eve in 1886, yet another sea vessel crashed at Portland Head. When the lighthouse keepers heard the impact, they formed a gangway with a ladder set between the rocky ledge and the shore and rescued all 14 people on board.

The peculiar aspect of that shipwreck was that visibility was good that night and the ship’s crew stated they saw the Portland Light clearly. So what caused the ship to strike a ledge and be lodged against it?  

Yet more unusual occurrences happened at this famous lighthouse. As the wife of one keeper sat knitting in a chair next to a window one evening, their dog began growling so ferociously, she got up and moved to another area. Immediately afterwards, an enormous wave crashed into the keeper’s dwelling, breaking the window and blowing glass shards over the chair where she had sat.  

Visitors to the lighthouse roamed freely about sometimes startling the keepers and their families. In the 1950’s, a woman entered the house, sat at the kitchen table, and declared that the keeper and his wife serve her since they were government employees.

And in the 1960’s, keepers’ families learned that downstairs doors and windows should be locked at all times after tourists with cameras barged into the bathroom in the keepers’ home and caught a coastguardsman’s wife in the tub.

After the lighthouse was automated, an apartment in the keeper’s dwelling was rented and several occupants over the years reported a feeling that they weren’t alone there. One couple said a motion-detector alarm often went off when no one was there at night. Other residents thought there was a spectral presence in the basement but felt it was a friendly ghost who “just needed to be told that his keeper days were over and he could rest in peace.”

One keeper named Joshua Strout is noted as Maine’s oldest keeper. At 79 years old, he retired in 1904 after being Portland Head’s light keeper for 35 years and had served 17 of those years without any time off.  Strout’s son Joseph became head keeper serving until 1928. His career at the light station was over 50 years.

Another interesting story about Portland Head Light is that a very famous poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, became a frequent visitor there. It’s highly suspected that he was inspired by this lighthouse to pen his poem entitled The Lighthouse.

Steadfast, serene, immovable, the same,

Year after year, through all the silent night,

Burns on forevermore that quenchless flame,

Shines on that inextinguishable light!

– excerpt from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Lighthouse

That inextinguishable light actually was extinguished though from June 1942 to June 1945 in order to prevent aid to German submarines.  During World War II, unauthorized visitors were also forbidden there.

During its long service, Portland Head Light was first the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Treasury from 1790-1852 when the U.S. Lighthouse Board took over management. By 1939, the U.S. Coast Guard became responsible for navigational aids including Portland Head. In 1989, the lighthouse was decommissioned and the town of Cape Elizabeth now owns and manages it with the U.S. Coast Guard still controlling the light and fog signal.

We first viewed Portland Head from adjacent Fort Williams Park, where visitors can utilize picnic areas, go hiking, engage in sports and recreational activities, and enjoy beautiful ocean viewpoints from its 90+ acres. When visiting the lighthouse itself, the public also can tour an award-winning museum in the former lighthouse keeper’s quarters as well as a gift shop.

In my estimation, Portland Head Light is one of the most beautiful lighthouses we’ve viewed thus far. I fell head over heels for this lighthouse (although not literally because that would have been a disastrous fall!) and took more photos of it than any other. I just couldn’t stop taking pictures, as you can tell from this post, and I thought every picture this amateur photographer captured looked amazing.

“Once the lighthouse is seen, the rest of the sea is ignored.” ~ Terri Guillemets

© 2020

Posted in photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: casting light into darkness

More often than not when we think of a lighthouse, we think of a structure emitting a light out into the darkness in order to safely guide sea travelers on their way.

For me, my faith serves as a lighthouse, guiding me through dangers amidst the darkness that often envelopes this world. And that faith I cling to shines ever so brightly even in difficult times like these.

I once read that Christian songwriter/musician Chris Tomlin said this: “When I write songs, I try to write in a way to reach as many people as I can, to be a lighthouse versus a flashlight.”

In the pitch black of night with a raging storm tossing a vessel about on wild waves of the sea, a flashlight certainly wouldn’t do much good to light the way to safety. A lighthouse is needed and that is certainly true on the dangerous, rocky coast of Maine.

One of the most dramatic lighthouses Papa and I have viewed on our empty nest travels is Cape Neddick Lighthouse, also known as the Nubble Light, located in Soiher Park, York, Maine.

The lighthouse itself is situated on a rocky cliff called a nub of land between the dangerous shoal York Ledge and Stone’s Rock and is separated from the mainland by a channel of water. When this lighthouse was still manned by light keepers, travel to it required rowing over the channel in a boat.

Beginning back in 1807, sailors requested a lighthouse be erected there but over 70 years passed before the 41-foot conical tower was constructed and finally illuminated in 1879.  The first keepers of the light and its surrounding buildings were those serving in the Lighthouse Service.

Those duties were transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard in 1939, when this light was officially named Cape Neddick Light Station, and continued until it became automated in 1987.   

Like so many other lighthouses, several tales and legends are associated with it. One legend involves the shipwreck of the vessel Isidore in 1842. Prior to its last sailing, one of the ship’s sailors dreamed that he saw seven coffins lined up onshore and heard a voice proclaiming one of those would be his. 

Yet another crewmember also dreamed about the shipwreck and decided to hide until the vessel departed. Lo and behold, seven bodies washed ashore in the Isidore’s debris and some folks claim the ghost ship and its crew can be seen sailing past the lighthouse.

A hefty, 20-pound tomcat is the focus of another tale. When the keeper-owner of the feline was assigned elsewhere, he left the cat there. The next keeper was shocked to see the tomcat, who had eaten all the mice on the island, paddling over the channel to the mainland one day and returning with a fat mouse in his mouth.  From then on, visitors enjoyed seeing the cat and his notoriety for swimming was reported in local newspapers.

Cape Neddick became a popular tourist attraction and some keepers earned extra cash by rowing visitors back and forth between the island and mainland by boat. Some were fired because catering to visitors interfered with their lighthouse duties.

All supplies the keeper’s family needed had to be transported across the channel from the rocky mainland, so a basket was suspended on a line running from the mainland to the island – a trolley of sorts. Keepers would reel in their provisions that way and rely on this method when they couldn’t get off the island in inclement weather.

That supply basket became notorious in 1967 when an AP photographer published a photo, which subsequently was printed across the country, of a coastguardsman working the pulleys of the basket over the channel. What caused the uproar was that the basket contained the man’s seven-year-old son who was being sent off to school that way.

The Coast Guard promptly ruled that no families with school age children would be posted to the light station ever again. Prior to that, parents with young children feared for their offspring because of the dangerous ledges surrounding the lighthouse and it was reported that they tied little ones to either a post or the lighthouse ladder to keep them from wandering off and meeting tragedy on the rocky cliffs.

When Cape Neddick became automated, the town of York stepped up to adopt the preservation and maintenance of the lighthouse, and it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. The U.S. Coast Guard still maintains the light and fog horn as an active navigational aid.

Visitors can view this stunning lighthouse from Sohier Park, land donated to York by the Sohier-Davis family; a Welcome Center with a nice gift shop is located on the park grounds.  

It’s estimated that half a million visitors view Cape Neddick Light each year, and a large crowd gathers every November to witness an annual “Lighting of the Nubble.” All of the buildings on the island are decorated with festive Christmas lights and illuminated for the season during that event.

Cape Neddick Lighthouse surely does let its light shine – even making the Christmas holiday a glimmering one. But its light has extended beyond mere earth. In 1977, the probe Voyager II  was launched into space with various materials aboard to teach any extraterrestrials out there about planet Earth.

What was included in the collection? A digitized image of Cape Neddick Lighthouse, the Nubble Light.

Might this lighthouse someday guide a spaceship to earth? Who knows?!

“What does a lighthouse do? I ask myself. It never moves. It cannot hike up its rocky skirt and dash into the ocean to rescue the foundering ship. It cannot calm the waters or clear the shoals. It can only cast light into the darkness. It can only point the way. Yet, through one lighthouse, you guide many ships. Show this old lighthouse the way.” ~ Lisa Wingate

© 2020

Posted in photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: history and mystery

They weren’t easy to find.

On our empty nest road trip to New England in 2018, one of our quests was to locate some lighthouses on the coast of Maine, which didn’t prove to be a simple task because some of the beacons aren’t easily reached or are inaccessible by car.

After a few wrong turns and scratching our heads, we reached success when we discovered Owls Head Lighthouse near Rockland, Maine and Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse in South Portland.

On that June day, we actually were the only people at Owls Head Light Station. Pulling into the parking lot near the structure in Owls Head Light State Park, we were surprised to find no other visitors and that our vehicle was the lone one there.

Peace and quiet accompanied us on a short walk through a wooded area to this picturesque lighthouse sitting on top of an 80-foot bluff above Penobscot Bay. Both history and mystery surround this beacon.

Construction for the original station was approved by President John Quincy Adams in 1824 and the original, 15-foot tall, stone lighthouse was established in 1825.

Even though that tower was relatively short, because of its location on the rocky bluff, the beacon could be seen for 16 miles. The first lighthouse keeper, a War of 1812 veteran, earned an annual salary of $350. By 1852, that structure had deteriorated so a new, 24-foot tall, brick tower was built with a new keeper’s dwelling added two years later.

Tending the lighthouse was risky business as the tower was situated 120 feet up a steep ascent from the keeper’s home. Winter was especially treacherous and finally in 1874, walkways and stairs linked the keeper’s house with the beacon.

Two fascinating tales exist about Owls Head including a story of two people frozen in ice who came back to life and a dog who rang the fog bell.  During a raging December 1820 storm, a small schooner set anchor at the onset of the storm and the captain went ashore leaving three others on board.

As the storm worsened, the vessel was ripped from its mooring and smashed into rocks near the lighthouse after which the boat’s mate attempted to go ashore for help.

The lighthouse keeper found and revived the mate, but the man begged the keeper to rescue his fiancée and a fellow crewman who were still on the wrecked schooner. When a search party recovered the two people, they reportedly were encased in an ice block formed from the water’s spray in freezing cold temperatures.

Even though it seemed they were deceased, hours-long efforts to chip off the ice, place the man and woman in cold water, and massage their legs and arms continued. Miraculously, both were revived.

And then there is the tale of Spot the dog, a springer spaniel owned by an Owls Head keeper during the 1930’s-40’s. The keeper’s daughters apparently taught the dog to ring the fog bell by tugging on the rope and whenever a boat passed by, the dog rang the bell with the ship returning the sound by bell or horn. Sounds like a perfect example of Pavlov’s conditioning experiment with dogs, doesn’t it?

But Spot’s “trick” actually saved someone’s life. Spot became friends with a mail boat skipper who always brought the dog a treat. Spot soon learned to recognize the boat’s engine sound and knew when his friend was arriving.

When a blizzard hit, Owls Head’s fog bell was muffled by snow drifts. During the snow storm, Spot scratched at the keeper’s door to be let out, sped to the shoreline, and barked repeatedly and loudly. The mail boat captain heard his canine friend, replied with the boat’s whistle, and later claimed he was saved from disaster because he was able to determine his location thanks to Spot.  

In addition to its history, some mystery swirls around Owls Head Lighthouse as well. Named first on a most haunted lighthouse list,  some claim there are at least two ghosts there – a female who has been “seen” in the kitchen or looking out a window and another who some believe is a former keeper’s spirit.

The later just may have climbed into bed with a Coast Guard keeper’s wife one night. She distinctly felt what she thought was her husband crawling back into bed after he gone outside to check something.

When she questioned him and received no response, she rolled over to find no one there yet an indentation in the mattress appeared to be moving. Her husband, who had not yet returned to the bedroom, claimed he saw “a cloud of smoke hovering over the floor” which passed through him.

Yet another ghostly tale is that of a Coast Guardsman’s two-year-old daughter who described seeing a bearded man wearing a blue coat and seaman’s cap, yet no such person had ever been there.

Still others report that unexplained footprints, leading in only one direction to the tower after rain or a snowfall, appear and strangely enough, brass is found polished and the lens cleaned in the lighthouse afterwards.

Fact or fiction? Who knows, but we found this lighthouse, automated in 1989 and still an active navigational aid today, intriguing. We managed to climb the 52 steps up to the lighthouse where we found the view simply amazing.

Owls Head Lighthouse and the keeper’s dwelling now is licensed to the American Lighthouse Foundation. The foundation, along with the U.S. Coast Guard, restored the tower to its original 1852 appearance.   

Only open on selected days, the lighthouse was closed when we visited, but the grounds were open. Currently due to the pandemic, lighthouse climbing tours have been suspended until further notice.

The 1854 keeper’s dwelling still stands on the site and serves as the American Lighthouse Foundation headquarters. According to the non-profit’s website, that organization is responsible for restoration and preservation of 18 lighthouses.

From Owls Head, we headed south to Portland, Maine and our next lighthouse stop proved to be a bit of a challenge.  After several wrong turns and a bit of exasperation, we finally located Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse, which actually sits on a breakwater connecting it to the Southern Maine Community College campus.

Because of its location, it’s not only difficult to find but parking is very limited when the college is in session. We found that to be so. Papa finally just pulled alongside a curb temporarily and I jumped out of the car and jaunted quickly to a vantage point to capture a photo of this distinct lighthouse that kind of looks like a spark plug.

Since we were apprehensive about the parking situation and didn’t want to incur a fine, we weren’t able to walk out onto the breakwater to see this caisson-style lighthouse closely. Out of 49 such types of lighthouses in the United States, Spring Point Ledge is the only one visitors actually can walk to.

Constructed in 1897 and first illuminated in May of that year, this lighthouse was erected in the Portland Harbor to mark a ledge projecting from the shoreline at South Portland’s Fort Preble and extending into the main shipping channel of the harbor. Several significant shipwrecks and groundings occurred due to this dangerous area in one of the busiest harbors on the east coast.

Despite the need for it, Spring Point Ledge Light was darkened for about three months in 1898 during the peak of the Spanish American War, resuming illumination once again in late July of that year.

After sustaining years of damage from ice, granite blocks were placed around it for protection in the 1930’s. The 950-foot granite breakwater connecting the lighthouse with the shore was constructed by the Corps of Engineers in 1951.

The U.S. Coast Guard automated Spring Point Ledge Light in 1960 and nearly 40 years later, ownership was transferred to the Spring Point Ledge Light Trust. Responsibility for the lighthouse’s functions as a navigational aid is retained by the Coast Guard.

The lighthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Normally, visitors could explore the inside of the working lighthouse on Saturdays and Sundays, but tours are now closed due to the pandemic.   

Two more visits to Maine’s lighthouses followed after this one. I’ve saved what I think are the best for the last couple of posts yet to come. I hope my readers continue joining me on my Tuesday Tours to view photos of those remaining sites.  I believe they are the cream of the crop.

“We are told to let our light shine, and if it does, we won’t need to tell anybody it does. Lighthouses don’t fire cannons to call attention to their shining- they just shine.” ~  Dwight L. Moody

© 2020

Posted in photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: Road trip lights

We love road trips.

I know many folks prefer plane travel when the destination is several hundred or thousand miles away. But for us, a road trip is far more pleasant. You can take your time. You can stop wherever and whenever you like. You can traverse along the scenic route, not just the most direct one.

A couple of years ago, we traveled by car to New England, somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit. After days and various stops in Vermont and New Hampshire, we arrived in Maine.

We were anxious to drive along the Atlantic Ocean coast of that state, especially in Acadia National Park, and compare it to our memories of the Pacific coastline of Oregon.

We certainly weren’t disappointed and we located a number of lighthouses for me to photograph, although this trip was completed prior to our acquiring our trusty U.S. lighthouses map and guide. The unique Egg Rock Light, located in Frenchman’s Bay, was one of those.

Since it is situated out in the water, I had to resort to using a telephoto lens to attempt a capture, and I don’t think it’s a great photo. The surrounding scenery though was gorgeous.

However, you can ascertain from it that this lighthouse is a square, brick tower extending out of a square keeper’s dwelling. The second building there is the fog station.

Egg Rock Light was constructed in 1875 but was automated in 1976 by the U.S. Coast Guard. Today, it still is an active navigation aid managed by the Coast Guard and flashes red every 40 seconds.

An interesting historical tidbit is how Egg Rock got its name – an abundance of birds’ eggs could be collected on the island, but seabirds abandoned the island after the lighthouse was built. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988, today the site is owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is not open to the public.

Our next lighthouse stop within Acadia National Park was more spectacular – Bass Harbor Head Light.  Located on Mount Desert Island in Tremont, Maine, this cliff-side brick light marks the entrance to Bass Harbor and Blue Hill Bay.

Although there are well over 60 lighthouses in Maine, not many of them are accessible by driving vehicles but Bass Harbor Head Light Station is one of them. Normally the parking lot is free and the grounds are open daily from 9 a.m. until sunset. Now, of course, covid-19 restrictions apply.

After arriving there, we followed a path that led us to the tower and a viewing area where the harbor and distant islands could be observed.  We viewed the bell, now outside the tower, and plaques detailing the lighthouse’s history on the grounds. Neither the tower itself nor the keeper’s house is open to the public.  

For the brave at heart and fit in body, you can also take a path leading to a stairway down the cliff, but one has to keep in mind that there are no safety devices on the boulders below and the Maine coast is a rough one with many loose stones and slippery places.

The stairway back up to the lighthouse is also very steep. We chose only to go part way, although now I realize it would have provided a more dramatic photograph from the ocean side of the lighthouse had we ventured to the bottom.

Standing 56 feet above water, Bass Harbor Light was erected in 1858 with a fog bell and tower added in 1876. An even larger bell weighing in around 4,000 pounds was later installed in the 32-foot tower itself.  Electrified in 1949 and then automated in 1974, this light can be seen 13 nautical miles.

Even though the land upon which the lighthouse sits belongs to Acadia National Park, just this year, the light station was transferred from the U.S. Coast Guard to the National Park Service. Rights to operate and maintain this navigational aid is still retained by the Coast Guard.

Bass Harbor Head Light Station’s claim to fame is that it is the fifth most popular site in Acadia National Park. An estimated 180,000 people visit it every year. It has also been featured on the America the Beautiful quarter minted in 2012 and appeared on a 2016 postage stamp depicting the National Park Service’s centennial.

Someday I’m hoping Papa and I can take more long distance road trips once again. And when we do, I’d like to go back to that rugged coast of Maine and beyond into our next-door neighbor country Canada to catch a glimpse of more lighthouses.

Like the vital rudder of a ship, we have been provided a way to determine the direction we travel. The lighthouse of the Lord beckons to all as we sail the seas of life. Our home port is the celestial kingdom of God. Our purpose is to steer an undeviating course in that direction. A man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder—never likely to reach home port. To us comes the signal: Chart your course, set your sail, position your rudder, and proceed.” ~  Thomas S. Monson

© 2020

Posted in photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: Guiding light in autumn

It won’t come to you as a surprise.

If you’ve been a reader of Mama’s Empty Nest for very long, you are probably quite aware that autumn is my very favorite season of all.

Oh, I like winter enough when it snows and is frosty outside. Spring rates as my second favorite season because finally color bursts forth across the landscape. Summer? Blech. I only tolerate those months of the year when it’s not hot and humid and that doesn’t happen very often in my neck of the woods.

Since Papa and I entered the empty nest stage of life well over a decade ago when our last offspring headed off to college life, we’ve enjoyed taking vacations in the fall. And now that we’re retired, traveling during that season suits us even more. The weather is usually very pleasant and sightseeing spots are far less crowded.

Our trip to Michigan last year was no different except that we encountered much colder weather than we expected. But even though we had to find a retailer to purchase winter hats and gloves to stay warm, we relished in our sightseeing – especially all of the lighthouses we visited in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

We spent a day enjoying snow flurries while touring that area with our trusty lighthouse map/guide specifically to find a couple of lighthouses. Our day trip ended in Sault Ste. Marie shivering in rapidly falling temperatures at sunset to watch a ship proceed through the locks there, which is one of the most heavily used commercial shipping canals in the world.

Prior to that though, we traveled along the shoreline of the deepest and coldest of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior, to Point Iroquois Light 20 miles west of Sault Ste. Marie.

The area known as Point Iroquois was named by the Ojibwa for the Iroquois war party who invaded the area in an attempt to dominate the fur trade but were defeated in a massacre in 1662. The name used by the Ojibwa in their native language meant “place of Iroquois bones.”

After French explorers arrived in the area, the point became a notable landmark, especially once Sault Ste. Marie was established as a settlement. By the mid 1800’s, copper and iron ore were discovered in the area resulting in the need for a passage for ore-carrying vessels to safely travel and the “Soo Locks” was built.

Because of the increased volume of water traffic leaving and approaching the locks and the very hazardous weather conditions in the area, the addition of lighthouses along Lake Superior became apparent. 

Construction of Point Iroquois Light Station, which would serve to guide ships through a narrow channel between shallow sand bars and shoals off the point and rocky reefs on the Canadian side of Whitefish Bay, commenced in 1854 and was completed the next year. The light was emitted for the first time in September 1857.

The original lighthouse consisted of a cylindrical 45-foot wooden tower with a detached one-and-a-half story stone dwelling for the keeper’s quarters. Years later, both structures were in poor condition, so construction began on a new 65-foot brick tower and eight-room keeper’s home in 1870, which still stand today.

When a fog signal was added to the station, another keeper was required, so an addition to the keeper’s home was added in 1905 to provide more living space.

After 107 years of service, Point Iroquois Lighthouse became deactivated in 1963 when it was replaced by the automated Gros Cap Point Light in Canada. The lantern room’s Fresnel lens was removed, shipped to Washington, DC’s Smithsonian Institute, and the lighthouse property deemed excess. In 1965, the U.S. Forest Service assumed responsibility for the property.

Ten years later, the light station was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and during the 1980’s, Bay Mills-Brimley Historical Research Society joined the forest service in restoring the lighthouse and creating a museum and gift shop in the keeper’s dwelling.

Despite the navigational light and fog horn aid Point Iroquois provided in its many years of service, occasionally ships still wrecked in the passage. Such an event occurred in 1919 during a November lake storm.

The steamer Myron sunk in the freezing lake and 16 of the crew lost their lives. The light keeper at the time found their bodies washed ashore and had to transport them to a nearby town undertaker. Reportedly, the undertaker paid $10 apiece for “floaters.”

Treacherous winter weather also took its toll when the keeper and assistant took a team of horses out on the ice to either fish or gather ice blocks to store in the ice house.

On more than one occasion, horses broke through the ice because of soft spots where warm springs bubbled up. During one such episode, the horses became so frightened that they thrashed around and unfortunately sank into the icy lake to their deaths.

Those are just some of the stories about the light keepers and their families visitors learn about when viewing exhibits at this light station’s museum.

The lantern room is open to the public and you can climb the 72 steps of the circular iron stairway to reach it. Papa and I accomplished that and were rewarded with an amazing view of Lake Superior, particularly beautiful in autumn.

We peeked into the assistant light keeper’s apartment which has been restored to reflect how it looked during the 1950’s. We thoroughly delighted in a short walk along a wooded boardwalk path to a cobblestone beach where we gained different perspectives of the lighthouse amid the fall foliage. 

Currently during this pandemic, the Point Iroquois Lighthouse is closed. However, visitors can still stroll the boardwalk and grounds there.

I sincerely hope my readers are finding the stories of all of these lighthouses I highlight on my Tuesday Tour posts as fascinating as I am. Each lighthouse has a different story to tell just as each has a purpose for existing.

And isn’t that just like us as human beings? We each have a story, we each have a purpose, and sometimes, our purpose is to tell our stories to help someone else.

Just like a guiding lighthouse.

“ …what he told himself on those sea-soaked nights…Others joined in and it was discovered that every light had a story-no, every light was a story. And the flashes themselves were the stories going out over the waves, as markers and guides and comfort and warning.” ~ Jeanette Winterson in  Lighthousekeeping

© 2020