The Maine Lighthouse Museum (MLM) is the proud home of the largest collection of Fresnel lighthouse lenses and the most important landmark collection of lighthouse artifacts and Coast Guard memorabilia in the United States. Many of the items in the museum’s collection are there on loan from the United States Coast Guard. The institution was originally founded as the Shore Village Museum in 1972 by a former U.S. Coast Guard Commander, C.W.O. Ken Black.
Ken Black, a retired U.S. Coast
Guard Commander, founded the Shore Village Museum in 1972. This museum, a
precursor to the current Maine Lighthouse Museum, intended to preserve the
area’s rich maritime history. During his years with the Coast Guard, Black
gathered quite the collection of nautical artifacts. He asked the Coast Guard for permission to
display his collection at their station in Rockland, Maine. Eventually, his
collection outgrew that space, so he moved the items to the Shore Village
Museum. The contents of the museum were moved out in 2004 when the Shore
Village Museum outgrew its original home and closed. Black managed the
collection as the Maine Lighthouse Museum, which merged with the American
Lighthouse Foundation in 2007. Now, the museum is the largest exhibit of
lighthouse artifacts and lenses in the country.
Black spent a major part of his
life dedicated to the study and preservation of America’s lighthouse history. According to the museum’s Facebook page, Black
“rose to become a commander in the United States Coast Guard (USCG), Ken was
responsible for the actual operation of many lighthouses as he watched over our
nation's coastlines. He was an active Chief Warrant Officer in the Coast Guard,
serving as the Officer in Charge of Coast Guard Station Rockland. He assembled
the collection by obtaining permission from his district admiral, and then
visiting Coast Guard stations and bases throughout the First Coast Guard
District (ME, MA, NH, CT, VT, NY).”
The Maine Lighthouse Museum has
one of the largest collections of Fresnel lenses in the country. The U.S. Coast
Guard places strict requirements upon any museum who intends to place these
lenses in their collections due to their value and historical importance. The
Fresnel lens was first developed in 1822 by a French physicist named Augustin
Jean Fresnel. It looks like an enormous
beehive. There is an intricate system of
multi-faceted glass prisms mounted in the device’s brass framework. The light hits the prisms on each of its
multiple sides, and then reflects and bends into a single beam of light rather
than scattering in several directions.
This innovative technology made the lens more efficient and therefore
made the waterways safer for nautical travelers.
In addition to the extensive
collection of lighthouse lenses, there are exhibits devoted to the stories of
the men and women who served with the United States Coast Guard and the U.S.
Life-Saving Services. There are
photographs of former lighthouse keepers, detailed lighthouse models, buoys,
foghorns, and fog bells among the items in the museum’s collection. The museum
is currently closed for the winter and scheduled to reopen in Spring 2018. Generally, the summer hours are Mondays
through Fridays from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM, and Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00
AM to 4:00 PM.