I recently went out with my Mamiya medium format camera to photograph this lighthouse. It is one of several along the Kennebec River; it is an active light maintained by the Coast Guard. These river lights were designed in the late 1800s to guide commercial traffic through tight turns and treacherous areas along the river.
The late nineteenth century was a transitional time in shipping. Sailing ships were in decline as more and more steam ships powered by coal came into use. Scientists knew as early as the mid-1800s that carbon dioxide was a greenhouse gas, but the prevailing thought was that the Earth was too large for people to pollute, much less warm the oceans and atmosphere. Besides, fossil fuel power meant profits, and people wanted all the things that it could make widely available. The middle class slowly grew and people saw industrialization as progressive. Fossil fuels were so compelling that most people would not see them as destructive. In fact, we still have some climate deniers, but they have dwindled over the past decade as floods, droughts, and wildfires have ravaged the planet.
People love lighthouses. They are frequently visited, photographed, and appear in many paintings. Many even have gift shops. They are also sustainable. Portland Head Light was commissioned by George Washington in 1791. Many others were built in the early 1800s. While many had to be rebuilt (or moved, due to erosion) one or two times, they are a sustainable means of coastal navigation. Today they are automated, gone is the romantic era of the lighthouse keeper. Will today’s GPS and GLONASS satellite systems (which we all use) stand the test of time?
You will find four more photos of Squirrel Light at my online gallery.