Fresnel Lens Claim at Libby Island Light
The following small mention about the origins of a Fresnel lens that was claimed to have been installed in Libby Island Lighthouse appeared in the January 22, 1898 edition of the Lewiston Sunday Journal.
According to the newspaper…
“Every lighthouse along the Maine coast is of interest to the summer tourists, but that at Libby Island, near Lubec, has special claims to distinction, according to the Lubec Herald, in that its lens came from a lighthouse down in Galveston, Texas.
“It was stolen by the Confederates during the war and buried in the sand at that place. After the war it was taken up and put in the Maine lighthouse; the scars can still be seen upon it.”
If the newspaper claim is correct, then the former Confederate-era Texas lighthouse lens would have been Libby Island’s second such Fresnel lens. As lighthouse historian Jeremy D’Entremont notes, “The tower’s original lamps were replaced by a fourth-order Fresnel lens in 1855.”
Since the Civil War was from 1861 to 1865, the lens in question would have presumably been shipped to Maine – and later installed at Libby Island, at some point in the years following the war.
There is no mention of this occurrence in U.S. Lighthouse Board annual reports or other official documents that we have seen, but such movement of lenses from one lighthouse to another often was not recorded in public documents.
If true, one possibility of this happening is when the lantern at Libby Island was replaced in the late 1870s.
The 1876 Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board stated, “A new lantern and deck have been made, and are ready to send to the station.” In the following the year, the 1877 report noted, “The new cast-iron deck and lantern, which at date of last annual report were ready to send to the station, have been set up. The station is now in good condition.”
The passage of time can often obscure such interesting historical tidbits, so the claim remains a mystery as to whether it actually occurred or not. Even if official documentation does not confirm this claim, it is possible that the keepers of Libby Island Lighthouse passed this event down through time to each other…we just do not know.