Is The Nubble on Your Bucket List?

by CruiseReady

The Cape Neddick Lighthouse- "The Nubble" - isn't just picturesque to look at. It also has a fascinating history, littered with keepers cum tour guides, a swimming cat and deer.

All along the shoreline of New England are quaint lighthouses, but few are as picturesque or fascinating as the Cape Neddick Light.

Most of us know that the Boston Harbor Light was the first to be built in America. But did you know that Cape Neddick is also affectionately known as “The Nubble?” Its fascinating history includes keepers who moonlighted as tour guides, a swimming deer, and even a swimming cat.

The Nubble is also a popular spot during the holiday season, when people come there for miles around. Even though they can no longer get onto the little island on which it sits, the view from Sohier Park is quite a Christmas treat. It’s all lit up and is absolutely stunning.

There may no longer be a keeper at the Cape Neddick Light, but you’ll keep it in your memory once you’ve been there. After reading about it, you may want to add a visit to your bucket list.

Nubble Lighthouse, By Ali, CC-BY-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Cape Neddick Lighthouse

York, Maine

Cape Neddick Lighthouse

Image credit - Artwork of the Nubble Light on a 1920 postcard (P.D.)

Locals refer to it as "The Nubble."  But, whether you call it the Nubble Light or by its official name of the Cape Neddick Lighthouse, it's an American Classic.

So classic, in fact,  is the appearance of this tower, along with the picket fenced keepers house, and bright red oil house, that a photo of it is riding into the far reaches of our solar system, aboard NASA's Voyager Spacecraft, as one of the examples of prominent structures on planet earth.

Nubble Island, on which the lighthouse is built, sits just 100 yards off the tip of Cape Neddick Piont, in Maine.

Cape Neddick Light from the Sea

Cape Neddick ("Nubble") Lighthouse, from the sea

The beacon on Nubble Island began offering guidance to mariners in 1879. Automated in 1987, the light and foghorn continue to do so today.

A Tourist Attraction

From the Beginning

About a half a million people visit Sohier Park every year, but all they can do is look. That wasn't always the case, though.

It's such a picturesque site that the Nubble began attracting crowds early on. In fact, the very first lighthouse keeper, Nathaniel Otterson, used to row visitors over to the island for the hefty charge of a whole dime, making himself quite a bit of extra money that way.

He wasn't the only one. Other keepers did the same, resulting in reprimands from superiors. One was even fired, apparently because he paid more attention to his sightseeing enterprise than to his light keeping duties!

There are plenty of stories and legends about this particular station, which no doubt gave the keeper cum tour guides plenty of narrative material.

Compass House

he keeper's house is built in the shape of a cross, with the four gables aligned with the four points of the compass.

The Swimming Lighthouse Cat

Sambo Tonkus, a.k.a. Mr. T

One interesting story still told today is about Sambo Tonkus, or Mr. T.  He was a cat who was brought to the lighthouse by one of the keepers. A good mouser, this huge tom eventually cleaned the island of every last rodent.

The resourceful feline then began making daily swims to the mainland to catch his dinner, and bring it back home with him!  This habit of his was written up in the press, making him a bit of a celebrity in the area.

A Deer Swam to the Light

And Spent the Night

Mr. T wasn't the only non human swimmer to visit the famous lighthouse.

Another true story around the light is about the little deer who swam across to the island, and was forced to spend the night  when the tide rose.

The animal became an instant (although brief) internet sensation.  This ism that true story - with a few embellishments - as told by children's author Denise Brown.

A Deer Visits Nubble Lighthouse

The Lighthouse Today

An Historic Site

Today, the Cape Neddick Light is on the National Register of Historic Places.  

Since it is still an operating navigational aid, the U.S. Coast Guard continues to be responsible for the operation of the beacon and foghorn.

However, the town of York, Maine, proudly maintains the grounds and buildings, having been appointed the Nubble's permanent guardian in December of 1997.

You can find their Nubble Light Website here.

The Cape Neddick Light Station

In Winter
The Nubble in Winter
The Nubble in Winter

Live Web Cam

And Time Lapse Photos
  • Live Webcam of the Nubble Lightouse

    Courtesy of the nearby Fox's Lobster House, see the Nubble Now. Be sure to click on the link below the picture that says "Click Here to make the picture bigger and to see time lapse photos." The time lapse photos are amazing!

Christmas Time on Cape Neddick

Comes Twice a Year

Neddick Island Light at Christmas Time


Neddick Island Light at Christmas time
By N.V. Deremer (Own work) , via Wikimedia Commons

During the Christmas Season, you can get a very special view of Nubble Lighthouse, like the one in the photo shown here.  The Lighting of the Nubble takes place on Thanksgiving Saturday, and the illumination continues until New Year's Day every year.

For those like me, who prefer not to brave the Maine winter, there's a special week each summer when the town gives visitors to the same visual treat.  That's during the York Days Festival, in late July.

Is The Nubble on Your Bucket List?

(a poll)

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See The Nubble

From Sohier Park

Put this on your bucket list!

Although visits to the island itself are not allowed, you can spend a pleasant day at Sohier Park, from which there's a nice view of the lighthouse and its associated buildings.  The island they sit on rises out of the ocean just 100 yards off the point of land in the park.  A telescope is provided there that you can use for a closer inspection.  

You can also browse the gift shop, and enjoy picnicking, hiking, and fishing at the park.  Bring your dog, too, as long as you keep him or her on a leash.

Find the park at the end of Nubble Road in York, Maine.

You'll find restrooms and a water fountain there, too, but bring your own picnic fare.


The park is open

9:00am – 4:00pm from mid April through Mid May

9:00am - 7:00pm from mid May through late October



Updated: 01/04/2017, CruiseReady
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DerdriuMarriner on 09/01/2017

CruiseReady, Was the fenced-in area the lighthouse keeper's garden or is it a modern addition?

CruiseReady on 07/17/2015

They do make wonderful artistic themese. I think it's partly because of their unique appeal to the soul as a symbol of safety, and partly because they are often located in such majestic settings.

blackspanielgallery on 07/16/2015

Interesting how an old lighthouse can be the subject of art.

CruiseReady on 07/15/2015

Lucky you, happynutritionist! This one is actually still on my own bucket list. Not sure if we will ever get to Maine or not, but if we do, I WILL see the Nubble!

CruiseReady on 07/15/2015

Thank you, Sheilamarie! It's an especially fascinating one.

happynutritionist on 07/09/2015

We have already been here more than once as we love vacationing in Maine. My brother and his family were just there last week and he took a perspective type photo of the lighthouse, which was at a distance, in his hand.

happynutritionist on 07/09/2015

We have already been here more than once as we love vacationing in Maine. My brother and his family were just there last week and he took a perspective type photo of the lighthouse, which was at a distance, in his hand.

sheilamarie on 07/08/2015

My father would take us on a lighthouse tour every once in a while. The Nubble is a special one. You've included some beautiful images with this article.

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