In 1717, Samuel Shute, the Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, sailed up Kennebec River on the frigate Squirrel and held a conference on Arroswic Island with local Native American tribes. On the return voyage, the ship ran aground on the island’s southwest tip, which has since been known as Squirrel Point.
There were 3,137 arrivals of vessels in this river during the year, not counting the steamers which ply daily. The steamers Kennebec, 1,652 tons, and Sagadahoc, 1,413 tons, made ninety-six round trips each from Gardiner to Boston. Other passenger steamers ply on the river from Bath to Augusta, Boothbay, and Popham Beach, and intermediate places. The number of passengers carried was 232,150. Seventeen tugs were engaged on the river in towing. Thirty-nine vessels of 32,063 gross tons were built on the river, valued at $50 per gross ton, or, say, $1,603,150. The vessels arriving will average 450 tons. Some 24 feet draft can be carried to Thwings Point, 6 miles above Bath, 16 feet draft from Thwings Point to Gardiner, and 8 feet from Gardiner to Augusta. The Kennebec River is kept open by the towboats during the winter from Bath to the sea. Above Bath the buoys are taken up about November 20, and the river is likely to freeze at any time after this date. The ice usually goes out early in April. The river not only has the sea fogs, which extend to Bath, but its own river fog or mist, which is dense and at times low down. On dark nights it is sometimes impossible to tell where the water ends and the shore begins. The Light-House Establishment maintains no lights or fog signals in the Kennebec, but the Kennebec Steam Company and the towboat companies have united for many years in maintaining lanterns hung on the buoys at turning points or other difficult places. The above facts establish, in the Board’s opinion, the necessity for and advisability of increasing the aids to navigation in the Kennebec River.
Along with lights on Perkins Island, Doubling Point, and Ames Ledge, the report recommended that a fixed red light, with a white sector showing to the south, be built on Squirrel Point at an estimated cost of $4,650. Funding was appropriated in 1895 for lighting Kennebec River, and Squirrel Point Lighthouse, located on the southwest tip of Arrowsic Island, was finished in 1898. The 1898 Annual Report briefly describes the completed work: “The buildings consist of a frame tower, frame dwelling, and frame barn. The light is shown from a lens-lantern.” The light exhibited from the shingled, octagonal tower had a focal plane of seventeen feet above the ground and twenty-five feet above the river. George Matthews served as the first keeper at Squirrel Point from 1898 to 1916, after transferring to the station from Whitehead Lighthouse.
Subsequent annual reports noted improvements made at Squirrel Point: “A gallery with railing was built around the lantern, a boat slip and about 70 running feet of plank walks were built, and a concrete floor was laid in the cellar of the dwelling” (1899). “The $1,620 appropriated June 6, 1900, was applied in part to building a boathouse and boat slip. The barn and fuel house were moved nearer the dwelling, and a boundary fence was built.” (1901).
The 1902 report recorded: “The intensity of the light was increased by changing the lens from a lens-lantern to a fifth-order [Fresnel] lens; a bell house and weight shaft were built on the tower, and a 1,000 pound fog-bell was established. The ledge was blasted out and a drainpipe laid in it from the dwelling to high-water mark.” An oil house was also added in 1906.
On a day or two before Christmas one year, a hound belonging to a neighbor on the island made it clear to Keeper Knight that it wanted to show him something on the hill above the station, where there were some abandoned farm buildings. Keeper Knight acquiesced and followed the dog about a half mile from the station where he saw “five magnificent male deer, each with great branching antlers.” At first, the deer didn’t notice the intruders, but the largest one soon spied them, alerted his companions, and together they all bounded away. Back at the station, Keeper Knight told his wife and children, who ranged in age from seven to one, what the dog had shown him. To the keeper’s surprise, the children grew wide-eyed and started to dance around. “There is a Santa Claus! There is a Santa Claus!,” one of them screamed, “and he’s keeping his deer in the old barn!”
After a decade at Squirrel Point, Keeper Knight accepted a transfer to Goose Rocks Lighthouse, a stag station, so his wife and children could live in a town with a school.
Clarence Skolfield served as the last civilian keeper of Squirrel Point, after having elected to not join the Coast Guard when it assumed responsibility for the nation’s lighthouses in 1939. When he retired from the station in 1968, following thirteen years at Squirrel Point, he was the last remaining civilian lighthouse keeper in Maine. Annette B. Skolfield had mixed emotions on leaving the couple’s last lighthouse as can be seen in this letter she wrote to the National Fisherman newspaper:
It is with mixed emotions that I write this letter and very difficult for me to put all I want to say on paper – as words don’t come easily. Clarence is now retired and we are going home to North Harpswell to live on the old home place where he was born and which has been in the family for generations. I realize our tour of duty is over and had to end sometime. Change is inevitable but it takes so many work associations away. Then, too, our best working years are behind us. I shall miss life here, being close to the water, the quietness, and privacy which one acquires in places like this. I shall miss the sunrises, the sunsets, watching the fog rolling in from the ocean, the snowflakes softly falling to the rays of the lighthouse beams, then the arrival of the first geese heading north in the spring, some stopping over on the marshes to rest – the walks in the woods and my winter birds who come to the feeders.
We have made many friends over the years which we will always treasure, and I will have fond memories of the stations we were on – Seguin, Perkins Island and here. We wish the best of everything to the family who comes here to replace us and hope they will be as happy as we have been. One must have self-discipline, be self-sufficient, take disappointment in stride, learn patience, and above all work together to be happy. I don’t know where the years have gone to, it has been a good living and if I had my life to live over, I wouldn’t have it any other way. We have moved our personal things and as we pushed off the boat from the boat slip for the last time, I couldn’t help but feel sad.
For a while after Joseph Robicheau, the station’s last keeper, left Squirrel Point in 1981, the keeper at Kennebec River Range Light Station was given the added responsibility of keeping Squirrel Point Lighthouse for a while, until the light was finally automated.
The association received the official deed for the property in 1998 under the conditions that the station be “used for educational, historic, recreational, cultural and wildlife conservation programs for the general public” and “maintained in a manner consistent with the provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.”
Some people question how a person was able to obtain a lighthouse during a period when many Maine lighthouses were being included in the Maine Lights Program, but Trenholm notes that the deal was perfectly legal. “They just put it on the floor of the Senate,” Trenholm said. “There was nothing improper. It seems ridiculous that anybody thinks that there is.”
Trenholm made a number of improvements to the property, before the station was placed on the market in 1998 for an asking price of $500,000. The potential of profiting from a lighthouse that was received at no cost sparked a quick and negative response. Trenholm claimed that the rumors of the sale were the result of “an overzealous Realtor” and maintained that he still intended to restore the property and use it for educational programs. This purported openness to the public, however, was not reflected in the “No Trespassing” signs that had recently been posted around the property.
At the time of the aborted sale in 1998, Trenholm said his health problems made the lighthouse seem like a stone around his neck. After suffering further health setbacks, Trenholm tried to sell the property again in 2002 at a price of $375,000. In a letter sent to U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe, local residents expressed their outrage regarding the sale. “We fear this Maine landmark is on the verge of being irreparably lost. We hope that you share our concern and take whatever action is necessary to ensure the preservation and continued access to the Squirrel Point Lighthouse, as well as prevent its inappropriate transfer for personal gain.” In his defense, Trenholm responded, “The money I’m trying to get out of it is the money I’ve put into it. I’m not profiting. I’m just coming out of this about even.”
In April 2003, Citizens for Squirrel Point, a Maine non-profit corporation, was formed to ensure that Squirrel Point Lighthouse was used and maintained in accordance with the covenants of its 1998 deed. Citing an October 2002 report by Maine’s State Historic Preservation Officer, the non-profit group filed a suit claiming Squirrel Point Lighthouse was not being used or maintained in compliance with the deed and requesting that the property revert to the federal government. The Coast Guard was initially in favor of the property reverting to the government, but reversed its position in July 2003 when the property went under contract for sale to retired Navy Rear Admiral Leonard, who intended to use the property as a seasonal residence.
In early 2005, U.S. Federal District Judge D. Brock Hornby sided with Citizens for Squirrel Point and ruled that ownership of the lighthouse and property should revert to the federal government. The Chewonki Foundation, an organization that offers environmental education and wilderness programs, signed a fifteen-year lease with the Coast Guard to manage Squirrel Point in February 2008, but it relinquished the lease a few years later, after having helped develop a restoration plan for the property. Finally, in 2013, the Coast Guard leased the station to Citizens for Squirrel Point, which had clearly demonstrated its concern for and dedication to the property over the years. In 2016, the Citizens reshingled the roofs of the station’s barn and keeper’s dwelling and repointed the dwelling’s chimney. This work was part of the first phase of preserving the station and should prevent further water damage while additional restoration is carried out.
Squirrel Point Lighthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and remains an active aid to navigation. The optic is now a modern 250mm lens. The historic fifth-order Fresnel lens now resides at the museum at Portland Head Lighthouse in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. The foghorn is automated, with one blast every ten seconds.
Head Keepers: George P. Matthews (1898 – 1916), Charles L. Knight (1916 – 1926), Asa Smith (at least 1930 – at least 1936), Harold E. Seavey (1937 – at least 1951), Stanley C. Reynolds (at least 1953 – 1955), Clarence Skolfield (1955 – 1968), Charles Burns (1970 – 1972), Joseph Robicheau (1980 – 1981).