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 Perkins Island, ME    
Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.
Description: During the 1800s the only navigational aids on the Kennebec River were those maintained by private companies. In its Annual Report of 1892, the Lighthouse Board moved to rectify this situation by including the following evidence of the importance of the waterway and its inherent navigational hazards.
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 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 Steamboat 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… .

Continuing, the report recommended that a fixed red lens-lantern light, with a white sector to the north, be erected on the southwest point of 6.9-acre Perkins Island, and that a fog bell, struck by machinery, also be established at the same location. The Perkins Island Lighthouse was the southernmost in a series of five lights recommended by the Board to mark the Kennebec River at an estimated cost not exceeding $16,725.

Aerial view of Perkins Island Light Station
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
The Lighthouse Board had to repeat this petition in its 1893 and 1894 reports before Congress responded with a $17,000 appropriation on March 2, 1895. By July of 1897, title for Perkins Island was obtained, plans and specifications had been prepared, and a contract for constructing the station was agreed upon. A frame dwelling and barn were built on the island along with a wooden, octagonal tower, whose design was identical to those at Doubling Point and Squirrel Point. A lens lantern was placed in the twenty-three-foot-tall tower, where it beamed forth its light at a focal plane of forty-one feet.

A gallery with railing was constructed around the lantern in 1899, allowing the keeper to more easily keep the lantern glass clean. A boat slip was also added that same year, and in 1901 an enclosed wooden boathouse was built on the rocks just below the lighthouse.

The 1901 Annual Report noted that a fifth-order Fresnel lens had replaced the lens lantern, greatly increasing the intensity of the light, and that a bell tower, equipped with a 1,000-pound bell, had been constructed just south of the tower. The addition of an oil house was noted in the Annual Report of 1906.

In a 1938 interview, Mrs. Eugene W. Osgood, who had been living with her husband, keeper Eugene Osgood, at various Maine lighthouses for twenty-five years, declared that lighthouse keepers had a pretty comfortable life. The Osgood’s five children had grown up in lighthouses, and some of their nine grandchildren were provided a glimpse at this unique life as well. The stations they have called home include Halfway Rock, Isles of Shoals, Perkins Island, and Manana Fog Signal Station, before arriving (at the time of the interview’s publication) at the Fort Popham Lighthouse.

Perkins Island Light and dwelling
Photograph courtesy Library of Congress
Mrs. Osgood recounted some of the many rescues that she and her husband had participated in over the years. During their tenure at Perkins Island, keeper Osgood heard a signal bell and cries of help during a fierce storm. Setting out in the station boat, keeper Osgood located a party of nineteen people, whose boat had grounded in the storm, and managed to get them all back to the lighthouse, where Mrs. Osgood dried them out and fed them. Nobody, including a sick boy on board, suffered greatly from this harrowing experience thanks to the courageous work of keeper Osgood.

The Perkins Island Lighthouse was automated in 1959, at which time the original fifth-order Fresnel lens was replaced by a modern optic. All structures at the station were transferred to the State of Maine in the 1960s, except for the lighthouse, which remained an active aid to navigation under the care of the Coast Guard.

While the lighthouse received regular upkeep, the fog bell tower and keeper’s dwelling gradually fell into disrepair, and at some point the boathouse was either removed or destroyed. In 2000, a portion of the roof over the front porch of the keeper’s dwelling had collapsed, and the chimney appeared ready to topple over. The fog bell tower, however, did receive a thorough restoration that year thanks to funding by the Maine Department of Conservation and a New Century Program Preservation Grant.

The American Lighthouse Foundation signed a long-term license with the Coast Guard in 2000, assuming responsibility for maintenance of the Perkins Island Lighthouse. Three years later, Friends of Perkins Island Lighthouse (FPIL), a chapter of the lighthouse foundation, was formed to help preserve the lighthouse. Although the keeper’s dwelling is controlled by the state, FPIL obtained permission to shingle the most damaged portion of the roof, rebuild the front entryway, and paint the dwelling. Much work remains to be done, but the enthusiastic FPIL members are committed to raise funds and provide much of the manpower for the long-term preservation of the historic structures on Perkins Island.

References

  1. Annual Report of the Light House Board.
  2. American Lighthouse Foundation website.
  3. “One woman’s memories of twenty-five years on isolated Maine stations,” Lighthouse Digest, April 2005.

Location: Located on Perkins Island in the Kennebec River, two and a half miles north of Popham Beach.
Latitude: 43.78691
Longitude: -69.78504

For a larger map of Perkins Island Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: Public cruises that pass the lighthouse are offered by the Maine Maritime Museum out of Bath and Cap'n Fish's out of Boothbay Harbor.

To get a distant view of the light from land, take Highway 209 south from Highway 1 in Bath for 6.6 miles to Parker Head Road. Turn left on Parker Head Road and drive for 1.3 miles to Parker Neck Road. Turn left onto Parker Neck Road and follow it for 1.5 miles to its southern end, from where you can see the lighthouse across the Kennebec River. Please note that Parker Head Road is now marked as private, so viewing the lighthouse from the water is your best option.

The tower is owned by the Coast Guard and leased to the American Lighthouse Foundation. The dwelling is owned by the State of Maine. Grounds open, dwelling/tower closed.

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