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Egg Rock, ME  Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.   

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Egg Rock Lighthouse

Early photographs of Egg Rock Lighthouse show a building that might have been constructed using children’s building blocks. Originally, the lighthouse was a rare example of a twelve-foot square, brick tower rising from the center of a square, nearly-flat-roofed keeper’s dwelling. Instead of the usual spiral staircase found in lighthouse towers, the metal stairs leading to the lantern room follow the square contours of the building upwards. A pyramid-shaped fog bell tower stood on stilts near the edge of the water, with its bell facing out to sea.

Early view of Egg Rock Lighthouse from the water
Photograph courtesy National Archives
On June 23, 1874, Congress appropriated $15,000 “for a light-house and fog signal at or in vicinity of Egg Rock” due to increasing seasonal ferry traffic. Difficulties in obtaining title to the island delayed construction until June 1875. The Lighthouse Board noted that landing material at the site was problematic and similar to the situation faced at Avery Rock, where a lighthouse using identical plans was under construction. By July 1, 1875, the foundation for the lighthouse had been laid on Egg Rock, the brickwork was nearly finished, and the ironwork was completed and ready to be set in place, but the station would not be put into operation until November 1, 1875. The tower held a fifth-order Fresnel lens that exhibited a fixed red light tended by Egg Rock’s first keeper—a twice-wounded Civil War veteran name named Ambrose H. Wasgatt, who remained at the light for about ten years.

Just a few months after it was activated, the exposed lighthouse experienced the first of many tests Mother Nature would send its way as recorded in the Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board: “During a gale on the 21st of March, 1876, the sea washed over the rock, carrying away the fuel shed and moving the bell tower some 30 feet. The windows of the dwelling were broken in on the sea-side, and the dwelling flooded to such an extent that the oilbutts were moved from their benches.” Amaziah R. Small, who succeeded Wasgatt as keeper, was at the light in 1887, when a gale swept across the island carrying off the outhouse, hen house, and everything moveable. Keeper Heber Sawyer wrote of two similar storms in 1900. A gale on February 1, 1908 was strong enough to move rocks on the island weighing up to thirty tons.

Unfortunately, the placement of the dwelling around the central tower made the dispersed rooms nearly impossible to heat during Maine’s long, harsh winters. In 1899, $1,700 was requested for a second floor that would provide a sufficient number of rooms for a second family and make the dwelling easier to heat. This renovation gave the station its current roofline with its numerous dormers, and made room for an assistant keeper, who was added to the station in 1898.

In 1901, the fifth-order Fresnel lens was upgraded to a more powerful fourth-order lens that changed the light’s characteristic from fixed red to a white flash every five seconds. Problems with the rotating mechanism caused the lens to stop periodically, which cracked some of its prisms.

Egg Rock Lighthouse with second-story addition
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
Egg Rock Lighthouse sits at the mouth of Frenchman’s Bay, named for Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer who mapped and explored the area in 1604. As archaeological evidence has shown in the form of Native American artifacts and several hundred shell heaps, the area also served as the summer home for Wabanaki tribes.

One of the area’s most famous summer residents was Joseph Pulitzer of newspaper fame, whose family established the Pulitzer Prize in his honor. In 1894, he purchased a twenty-seven-room summer house called Chatwold, in Bar Harbor, four miles from Egg Rock. Pulitzer began extensive renovations, and before long the house totaled over fifty rooms. Pulitzer’s extreme sensitivity to noise prompted him to spend over $100,000 to build what was pronounced the “Tower of Silence” by family and staff. Pulitzer’s bedroom was located at the top of a tower and featured a floor resting on ball bearings, double glazed windows, and walls insulated with steel wool. Still, Egg Rock’s fog signal plagued him. In June 1904, the island’s fog signal was changed from a bell to a first-class Daboll trumpet, powered by a four-horsepower oil engine, air compressor, and air tank, in duplicate. The upgrade was at least partially in response to the grounding of the Massachusetts battleship on a ledge off Egg Rock the previous year. In 1905, the fog signal sounded 1,119 hours (using 571 gallons of oil); in 1906, it sounded 1,351 hours (requiring 539 gallons of oil); and in 1907, 1,813 hours (762 consuming gallons of oil). Even though Pulitzer had an indoor pool that was ocean fed and steam heated, he couldn’t block the moan of the fog horn; and it made him furious.

Complaints by Pulitzer and other residents led Maine’s Senator Eugene Hale to send a telegram to the Lighthouse Board. An official responded in July 1904, with an apparent brush-off: “There is much truth in the story from Bar Harbor and some exaggeration. This fog horn is simply carrying out the mandates of Congress….This conflict between shore dwellers and the mariners has always been with us, and is one of the most difficult situations the department has to face. As the board is created, however, to give protection to the mariner, his interests are to be conserved first, and the summer cottagers who live two months in the year in the vicinity of the station will be given such consideration as is proper.” But the issue didn’t die there. Rear Adm. Robley D. Evans, chairman of the Lighthouse Board, arrived in Maine to personally assess the situation. By 1905, the “axis of the trumpet was changed to approximately magnetic south,” away from Bar Harbor, reducing the noise onshore.

Linwood Gammon returning to station in March 1946
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
One freezing cold day in February 1935, he said goodbye to his family and set off in a skiff to visit J. Franklin Anthony, caretaker at the Herbert L. Satterlee summer estate at Schooner Point who had a battery for him. Remembering an errand he needed done on the mainland, Keeper Jaruel Pinkham telephoned the Satterlee estate only to discover that Buster never arrived. Pinkham contacted authorities and a search was launched, but it was Pinkham himself who discover the assistant’s overturned skiff about a mile from the station. Despite a sea and air search, Buster’s body was not found until July 1935, when the crew of a trawler spotted the body offshore and brought it to the surface.

Three weeks after Buster’s death, his third baby boy was born. Dalzell’s wife never remarried, saying that no one could replace her husband. The boat Buster had lovingly made was sold to help support their three children on the meager survivor’s pension from the Lighthouse Service.

Other Egg Rock keepers included Augustus B. Hamor (1913 – 1930), best known for his time at Owls Head Light, where his dog Spot’s insistent barking reportedly saved the mail boat from crashing during thick fog; Jaruel B. Pinkham (1921 – 1942, when he applied for disability retirement); and Captain Thomas L. Keene (mid-1940s) formerly of the U.S. Coast Guard lighthouse tender CG-80004, which brought supplies to Maine’s lighthouses. Keene was also a prolific writer and poet, primarily occupied with themes about lighthouses and life at sea.

During automation in 1976, the Coast Guard removed the lantern room from the tower to make room for rotating aero-beacon and created what many called “the ugliest lighthouse in Maine.” It received so many complaints that in 1986, the Coast Guard built an aluminum lantern room to house a modern optic, powered by an underwater cable from Mount Desert (pronounced Dessert) Island. By 1999, the station had been converted to solar power for the light and the fog signal, and the cable was abandoned. To prevent birds from landing on the solar collectors and “dirtying” them, they were equipped with “humane, bird repelling spikes.”

Egg Rock was one of several islands named for the bounty of eggs that could be collected there. Though seabirds abandoned Egg Rock after the lighthouse was established, in 1998, the island’s lighthouse was one of seven transferred to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for the protection of nesting birds.

In 2009, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service was able to use federal funds for economic stimulus to provide materials for a community-led repair mission. As one of the most-viewed lights in Maine, it attracted the attention of residents and area businesses that donated time, money, and materials to help the project. Egg Rock Lighthouse remains an active aid to navigation.

Keepers:

  • Head: Ambrose H. Wasgatt (1875 – 1885), Amaziah R. Small (1885 – 1889), Lewis F. Sawyer (1889 – 1899), Heber G. Sawyer (1899 – 1912), William H.C. Dodge (1912 – 1916), Winfield P. Kent (1916 – 1921), Augustus B. Hamor (1921 – 1930), Jaruel B. Pinkham (1930 – 1942), Ernest H. Mathie (1943 – 1946), Linwood Gammon (1946 – ), Thomas L. Keene, Arthur L. Wollschlager (1954 – 1957), James Hobart (1958 – 1959), Neil E. Olson, Harry (Mike) Damm (1961), Roger C. Peterson (1962), Thomas Collins (1967), Donald Predmore (at least 1970), Paul Ranc (at least 1970), Vince Wixted (1974 – 1976).
  • Assistant: Heber G. Sawyer (1898 – 1899), Clifford M. Robbins (1902), Stephen F. Flood (1902 – 1905), John E. Purington (1905 – 1909), Frank B. Ingalls (1909 – 1912), Harry Smith (1912 – 1913), Augustus B. Hamor (1913 – 1921), Jaruel B. Pinkham (1921 – 1930), Truman Lathrop, Clinton “Buster” Dalzell (1933 – 1935), Ernest H. Mathie (1937 – 1943).

References

  1. The Lighthouses of Maine, Jeremy D’Entremont, 2009.
  2. Annual Report of the Light House Board, various years.
  3. Lighthouses of Bar Harbor and the Acadia Region, Timothy E. Harrison, 2009.
  4. “Lighthouse Keepers Saved Lives of Birds, As Well As Humans,” Lighthouse Digest, Ted Panayotoff, July 2008.
  5. “Spruce Up at Egg Rock,” Lighthouse Digest, December 2009.
  6. ”Mystery Surrounds The Death of Maine Keeper,” Lighthouse Digest, Timothy Harrison, June 2004.
  7. “Pulitzer Prize: Chatwold,” The Downeast Dilettante, April 13, 2010.

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