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 Eagle Island, ME    
Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.
Description: There are actually eight different Eagle Islands along the Maine coast. The best known is the one in Casco Bay, which was home to Admiral Robert E. Peary, who discovered the North Pole. That Eagle Island is now a state park, and Peary's home a museum. The Eagle Island that boasts a lighthouse is about 1-1/4 miles long by half a mile wide and is located where Isle au Haut Bay meets East Penobscot Bay.

The Eagle Island Lighthouse was commissioned in 1839, one of seventeen lighthouses built in Maine during a fifteen-year period in the 1820s and 1830s. The high number was due to a combination of the obvious need for navigational aids along the rocky coast of Maine and to the political clout of the state's Congressional delegation. The Eagle Island Light was necessary to guide ships going to and from Bangor, which at the time was well on its way to becoming one of the busiest lumber ports in the world.

Originally known as Eagle Island Point Light, the station was built on the northeast corner of the island on a six-acre point deeded to the government in 1837 by local landowner John C. Gray. The conical, twenty-five-foot tower was built of rubblestone and topped by a wrought iron, octagonal lantern room, and a one-and-a-half story rubblestone dwelling was constructed nearby for the keeper.

Eagle Island Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
The original beacon, first lit on September 28, 1838, was a fixed white light shining from ten lamps arranged in two tiers and backed by fourteen-inch reflectors. The first keeper was one John Spear, who received an annual salary of $350. When the station opened, whale oil or lard was used as fuel, but by 1877 all the lamps had been converted to kerosene, which was cheaper and produced a better light. In 1858, a fourth-order Fresnel lens was installed, whose light was exhibited from a height of 106 feet above sea level and was visible for 16 miles.

In 1857, a wooden dwelling framed in hemlock and covered with clapboard pine replaced the original stone keeper's dwelling. This residence had three rooms downstairs, four bedrooms on the second floor, and a workshop connecting the building to the lighthouse tower.

Conditions were very primitive at the Eagle Island Lighthouse. The first keepers had to supply their own boat, and it wasn't until 1919 that the government provided a dory for the station, and then in 1936 a fourteen-foot skiff. Even then, it didn't come with an outboard engine. Keepers had to row about two miles to Deer Isle to get supplies. When returning to Eagle Island, supplies had to be hauled up a steep and narrow trail to the bluff where the station was. If the wind was blowing in the wrong direction, the boat had to be landed on the opposite end of the island, requiring a much longer and more difficult trek with the supplies. In 1894, a stairway of 76 steps was built to make this trail much easier when it had to be used.

Keepers also had to buy their own uniforms and provide food for themselves and their families, not easy on a meager salary. Steam heat was added to the keeper's dwelling in 1908, and an indoor toilet in 1949.

Eagle Island Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy Library of Congress
Despite the hardships, a number of keepers stayed for decades. Captain John Ball tended the light for fifteen years starting in 1883. His son Howard then replaced him as keeper and John remained at the lighthouse until his death at the age of 82. In 1913, after fifteen years as keeper, Howard contracted pneumonia while helping guide a fishing vessel to safety. Howard passed away on January 31, 1913 and is buried in Hancock. Howard's widow, Lucy, served as a temporary keeper until March 23, when Edward S. Farren arrived aboard the steamer Zinzania.

Charles W. Allen took over the light in 1919 and served until 1931. While serving as keeper, Allen and his family listened to the first radio concert on Eagle Island in 1923 and starting in 1926, they "went to church by radio." Finally, Frank E. Bracey was keeper from 1931 to 1945, when Coast Guard personnel took over keeper duties at Eagle Island.

The station was automated in 1959, at which time the Fresnel lens was replaced by a 300mm lens, with an electric lamp powered by banks of batteries recharged by a diesel generator. The light's characteristic was changed to flashing white every four seconds. The fog bell was also turned off, replaced by a buoy just off the island. Today, the lens is solar powered.

In 1963, the Coast Guard became alarmed at a rash of vandalism at other abandoned light stations in the area, and despite opposition from local residents, decided to burn down the keeper's dwelling and all the other buildings besides the lighthouse and the bell tower. The edifices had been put up for bid, but as the new owner would have to remove them from the property, there were no takers. The Coast Guard attempted to remove the fog bell when they burned down the dwelling, but the bell slipped during handling and tumbled down the cliff into the water, where it was left. Years later, a local fisherman named Walter Shephard noticed the bell sitting in deep water, and with some help managed to get a chain around it and tow it to Great Spruce Head Island, where he served as a caretaker for the artist John F. Porter. Today, the bell remains on the grounds of the Porter estate.

Under the Maine Lights Program the lighthouse was transferred to the Eagle Light Caretakers. The station remains an active aid to navigation.

Photo Gallery: 1 2

References

  1. Lighthouses of Maine, Bill Caldwell, 1986.
  2. "Eagle Island Lighthouse," Bob Fraser, The Keeper's Log, Fall 2005.

Location: Located on the northeast tip of Eagle Island, in East Penobscot Bay.
Latitude: 44.217647
Longitude: -68.767773

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


Travel Instructions: The Eagle Island Mailboat, which operates out of Sunset on Deer Isle, passes by the Eagle Island Lighthouse en route to delivering mail to several islands in the area. To make a reservation on the mailboat, call (207) 348-9316. You can also view the lighthouse with Guided Island Tours.

The lighthouse is owned by Eagle Light Caretakers. Grounds open, tower closed.

Find the closest hotels to Eagle Island Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
The day we took the mailboat, a group of musicians were going out to Eagle Island to put on a concert at the farmhouse. The mailboat dropped off the musicians on Eagle Island first, and then continued on to its regular mail stops, before returning to Eagle Island to pick up its mail and then heading back to Sunset. This change in the mailboat's route really proved to be fortunate. The lighthouse was not visible from the water that day due to dense fog, but we were able to off-load with the musicians, make a quick hike to the lighthouse, and then meet the mailboat when it came back to get the mail.

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Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.