Lighthouses. Maine. Can anyone separate the two? They are synonymous. We see lighthouses on every one of our cruises. But during one of our cruises, we invite Pharologist Ted Panyatoff (has written 2 books about Maine Lighthouses and the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse) to entertain us with stories about the people that brought life to and protected life from these coastal sentinels.
The lighthouse shown here is the Eagle Island Lighthouse here in Maine. It is one of my favorites. Full disclosure: They are all my favorites. They all have stories. They all have human qualities that I admire. They were built, manned and maintained by real people. They are as authentic a piece of the history of New England as anyone can point at. Without the people behind these lighthouses, commercial sail in New England would not hold nearly the historic significance that it does. Schooners like Mary Day were the tractor-trailer trucks of the 19th century and the ocean was the highway. Imagine for a moment approaching the Maine coast from Boston at night or in a thick o’ fog. As we celebrate Maine’s bicentennial, this summer is a great time to reflect on the role that lighthouses played and continue to play in our maritime world.
Eagle Island Light was constructed of rubble stone and activated in September of 1838. Eagle I. encompasses 258 acres which means a keeper could keep livestock, a garden, go for hikes and cut firewood. Wages were $350 annually for the first keeper, John Spear who was far less than impressed by the construction of the light tower and keepers house. “Owing to the use of bad mortar, and want of care in the erection, the tower leaks in every direction – the whole inside being covered with ice during winter, and the stairs dangerous to ascend. The deck has been thrown up by the frost; and the arch supporting it has settled several inches by the yielding of the abutting walls. The whole tower is a rough and defective piece of work.” The attached keeper’s house wasn’t much better.
I can only imagine being a keeper at Eagle I. was not as bad as some stations given the “populated” nature of the island. Beginning in 1870 a one-roomed schoolhouse was established on the island where the keeper’s children could attend classes. That schoolhouse stands empty today. Supplies could be obtained at Deer Isle only a two-mile row; a weather-dependent endeavor for certain. Other populated islands, now summer residences only, were a stone’s throw away.
Then, as now, Maine’s island lighthouses remain pretty far away from the rest of the world. Their history captures my imagination. Maybe yours too? Join us this June 16th for a 4-day Lighthouse tour: https://schoonermaryday.com/lighthouse-cruises/
I was pawing through some images from last summer and found this one of Eagle I. Lighthouse. Being the keeper of a lighthouse was no easy feat during the 1800s. The pay was minimal, food was not included and the seclusion of some lights meant homeschooling, if a keeper’s family could be together, was a necessity. Many keepers fished, kept gardens, really lucky ones might have a milk cow and basically lived off the land and sea with only a few chances to get provisions like flour and lard. That a few keepers, like Howard Ball at the Eagle I lighthouse, managed all of this and also acted as Audubon wardens is admirable to say the least.
First lit in 1838 with oil lamps and reflectors this light happens to be atop a large cliff (80’+/-) and lies at a tight little passage where Isle Au Haut Bay meets East Penobscot Bay. The tidal current really hums between Eagle and the largely inaccessible Hardhead I. It wasn’t until 1858 that a fourth order Fresnel lens was installed in the lantern atop the rubble stone tower. Today the light flashes white every 4 seconds with a luminous range of 9 miles.
Keeper Howard Ball, an Audubon warden, who served the light from 1898 to 1913 is quoted twice in the 1909 ornithological journal The Auk:
Keeper Ball’s brief notes are interesting to see given what was already on his very full plate. I can only guess that he must have made these observations while tending lobster traps since both Channel Rock and Sloop I Ledge are on the opposite side of Eagle I than the lighthouse. I have noticed abundant terns around neighboring Grass Ledge over the past several summers which makes me wonder if the terns hop from one nesting place to another to avoid overuse of particular nesting sites.
Eagle I. with its year round community would have been a more socially forgiving place to tend a light. The one room school house still stands on Eagle I. The east facing meadow around the light would have provided some garden space although the larger south facing meadows around the neighboring Quinn house would have been more suitable. As I have been working these past few weeks getting in firewood I am amazed by the challenge it must have been for Keeper Ball to keep his family warm and fed through the long winter months in addition to the many other responsibilities he would have had to manage. I have no complaints in comparison.
Saddleback Ledge Light as seen from the schooner Mary Day during a recent windjammer lighthouse tour in Maine.
Good morning everyone. I am back ashore for the winter. The schooner is under wraps (more on that later). Autumn is descending on the Camden Hills in all its glory. And now I have a few moments to sift through my laptop folder titled “Unedited Images”. Most of it is junk but the memories stirred of one of the best summers of my life will keep me warm all winter.
Pictured above is the present day Saddleback Ledge Light built in 1839 and automated in 1954. At the outer edge of Isle Au Haut Bay in eastern Penobscot Bay this rock and its lighthouse have always captured my imagination. How miserable a place to be stationed and at the same time how awesome and beautiful it must have been to live and work there. Imagine the energy of the entire North Atlantic knocking on the door in a southeasterly gale. Imagine a family of nine living in such cramped quarters. And you thought the schooner cabins were a little tight? The image below shows the vastly expanded living quarters added on to Saddelback Ledge Light at a later date.
Good morning everyone. We had a fabulous past couple of days sailing. Sunday night’s rain broke into a sunny Monday. The fleet left their respective harbors and away we all went…downeast. Which of course means down wind and headed east. Remember that Maine trends east and west from Penobscot Bay, not north and south. Just check the compass next time you are aboard.
Bear I. Light, at the entrance to Northeast Harbor, is one of my personal favorites
Northeast Harbor, a new anchorage for me, was where we went ashore for walks before dinner. 44 miles, 6.5 hours, 1 amazing sailing day. This being our last 6 day trip of the season I was quite aware that I would be leaving Mt Desert astern for the last time this year.
Yesterday afternoon we anchored with the fleet at Great Cove, Brooklin, Maine for the Maine Windjammer Association’s annual Wooden Boat Rendezvous. Dancing to steel drum music, steamed mussels, the Wooden Boat School to tour, a fabulous sunset and a star-filled sky. What else could anyone ask for?