In an announcement that shocked lighthouse preservationists, the National Park Service rejected the application of the nonprofit Keepers of Moose Peak Light for ownership of Maine’s Moose Peak Lighthouse.
Larry Finnegan, president of the Keepers of Moose Peak Light, said, “Apparently they wanted us to have $50,000 to $100,000 cash on hand and we are not able to raise that kind of money without first knowing if we had ownership.”
There’s not much left of the light station today, but what is now left, including four acres of land around the lighthouse, will be sold to the highest bidder instead of being under the care of dedicated volunteers.
The first lighthouse station here was established in 1826 on Mistake Island on what has been recorded as one of the foggiest sections of the Maine coast. Because of this, a fog signal building was erected in 1912 that housed the steam machinery for a powerful diaphragm fog signal. From 1914 to 1934 the keepers here recorded an average of over 1,600 hours of fog per year. Records indicate that in one year the fog signal sounded continuously for 181 straight hours.
In 1851 the original Moose Peak lighthouse tower was demolished and a new tower was built. In 1888 the lighthouse was refitted for a gigantic second order Fresnel lens and in the early 1900s the original keeper’s house was demolished and a new one was built.
For many years the station was the home to lighthouse keepers and their families. Holidays were celebrated, visitors came, and the sound of work and play could be heard from the island and the house.
In a 1996 interview, the late Dana Pearson recalled the days when her father, Capt. James Anderson, was a keeper at a number of Maine lighthouses, including Moose Peak Lighthouse where he was assigned in 1907. She said she spent the first six years of her life on the island until her father temporarily bought a house on the mainland so she could easily attend school. She didn’t recall too much about life at Moose Peak, but her mother told her that it wasn’t much different from the other island lighthouses they lived on in later years. She recalled, “It was the only life we knew, and we enjoyed it. We did whatever nature would let us do. We didn’t have to come ashore to be entertained, because we could entertain ourselves.” With a slight smile, she also remembered that they never had to lock their doors, saying, “I never knew what a house key was!”
Apparently things weren’t always so nice on the island. In 1887 lighthouse keeper Thomas Dodge was fired after it was learned that Dodge’s wife and grown daughters used “the vilest possible language” language toward the assistant keeper Charles R. Dobbins and his family. Charles R. Dobbins was promoted and appointed as Dodge’s replacement. Dodge went on to serve at Moose Peak Lighthouse until 1905.
As with many remote island lighthouses, landing a boat can often be dangerous, as was evident at Moose Peak Lighthouse in 1920 when head keeper Henry C. Ray and first assistant keeper Maurice R. Beal were two men were thrown from the lighthouse boat while attempting to land. Although the 2nd assistant keeper, Harry E. Freeman, was able to save Beal, keeper Henry Ray drowned in the incident.
The end of the Moose Peak Lighthouse came in 1972 when the station was automated. The keeper’s house was offered up for sale, but even though a buyer was found, EPA standards, rules, and regulations made the sale financially impractical. So the Coast Guard sought permission to destroy the house. The Maine State Historic Preservation Office gave its permission, saying that the 1903 house didn’t have any historical significance, a decision that wouldn’t hold weight today.
In 1982 a military unit conducted a training exercise to blow up the keeper’s house. The plan didn’t go exactly as planned. Although the explosion destroyed the keeper’s house, it also damaged the helicopter landing pad and broke panes in the windows of the lighthouse tower. Unfortunately, no one has ever shared photographs of the demolition and cameras surely would have been on hand for a training exercise. What could have been so secret as to not share photos with historians, even to this day? Regardless, a vital part of Maine’s lighthouse history was destroyed forever and never given a real chance to be saved for future generations.
In 1997 Moose Peak Lighthouse was offered up for free to any qualified nonprofit or other government entity. No one wanted it. Some people hoped that when the GSA offered the lighthouse for adoption in 2010 under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, the town of Jonesport would apply for free ownership, but they did not. It was also suggested that the American Lighthouse Foundation start a local chapter to care for the lighthouse, but they were not in a position at that time to take on an additional lighthouse. Then a group of local citizens created the Keepers of Moose Peak Light and devoted countless volunteer hours into the application process while garnering support to hopefully obtain ownership of the lighthouse.
Today, most of Mistake Island where the lighthouse is located is managed by the Maine Chapter of the Nature Conservancy as part of the Great Wass Island Preserve. The light in the tower is still maintained by the Coast Guard and operates on solar power, but soon the lighthouse may have a new owner who will need not only to have lots of cash to purchase the lighthouse, but also an estimated $200,000 or more that it will take to restore the tower.
This story appeared in the
Mar/Apr 2012 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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