Unlike many island light stations, Eagle Island was considered
a desirable assignment. It wasn't terribly far from the mainland, and
there was a sizeable community on the island in summer. Conditions were
harsh in the winter, but the island had much to offer in the warmer
seasons. There were several beaches and freshwater springs, and wild
strawberries, cranberries, and raspberries grew in abundance.
William Smith followed Moore as keeper in 1850. According to an inspection report that year, the tower was still leaky and would remain so until it was repointed. The dwelling needed roof repairs and was described as a "smoky concern." A new boathouse was needed, as well as sails and oars for the station's boat.
Major repairs to the tower were finally carried out in 1858. At the same time, a fourth-order Fresnel lens replaced the old lighting apparatus. A cast-iron stairway with 22 steps leading to the lantern was added, replacing the old stone stairway.
The dwelling underwent many changes through the years. The Lighthouse Board reported in 1875, "Owing to the dilapidated condition of the southern end of the keeper's dwelling, the battens were removed, and replaced with new weather-boarding, and the dwelling painted."In 1878, the exterior walls of the dwelling, which had been partially clapboarded, were completely covered and painted. The plastering on the walls and ceilings was repaired in 1880.
Capt. John Ball, a native of Hancock Point, Maine, became keeper in 1883. As a young man, Ball went to sea as a mate on a sailing vessel. He was in charge of a square-rigged ship by the age of 23, and he captained a number of ships sailing from New York to foreign ports. After serving for a time as keeper of Heron Neck Light, he moved with his wife, Amanda (Graves) to Eagle Island.
When John Ball retired in 1898, his son Howard followed him as keeper. Howard Ball remained keeper for another 15 years, and his father lived at the station until his death at the age of 82 in 1905. It was reported that Howard Ball possessed all the "usual abilities needed to survive island living" and that he was "a good neighbor." In 1913, Howard Ball developed pneumonia after helping to guide a Bucksport fishing vessel to safety in a storm. He died on January 31, 1913, and his wife tended the light for about seven weeks until a replacement arrived.
The bell struck a double blow once every minute. The keepers would up the clockwork mechanism that operated the striker when the shore of Deer Isle, one-and-one-half-miles to the east, disappeared due to fog. Bracey was the last civilian keeper before the Coast Guard took over the operation of the station.
The light was automated in 1959. The last keeper, Wayne McGraw, was reassigned to a Coast Guard cutter that subsequently went to Vietnam. During its manned years, the station never had electricity; batteries and diesel engines were installed to provide power at the time of automation. An offshore gong buoy replaced the fog bell.
In February 1964, a Coast Guard crew out of Rockland demolished the buildings, leaving the old lighthouse tower standing alone except for the bell tower and traces of the old foundations. A. Margaret Bok, wife of a Coast Guardsman who served on the island, told historian Edward Rowe Snow that they "watched the Coast Guard demolish the light station on Eagle Island with heavy hearts." Two sisters, longtime residents of Eagle Island, reportedly watched the demolition with tears streaming down their faces. Former keeper Ralph Banks summed up the demolition: "It was a heartbreaking sight."
When the crew tried to remove the giant 4,200-pound fog bell, they lost control of it and it careened down the cliff into the ocean. A local lobsterman, Walter Shepard, later found the bell and towed it to Great Spruce Head Island, where it was put on display. For unknown reasons, the bell tower was left standing and remains intact today.
Under the Maine Lights Program, ownership of the lighthouse was transferred in 1998 to a nonprofit group, the Eagle Light Caretakers. For more information about the preservation of the lighthouse and bell tower, contact: Eagle Light Caretakers c/o Sam Howe, 2742 Normandy Drive NW, Atlanta, GA 30305.