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Franklin Island Light
Muscongus Bay, Maine
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History

Twelve-acre Franklin Island, at the entrance to Muscongus Bay, is about six miles from the town of Friendship and about midway between Pemaquid Point and Port Clyde. Maritime trade was booming in the early 1800s in the vicinity of Muscongus Bay and the St. George River, and many vessels were wrecked on the treacherous rocks near Franklin Island.

Congress authorized a lighthouse on the island on April 21, 1806, and the buildings were completed in early 1807. Contractors Benjamin Beal and Duncan W. Thaxter of Hingham, Massachusetts, constructed a wooden tower and adjacent dwelling. The fixed white light was 50 feet above mean high water. The first keeper, John Lowell, remained for 23 years.

U.S. Coast Guard photo, c. 1870s

The lighthouse and dwelling were rebuilt in 1831 by contractor Ezekiel D. Demuth at a cost of $2364. The new rubblestone tower was 31 feet high to the lantern deck, and the octagonal wrought iron lantern was fitted with 10 lamps and 13-inch reflectors.

old photo of lighthouse station
Franklin Island Light Station c. 1890s
From the collection of Edward Rowe Snow, courtesy of Dorothy Bicknell

In 1853, Lieut. W. B. Franklin of the newly formed United States Lighthouse Board proclaimed the towers at Franklin Island and Baker Island "entirely worthless," and the dwellings at both locations so old and leaky that they were unhealthy. An appropriation for $10,000 was requested for the rebuilding of both stations.

A 45-foot-tall round brick lighthouse was erected in 1855 along with a new wood-frame keeper's house, and a fourth-order Fresnel lens replaced the old lighting apparatus. The lens revolved, producing a fixed light varied by flashes.

Coleman George Woodward grew up on Franklin Island and several other Maine lighthouse stations, where his father, George E. Woodward, was keeper. He later recalled his time on Franklin Island in the 1920s:

My first summers spent on the islands was at Franklin Island. Father was there two years as the lighthouse keeper. I'll always remember the kind of boat that the Lighthouse Service furnished. It was a 'lap stake dory' with nothing but oars, and the island was five miles from Friendship out in Muscongus Bay.

On Franklin Island you didn't send messages back and forth. There was no telephone. If you needed assistance you were to fly the American flag upside down from the top of the tower. The only time my father had to resort to that was when he was very sick with the flu. They flew it for two and a half days, but it was never seen, and by then he had recovered from the flu.

I just assisted on the lighthouses. Each keeper had 28 vacation days; I would do their job while they were on vacation. I just loved the island life.

The light was converted to automatic acetylene gas operation in 1933, and Charles Robinson, keeper since 1926, was removed. All the buildings were demolished, except for the lighthouse tower and an 1895 oil house.

The book Anchor to Windward by Edwin Valentine Mitchell describes the visits of the Maine Seacoast Mission's vessel Sunbeam to bring literature and supplies to lighthouse keepers. He described passing by Franklin Island Light in the late 1930s:

In Muscongus Bay we could see the lonely tower of the light on Franklin Island. The government burned the buildings there when they made it an unwatched beacon like Pemaquid. 'They were good doors and windows to her,' said Arthur Poland, speaking of the keeper's house at Franklin Island. 'Somebody would have been glad to get them, but it wasn't the government way to give them away.'

The Fresnel lens from the tower was later removed and is now on display at the Coast Guard station in Boothbay Harbor.

aerial photo
U.S. Coast Guard photo

The lighthouse tower is now cared for by a group called Franklin Light Preservation, Inc., under a contract with the Coast Guard. The island is part of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, and the light remains an active aid to navigation.


Keepers: John Lowell (1807-1830), Thomas Hanna (1830-1841), James Tolman Hanna (1841-1844), William Jameson (1845-?), Edward Thomas (1840s), William Blasdel (1850-1854), Peter Williams (1855-1859?), James W. Farrow (1859-1871), Charles A. Dolliver (1871-1884), Frank W. Whitney (1884-1888), George D. Pottle (1888-1900), Edward T. Spurling (1900-1911), Eugene N. Larrabee (1911), Almon Mitchell (1911-1913), Albert J. Clinch (1913-1918), Vinal O. Beal (1918-1919), Roscoe Chandler (1919-1924), George Woodward (1924-1926), Charles N. Robinson (1926-1933).

Last updated 2/15/08
Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any images or text from this website without permission of the author.

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