Cape Porpoise village is built around the shores of its
harbor, which a cluster of large and small islands protects. On one of
them stands the baby lighthouse of the coast. This harbor -- or perhaps
we should say harbors, since there are two basins -- is remarkable for
being the only one between Portsmouth and the Saco...
-- Samuel Adams Drake, The Pine Tree Coast,
Porpoise was named by Capt. John Smith for a school of porpoises he saw
there. Cape Porpoise is a village of the town of Kennebunkport, a
popular tourist destination with a variety of shops and historic homes.
Established in August 1833 for $6,000, Goat Island Light
was established to help guide mariners into the sheltered harbor at
Cape Porpoise, a busy fishing center for many years. A 20-foot stone
tower and dwelling were built, and John Lord of Kennebunk became the
first keeper at a salary of $350 per year.
In 1859, the tower and house were rebuilt. The new tower
received a fifth-order Fresnel lens.
The first Goat Island Lighthouse, U.S. Coast Guard photo
For many years, the tower was connected to the 1
1/2-story house by a covered walkway. A boathouse was added in 1905 and
an oil house in 1907.
Dangerous rocks near Goat Island continued to claim
vessels, including 46 between 1865 and 1920. There was not one death in
all the wrecks, partly due to the keepers at Goat Island picking up
survivors near the island. In 1930, a schooner, the Margery Austin,
went aground near the lighthouse. Keeper James M. Anderson went out in
rough seas and helped refloat the vessel.
George Wakefield of Saco kept the light from 1887 to
1921, the longest stint of any keeper at the station. Wakefield
moonlighted as a harbor pilot and fisherman.
M. Anderson was keeper in 1929 when the famous aviator Charles
Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, anchored their yacht
near Goat Island during their honeymoon. Anderson and his family
watched with binoculars as the Lindberghs moved around on the boat, and
the keeper told a reporter that the lights were turned off on the yacht
at 8:25 p.m.
Coast Guard Keeper Joseph Bakken, who lived on Goat Island
with his wife and three children, told historian Edward Rowe Snow about
his experience during a particularly severe storm in 1947. The waves
washed over the island and damaged the walkway and the boat slip and
ripped out a fence. In the commotion the family forgot about their dog
and her newborn puppies.
Later that night, Bakken went into the cellar and found
several feet of water. Floating in the seawater was the box that
contained the dog and her puppies. All were safe and sound and the
keeper brought them upstairs out of harm's way.
Julie Owyang, whose brother Mark Brooke was the Coast Guard's
officer in charge for two years in the 1970s, wrote the following note
in January 2009:
I came and spent two weeks with them Christmas of '73. My
Mom and Dad and I took the train up from western North Carolina to
Boston, and Mark picked us up there. What a treat! I'll never forget
the piles of lobster we had for dinner in the kitchen with the table
covered with newspapers. We had kept them alive in the sink that had
the saltwater faucet in it until it was time to cook them.
The Coast Guard initially planned to automate Goat Island
Light in 1976. Local residents felt that having a keeper on Goat Island
was important to protect the island and lighthouse station from
vandalism, so the automation plans were postponed.
Coast Guard photo
Cain, a Minnesota native, was the Coast Guard’s officer in charge from
October 1975 until June 1978. Cain monitored the local buoys and
recorded the weather four times daily. He switched on the foghorn when
a lighted buoy almost two miles away was obscured by fog or storm.
lived on the island with his wife, Cathy, their baby, Martin J., and
two cats and a dog. In a 1976 interview, he said he and his wife had to
be more compatible than the average couple, but if they did have a
fight, “One goes to one side of the island and the other goes to the
other side and talks to the seagulls.”
The Cains were on the
island for the memorable blizzard of February 6–7, 1978, which folded
the covered walkway between the house and tower “like an accordion” and
swept it off the island. At the end of his stay, Cain said, “We’ve seen
a lot out here and for the most part we’ve enjoyed it, but we’re ready
Estee was the Coast Guard keeper 1978-80. He lived on the island with
his wife, Kris, and their two young children, Nathaniel and Michelle.
In an email in June 2011, Kris (Estee) Woodgate recalled life on the
such an adventure. We were quite young, early 20s, and from
Wisconsin so we had never seen such a beautiful place ever. We
were the ones who put in the new wooden walkway and cleaned up after
the storm of 1978. The island was quite a mess. We had lots
of company from Wisconsin; our relatives thought it was pretty
In 1990, Goat Island Light became the last lighthouse in Maine
to be automated. Its Fresnel lens was replaced by a modern 300mm optic.
Brad Culp, his wife Lisa and their two children Christian and Dakota
were Maine's last traditional lighthouse family. Lisa Culp said of her
eight-year old son Christian, "I think it's something he'll carry with
him all his life."
For a time during the presidency of George H. W. Bush, secret
service agents lived at Goat Island, which offers a good vantage point
on Bush's estate at Walker's Point. The island served as an air-sea
command center complete with a radar beacon.
In 1992, Goat Island was leased to the Kennebunkport
Conservation Trust. In 1998, under the Maine Lights Program,
the lighthouse officially became the property of the trust, which since
its founding in 1969 has protected 560 acres of town land from
Scott Dombrowski, the island overseer for the trust, has
spent some summers on the island with his wife, Karen, and their two
sons, Eric and Gregory.
Dombrowski has been decorating Goat Island Light with an
elaborate display of Christmas lights each holiday season for years.
For about eight years, the caretaker on the island
during most of the year was Dick Curtis.
Curtis died in a boating accident near the island in May
2002 and is deeply missed by the members of the Kennebunkport
Conservation Trust and local residents.
Goat Island Light remains an active aid to navigation.
The lighthouse can be seen at a distance from the public wharf in Cape
Porpoise. Visitors with private boats are welcome to the island and
tour boats from Kennebunkport pass nearby.
The station's old fog bell was on display at the
Kennebunkport Historical Society on North Street for many years.
The old fog bell at
the Kennebunkport Historical Society
Inside the tower
In July 2009, the Kennebunkport
plans to restore the keeper's house to the 1950s period. Work began in
the spring of 2011 to rebuild the station's fog bell tower and the
covered walkway as part of a $380,000 restoration project. The project
was completed in the fall of 2011.
For more information about the preservation of Goat Island Light,
The reconstructed fog bell
The station's fog bell, long on display at the Kennebunkport Historical
Society, was returned to the island and now hangs on the side of the
Here is a video of the celebration of the restoration on October 12,
list is a work in progress. If you have any information on the keepers
of this lighthouse, I'd love to hear from you. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyone copying this list onto another web site does so at their own
risk, as the list is always subject to updates and corrections.)
John Lord (1834-1841); Thatcher Hutchins (1841-1846);
Fletcher (1846-1850); Samuel Grant (1850-1858); George Averill
(1858-1862); Joseph Huff (1862-1866); Stephen Illsley (1866-1873); Brad
Emerson (1873-1878); John Emerson (1878-1887); Leander White
(1887-1888); George Wakefield (1888-1921); Leo Allen (1921-1926); James
M. Anderson (1926-1939); Justin Foss, Sr. (1939-1942); Austin Lamont
Sinnett (c. 1940s?); Joseph Bakken (Coast Guard, 1946-1950); Robert
McWilliams (Coast Guard, 1950-1953); Bruce Jordan (Coast Guard,
1953-?); Robert L. Haley (Coast Guard, 1968-1970); Charles Howard
Worrell (Coast Guard, 1970-1973); Mark Brooke
(Coast Guard, c. 1973-1975); Martin Cain (Coast Guard, 1975-1978); Mark
Estee (Coast Guard, 1978-1980), Larry L. Toler (Coast Guard,
1981-1983), Brad Culp (Coast Guard, ?-1990).