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Heron Neck Light
Near Vinalhaven, Maine
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History

Heron Neck Light Station was established in 1854 on rocky Green's Island, at the east entrance to Hurricane Sound, to help guide mariners heading for Vinalhaven's Carver's Harbor. The harbor area was settled by the Carver family in 1766 and was a center for fishing and lobster boats.

The 30-foot brick tower was attached to the keeper's house, also constructed of brick. A fifth-order Fresnel lens displayed a fixed red light 92 feet above the sea.

old photo of lighthouse and keeper's house
An early photo of Heron Neck Light. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

old photo of lighthouse

Late 19th century image of Heron Neck Light

The station's fog bell was later replaced by a fog siren. For a time, the station also had two famous "fog dogs." In the early 1900s, a dog named Nemo was taught by Keeper Levi Farnham to bark loudly when he heard fog horns from approaching boats. When Nemo retired, he was replaced by a new fog dog named Rover.

An 1886 book, Mary Bradford Crowninshield's All Among the Lighthouses, described a visit to the station. Two hawks had been nesting on the island for 20 years.

The keepers had allowed no one to molest the birds, but had fed them and made pets of them; so that the grateful creatures felt safe and at home in the place where they had received nothing but kindness.

An 1890 report revealed that five people had died in the keeper's house, apparently because of unhealthy conditions. Insufficient mortar had been used in the building's construction, leaving it damp and leaky. The keeper's house was rebuilt in 1895; the 1854 tower remained and was attached to the new house. An oil house, which still stands, was built in 1903.

The last civilian keeper was Andrew Bennett of Vinalhaven, who was replaced by Coast Guard keepers in 1948 after being at the station for over 20 years.

aerial photo of lighthouse station
U.S. Coast Guard photo

Paul Manning of the Coast Guard was an assistant keeper at the lighthouse in the late 1940s. Bill Parmenter was the officer in charge at the time. Manning recalls that local fishermen kept the Coast Guardsmen supplied with lobsters and fish, especially in winter when the trip to Vinalhaven for supplies was difficult.

Manning also remembers a miniature brass lighthouse at the top of the flagpole at Heron Neck Light. Click here to hear Paul Manning recalling his days at Heron Neck Light.

The keepers' water for drinking and bathing came from two large cisterns in the basement. A well was dug in the late 1940s, but the water from the well turned out to be salty. The salt water was later used for the flush toilets in the new bathroom that replaced the earlier outhouses.

Coast Guardsman Jim Woods was stationed at Heron Neck Light in 1960-61, and he shares the following memories:

It consisted of a main house with the light attached, a generator building that held two generators, a paint locker and general storage. There was a boathouse at the water's edge on the cove, down the hill, in back of the station. We had a 14-foot skiff and outboard which we hauled up to the boathouse when not in use, due to the rise and fall of the tide. There was an electric winch to haul the skiff up on the rails to cover.

At high water we would unhook the boat and jump in for the fast ride to the water. The light had a crew of three. Officer in Charge (OinC) was a first class BM, Engineer was a second class engineman and a seaman or fireman. The house was about like a normal house -- three bedrooms, bathroom and living room, kitchen, office, and a cellar which was used for storage. The lighthouse was attached to the main house with a staircase to the light room with fog signal attached outside. We had electrical power from generators, and as I remember we got shore power at some point via underwater cable and also phone service.

Liberty was three weeks on and one week off. There were two on at all times except when someone had to make a run to town (Vinalhaven) for food supplies and mail. To get to town you had to go around a point on the island called 'Boiler Point.' You usually tried to go around it at high water as it was a rough water area. We tied the skiff up at the Calderwood fuel dock and walked to town or caught a ride with an islander. Since I was youngest of the crew I got to know the younger island crowd and have never met any more friendly people than the island folks. If we needed some kind of help they would help.

The light was automated in 1982, and the Coast Guard keepers were removed. A new 300mm lens replaced the old Fresnel lens.

In April 1989, an electrical fire broke out in the empty keeper's house. The lighthouse tower was saved by a Halon fire suppression system, but the house was badly damaged.

About three years later, a Boston developer offered to restore the keeper's house. The Coast Guard claimed that an engineering survey showed that it would be impossible to restore the house to its original condition, so they announced plans to raze the building instead.

Preservationists objected, and in November 1993 the Coast Guard agreed to hand over the lighthouse station to the Island Institute of Rockland. The institute in turn leased the property to a private party who successfully restored the house. It was the Heron Neck project that inspired Island Institute vice president Peter Ralston to initiate the Maine Lights Program, under which 28 Maine lighthouses were turned over to communities and organizations.

 old photo of lighthouse


The lighthouse property was eventually sold to the couple responsible for its resoration. Please keep in mind that the lighthouse and grounds are on private property and are not open to the public; be sure to respect the owners' privacy. Unfortunately, no regular cruises pass the light station, so you'll have to charter a cruise or flight for a good view.


Keepers: James Smith (185?-1870); John Green (1870-1883); Sarah J. Green (1883); Nathaniel Hartwell (1883-1890); Edward K. Tapley (1890-1900); Levi L. Farnham (1900-1911); Joseph A. Farnham (1911); Fred M. Robbins (1911-1930); Clinton Dalzell (assistant, c. 1928-?); Andrew Bennett (1930-1948); William Parmenter (Coast Guard, c. 1949-?); Paul Manning (Coast Guard, assistant, c. 1949); Ernest DeRaps (Coast Guard, 1959-1961); Kermit Scarborough (Coast Guard officer in charge, c. 1959-1961); James Woods (Coast Guard assistant 1960-61)

Last updated 11/27/12
Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any images or text from this website without permission of the author.

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