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Isle Au Haut Light
Isle Au Haut, Maine
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History

Isle Haute, as Champlain well named it, is considered the eastern limit of Penobscot Bay. . . . The shores rise up sharply from the water, like the tip of a half-submerged mountain. . . . The inhabitants eke out a poor living by raising a few sheep, fishing a little, and farming a little, and by gathering blueberries, which grow plentifully on most of these islands. The island catches the eye from all outer approaches to this bay.      -- Samuel Adams Drake, The Pine Tree Coast, 1891.

If I could give you three things, I would give you these:
Song and laughter and a wooden home, in the shining sea.
When you see old Isle au Haut, rising in the dawn,
You will play in yellow fields, in the morning sun.
-- Isle au Haut Lullaby (Hay Ledge Song), by Gordon Bok
The island called Isle au Haut got its name from explorer Samuel de Champlain, who called it "Isle Haute," or "High Island," and rightfully so -- the highest elevation is 556 feet. There was once a population of about 800 people on the island, including two dozen shipmasters.

Today there are only about 50 year-round residents, with more in summer. Most houses still don't have electricity, and Isle au Haut was the nation's last community to stop using crank-style telephones.
lighthouse plans

U.S. Coast Guard 


A report to Congress in 1906 stated:

Lower East Penobscot Bay and the water seaward for a distance of about 10 miles outside of Saddleback Ledge light-house are claimed by fishermen to be exceedingly good fishing grounds... Isle au Haut Harbor is the best harbor covenient to these fishing grounds, and is so convenient in distance and has such good holding ground and is so well sheltered, especially from all the worst winds, northeasterly and easterly, from which shelter is most needed, it is highly valued and much frequented by fishermen. A light-station with a fog-bell, struck by machinery, would guide fishermen into this harbor when they could not find it without such aid.

lighthouse from the water

Isle au Haut Light, established at Robinson Point in 1907 for $14,000, was the next-to-last last traditional style lighthouse built in the state of Maine. The first keeper was Frank Holbrook, previously stationed at Matinicus Rock.

The lighthouse is a brick tower on a granite base, with a total height of 40 feet. It's very similar to the lighthouses built earlier at Ram Island and Marshall Point. The tower is slightly offshore and is reached via a wooden walkway. A 2 1/2-story wood keeper's house, an oil house, and a storage shed were also built in 1907.

The original optic, a fifth-order Fresnel lens, is now at the Maine Lighthouse Museum in Rockland.
lighthouse and house from the water
U.S. Coast Guard photo

Isle au Haut Light was automated in 1934, and the property (except for the lighthouse tower) was subsequently purchased by Charles E. Robinson, a resident of the island. Back in 1906, Robinson had sold the land for the federal government for the establishment of the light station. For the next 50 years, the keeper's house served as a summer home for three generations of the family. Among the family members who spent summers at the house was Linda Greenlaw, who wrote about it in her book The Lobster Chronicles.

In 1986, the property, except for the lighthouse, was purchased by Jeff and Judi Burke. The Burkes converted the keeper's house into a bed and breakfast inn called, appropriately enough, the Keeper's House Inn. Gourmet meals were served by the Burkes, and Judi published a cookbook of her favorite recipes. Even the oil house was converted into a cozy guest room.

A room in the Keeper's House
 
The Keeper's House Inn was the realization of a dream for the Burkes. The setting, with thick pine woods opening up to the sparkling ocean, is incomparable. Deer, osprey, eagles, and mink abound.
 
Jeff Burke wrote a book on the family's first ten years on Isle au Haut, called An Island Lighthouse Inn : A Chronicle. He explained the lure of Isle au Haut: "We all need an 'island' somewhere."

Isle au Haut is reached by taking the mailboat/passenger ferry out of Stonington. The lighthouse is a hike of a little under a mile from the town landing. Maps of Isle au Haut can be obtained in Stonington or at the Acadia National Park visitor center in Bar Harbor. Much of Isle au Haut is part of Acadia National Park.

The light, now solar powered, continues to flash red with a white sector as an active aid to navigation maintained by the Coast Guard. Under the Maine Lights Program, the lighthouse was turned over to the Town of Isle au Haut in April 1998. A complete restoration of the lighthouse was finished in June 1999. $62,000 was raised for the overhaul by concerned residents of the island, who formed the Isle au Haut Lighthouse Committee.

Workers from the Campbell Construction Company of Beverly, Massachusetts, repaired a bulge in the exterior of the lighthouse and removed a concrete shell that had been added to the tower's base. The lantern railing, windows, and doors were replaced with carefully crafted replicas of the originals, and the entire structure was repainted. The lighthouse now looks much as it did when it was built, and it is considered to be in good shape for its second century.

The keeper's house property is for sale; click here for information.


Keepers: Francis Elmer Holbrook (1907-1922), Harry Smith (1922-1933)

Last updated 5/27/11
Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any images or text from this website without permission of the Author.

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