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
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.
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.
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
The original optic, a fifth-order
Fresnel lens, is now at the Maine Lighthouse Museum in Rockland.
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
- 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