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Moose Peak Light
Near Jonesport, Maine
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History

The body of water known as Moosabec Reach, off the northern Maine coast about halfway between Bar Harbor and Eastport, separates Jonesport from Beals Island and several smaller islands. The name “Moosabec” is believed to have had its origins in an Abenaki Indian word, possibly meaning “moose head.” Why the name was applied to the reach isn’t clear, but a number of spelling variations have appeared through the years: Mispecky Reach, Moose a Becky’s Reach, Muspecka Rache, Moose Peak Reach, and others.

The name of 30-acre Mistake Island, about four miles south of Moosabec Reach at the southwest side of the entrance to the shipping channel known as Main Channel Way, appears to be another corruption of “Mooseabec.” Mistake and several nearby islands were sometimes collectively referred to as the Moose Peak Islands.

Congress and President John Quincy Adams authorized the building of a lighthouse on the east point of Mistake Island, about five miles from Jonesport, in March 1825. Three acres of land were purchased for the station at a cost of $150. The light served to guide mariners to Moosabec Reach and Beal’s Harbor to the north, and to guide direct coastal traffic heading east to the Bay of Fundy. The station was established for $3,955.60 in October 1826.

A 24-foot-tall round rubblestone tower was constructed by Jeremiah Berry along with, and a rubblestone dwelling, was built 297 feet from the tower. The lighthouse was topped by a wrought-iron lantern, seven feet high, with a copper dome.

A wooden footbridge made it possible to walk across a chasm between the house and the tower.

The first keeper, Alexander Milliken, purchased the remaining 17 acres of Mistake Island for $75. He asked for, and received, a pay raise in 1829 because of the station’s isolation.
old photo of lighthouse and keeper's house

Moose Peak Light Station, showing the 1851 tower with its original lantern, c. 1870s.  U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Milliken was still in charge at $400 yearly when I. W. P. Lewis examined the station for his report to Congress in 1843. Milliken complained that the house was out of repair; the kitchen wall had cracked away from the main building, the house walls were cracked in several places, and the pointing between the stones had fallen away. Rain and snow entered through the walls of the house in storms.

During a storm in February 1842, the lantern deck of the lighthouse was thrown out of level and the mechanism that turned the lighting apparatus was stopped. In a storm three years earlier, the high seas had washed away the footbridge and nearly destroyed the lighthouse.

Joshua Walker was appointed keeper, succeeding Milliken, in October 1849. The condition of the station hadn’t improved by the following year, when an inspection report recommended the rebuilding of the tower and dwelling. In 1851, Luther Jewett, superintendent of Maine’s lighthouses, reported that a fissure in the tower had left it leaning to the west. The keeper had spent ten nights in a row, with another person, turning the lighting apparatus by hand.

The records are vague, and some sources claim that the tower was repaired and not rebuilt in 1851. A letter from a contractor named S. Emeson, dated September 20, 1851, seems to confirm that the tower was rebuilt that year. Emeson’s letter was addressed to “Mssrs. Grose & McLaughlin, Moose Peak, Light Builders.” Emeson wrote (original spelling retained):

I send all the lantern & all the belongs to it when you are ready to put it up. . . . Mr. Jewett sais it must be ready to light on the 1 of next month. I am to have the old Lightning Rod for the new tower. . . . I have got now the Best lantern for Moose Peak there is or ever was in this State.

The lighthouse was fitted with a second-order Fresnel lens in 1856. The tower developed cracks in the years that followed, apparently because inferior mortar was used in the 1851 construction. Some sources claim the tower was rebuilt in 1886, but the 1888 report of the Lighthouse Board is ambiguous:

As a special appropriation for building this tower was made by the act approved August 4, 1886, an iron watch-room, a modern second-order lantern, and a flight of iron stairs were made and erected upon the tower in August and September.

It appears that the tower may simply have been repaired and raised in height with the addition of, and a taller lantern and watch room added.

Charles R. Dobbins was the keeper from 1887 to 1905. In 1898, after Dobbins and his son rendered “gallant assistance” to the crew of the Nova Scotian schooner Ashton, the keeper was awarded a gold watch by the Canadian government. Dobbins couldn’t accept the gift until he was authorized to do so by an act of Congress.

By 1901, the keeper's house was in disrepair. Two years later, a new two-family house was completed and linked to the lighthouse tower by a walkway.

For most of its history, the station had a keeper and one assistant, both of whom lived on the island with their families.

Life was usually harmonious, but there were times when the island seemed too small.

In 1887, the local inspector wrote to the chairman of the Lighthouse Board that the “wife of the Principal Keeper and his grown up daughters” used “the vilest possible language” toward the assistant keeper and his family, visitors, and even toward the principal keeper himself. The principal keeper, Thomas Dodge, was soon removed and the assistant, Charles E. Dobbins, was promoted.

Mistake Island is one of the foggiest locations on the Maine coast. In 1912, a fog signal house was erected with a powerful diaphragm fog horn. The signal had to be sounded for 181 consecutive hours in 1916.

During the period from 1918 to 1934, the keepers at Moose Peak Light logged more hours of dense fog than any other Maine light station. The island averaged 1,607 hours per year, meaning it was foggy about 20% of the time.

Tragedy struck the station in May 1920. The principal keeper, Henry C. Ray, and the first assistant, Maurice R. Beal, were attempting to land their dory on the island when the two men were tossed from the boat by the heavy seas. Ray scrambled back into the boat but was thrown into the water again when the boat capsized. Meanwhile, the second assistant, Harry E. Freeman, pulled Beal to safety. The tide quickly pulled Ray away from the island, and he disappeared in the waves within view of his wife and the other keepers.

Moose Peak Light was automated in 1972 and the Coast Guard keepers were removed. The Fresnel lens was replaced by a plastic optic. The dwelling was almost sold to a private party, but the high cost of a sewage system that would meet Environmental Protection Agency standards caused the sale to fall through.


In 1982 a military team blew up the keeper's house as a training exercise. The Maine State Historic Preservation Officer had given his OK, saying that the 1903 house didn't have any particular historic value and it was in poor condition. The demolition didn't go exactly as planned. Stephen Perrin wrote in the Island Journal:

About midnight a Coast Guard cutter carried 21 men . . . out to the vicinity of Mistake Island off Jonesport. Towing 500 pounds of TNT and some composition explosive in a rubber raft, an assault team swam to the landing site around 0500 and 'infiltrated' the vandalized dwelling. The exercise then went into an 'administrative mode' and classes were held in the art of demolition. The charges had been placed so that the walls would implode into the building, but as it turned out the timbers flew outward, breaking panes in the lighthouse lantern and damaging the helicopter pad.

aerial photo of lighthouse

U.S. Coast Guard photo
solar panels

The solar panels installed in 1999
U.S. Coast Guard photo 
Under the Maine Lights Program coordinated by the Island Institute of Rockland in 1997, the lighthouse was expected to be turned over to a local community or organization, but none applied.

The Coast Guard converted the lighthouse to solar power in 1999.

In recent years, a nonprofit group called Keepers of Moose Peak Light had been working to gain ownership with the goal of restoring the lighthouse. The lighthouse was offered to a suitable steward in 2010-11 under the guidelines of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, and an application was submitted by Keepers of Moose Peak Light.

As of January 2012, they had not received an official reply to the application. Meanwhile, press reports have indicated that the lighthouse will be auctioned to the general public in spring 2012.

Mistake Island, apart from the lighthouse, is managed by the Nature Conservancy. Moose Peak Light, still an active aid to navigation, can be seen distantly from Great Wass Island. It is best seen by private boat or plane.


Keepers:  (This 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 nelights@gmail.com. Anyone copying this list onto another web site does so at their own risk, as the list is always subject to updates and corrections.)

Alexander Milliken (1827-1849); Joshua Walker (1849-1851, died in service); Joshua S. Walker (1851-1853); Darius Dickey (1853-1859); William H. Norton (1859-1860); Alexander M. Drisko, assistant (1859-1860); Richard Norton, assistant (1860); Charles B. Murch (1869-1876); Warren Murch, assistant (1869-1873); Charles H. Murch, assistant (1871-?); Veranus Allen, assistant (1876-1880); Samuel Cummings (1876-1881); John W. Guptill, assistant (1882-1883); Augustus F. Carver, assistant (1883-1886); Wilfred S. Lowe, assistant (1886-1887); Nehemiah Guptill (1881-1886); Thomas S. Dodge (1886-1887); Charles R. Dobbins (1887-1905); John L. Norton, assistant (1888-1891); Oscar B. Hall, assistant (1891-1895); James H. Falkingham, assistant (1895-1897); Nelson F. Morse, assistant (1897-1901); William A. Atwater, assistant (c. 1905); Herbert Anderson (c. 1910); James Anderson, assistant (c. 1907-?); Henry C. Ray (?-1920, died in service); Maurice R. Beal (c. 1920); Harry E. Freeman (second assistant, c. 1920); Joseph Muise (c. 1930s); M. L. Wilson, assistant (c. 1935); Don Ashby (Coast Guard officer in charge c. 1956-1958); Richard Kelley (Coast Guard, c. 1957); Stanley B. (Red) Crossman Jr. (Coast Guard, 1972-1973)

Last updated 1/22/12

Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any images or text from this website without permission of the author.

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