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Nash Island Light
Near Addison, Maine
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History
Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any images or text from this website without permission of the author.

In the 1830s, dozens of vessels were built and launched in the towns of Columbia, Columbia Falls, and Addison, all on the Pleasant River. The area was busy with coastal trade and the export of lumber, granite, and fish. 

old photo of light station

The first Nash Island Lighthouse. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

In 1837, Congress authorized the construction of a lighthouse at the mouth of the Pleasant River. The site chosen was Nash Island, the smaller of two islands known locally as Big Nash and Little Nashes Island.

The government purchased about four acres of land for the station from the Nash family for $409. During the following year, the first Nash Island Lighthouse, a 24-foot-tall conical rubblestone tower, was built along with a small rubblestone dwelling. The light, comprising 10 lamps and 13-inch reflectors producing a fixed red light 52 feet above mean high water, was established in 1838.

Just five years later, civil engineer I. W. P. Lewis reported that the roof was leaky and the east side of the tower was badly cracked.

The dwelling was leaky and the walls were cracked on three sides. The colored glass placed in front of each reflector to create a red light absorbed more than half the light, according to Lewis. He recognized the light’s importance in his report but found much lacking:

Nash Island light is at the mouth of Pleasant River bay, and serves as a mark to find that and other harbors of the vicinity, as also the western entrance to Moose-a-bec reach, the common thoroughfare of the coasting trade. This light is too low by 50 feet, as Wass’s island hides it from the northeast quarter completely, where its effect would otherwise be very useful. The navigation here is exceedingly hazardous in thick weather, owing to the numerous sunken ledges. Twelve lamps are required here

An inspection report in 1850 sang the praises of the keeper, John Wass: “The keeper has been a sea captain, and knows how to keep his ship in order, and likewise how to sail her. I regard him as one of the best of light-keepers, in the care of the establishment of which he has charge.” According to the report, the buildings had been newly, whitewashed, repointed, and repainted.

The lighthouse's original lamps and reflectors were replaced by a Fresnel lens in 1856. Major repairs were made to the original lighthouse, but the tower was rebuilt in 1874. The 51-foot square brick lighthouse still stands. In 1888, a bell tower with a 1,000 pound fog bell was added. Reportedly, before the bell, a Chinese-type gong was used as a signal.

Osmond Cummings, a native of Jonesport, was keeper from 1902 to 1910. In April 1904, Cummings phoned word to the authorities that a fleet of torpedo boats was making its way through Pleasant Bay. A while later, after the fog lifted, Cummings called again and said that the supposed fleet was actually a pod of humpback whales. As word spread, a frenzy of whale hunting ensued and two of the whales were killed by local fishermen.


Allen Carter Holt succeeded Cummings and stayed until 1916. Holt once rescued the crew of a fishing schooner and received a commendation from Washington. Holt’s children were assigned the task of counting gull nests for the Audubon Society; they counted 1,300 nests on nearby Cone Island, with and an average of four eggs per nest.

John E. Purington, a Portland, Maine, native, became keeper in 1916. Purington had been a crewman on the lighthouse tender Geranium as well as a keeper at the Egg Rock, Great Duck Island, and Deer Island Thorofare stations., He arrived on the island aboard the tender Hibiscus with his wife, Ellen, and their seven children, including a three-week-old infant. Two more boys were born later.
old photo of light station
Note the fog bell tower to the left in this early photo.

For a while, there were enough children living on the island for a small school to be put in operation withestablished and taught by a teacher from the mainland. When they reached high school age, the children boarded and attended school in Jonesport. Purington’s daughter Genevieve, better known as Jenny, was not quite four when she arrived at Nash Island.

old photo of light station

U.S. Coast Guard photo
Jenny started raising sheep when she was a girl, and she continued to keep sheep on her islands for the rest of her life.

Around 1980, she told Sherry Thomas, author of We Didn’t Have Much, but We Sure Had Plenty, about her life around the area:

Ever since I was ten years old, I been messing around in a boat. I had ten lobster traps when I was ten years old. . . . Course, we had to go to school too. We started out havin’ a teacher out there on the island. And we’d get in, well maybe, possibly four weeks out of the year. This teacher’d go from island to island, two weeks here, two weeks there. By the time she got back to our island, we’d already forgot what she’d learned us. Then she’d go home and one of my brothers’d propose. That’s what kept happenin’ to ’em. My seven brothers took to marryin’ ’em as fast as they come on the island.

At 13, Jenny briefly went to school on the mainland, but the other children taunted her. She later said that the children thought the Puringtons were millionaires, which was far from the truth. Purington made $35 a month, later raised to $50. After she quit school, Jenny started lobster fishing full- time. In 1928, she saved $49 in a cigar box and used it to buy a car—a 1918 Hutmobile.

One year, when she was a teenager, Jenny painted the lighthouse tower by herself. There was “always something to do,” Jenny later recalled. Polishing brass was not her favorite chore. “Didn’t I hate that!” she said later. “You had to do it every other day.”

The family never lacked for food, with; their own animals, includeding turkeys, pigs, cattle, chickens, and geese, and there was were plentiful fish and game were plentiful around the island. According to Jenny, her father shot 42 birds on his forty-second birthday. Ducks would be frozen in a galvanized tub in the winter, and the meat was canned in summer. Jenny and others in her family also hauled lobster traps around the island. One thing they didn’t eat was mussels, which they believed were poisonous. The children would try to find pearls in the mussels, and one of the Purington boys fashioned a mussel pearl ring for an aunt.

A tender periodically delivered coal, oil, and other supplies, and twice yearly the district superintendent came for an inspection of the station. Purington was once awarded a star for being the “best-dressed” keeper in the district.

Jenny was married to Stanley Cirone of South Addison when she was not quite 21. Keeper Purington retired because of poor health in 1935. Jenny Purington Cirone eventually purchased the non-government-owned land on Nash Island as well as all of Big Nash Island.

In 1947, the Coast Guard destroyed all of the dwellings, the fog signal building, the oil house, and the boathouse and landing ramps, leaving the tower standing alone. Jenny Cirone later described how she felt as she watched her island burn: “That’s the only time I felt like hurting anybody in my life.”

Jenny Purington Cirone tended her sheep and hauled lobster traps until she was well into her 80s (she died in 2004 at the age of 91), and it was largely her inspiration that led to strong interest in the preservation of Nash Island Lighthouse.


Barbara Hanania of the Friends of Nash Island Light with Jenny Cirone and some of her "babies" in 2001.




sign for Fish and WIldlife Service

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated Nash Island as one of six higher value islands," meaning the island is home to three or more migratory species of seabird. A 1995 survey found 98 eider nests along with 215 herring gull nests and 14 black back gull nests.

The light was discontinued in 1982 and replaced by an offshore buoy. The Coast Guard had planned to destroy the lighthouse, but it remains standing.

A small nonprofit group, the Friends of Nash Island Light, applied for the property under the Maine Lights Program, coordinated by the Island Institute of Rockland. The Friends had already been performing some maintenance of the lighthouse for about two years.

The Friends of Nash Island Light applied for the property under the Maine Lights Program, coordinated by the Island Institute of Rockland. In December 1997 the Maine Lighthouse Selection Committee announced the transfer of the lighthouse to the nonprofit group. Since then, the volunteer group has completed much restoration of the lighthouse.


 

foundation

Ruins of the keeper's house, August 2001


The ruins of the keeper's house seen from the tower in 2001.

Jenny Cirone (1912-2004) was a very popular local resident, and it was largely her inspiration that has led to strong interest in the preservation of Nash Island Lighthouse. A video documentary about Jenny has been produced, called "Jenny's Island Life." You can purchase the documentary (specify VHS or DVD) by sending $25 to:
Friends of Nash Island Light
P.O. Box 250
Addison, Maine 04606
sheep

Some of Jenny Cirone's sheep on Nash Islan


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.)

John Wass (1847-1853); Daniel Curtis (1853-?); Enos D. Wass (1865-1872); Edwin K. Heath (1872-1876); Nehemiah Guptill (1876-1881); Roscoe G. Lophaus (1881-1883); Charles S. Holt (1883-1902); Osmond Cummings (1902-1910); Allen Carter Holt (1910-1916); John Purington (1916-1935); Edwin Pettegrow (Pettegrew) (c. 1935); Larson Alley (?-1947); Edward Wallace (1947-1958).

Last updated 2/4/12
Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any images or text from this website without permission of the author.

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