more than two centuries, this lighthouse has been an important guide
for mariners traveling along the Maine coast as well as those entering
the Kennebec River toward Bath and other ports. Even earlier, high
Seguin Island, rising more than 100 feet above the sea, was a prominent
landmark. In August 1607, the English founders of the Popham colony
anchored at the island before landing on the mainland.
the explorer Samuel de Champlain sailed past Seguin Island in 1612, he
commented that it looked like a giant tortoise. The name "Seguin" is
said by some to be a corruption of an Indian word that means "place
where the sea vomits." Others claim that it originates from an Indian
word for "hump." Either way, it’s entirely appropriate.
local merchants petitioned the General Court of Massachusetts for a
lighthouse on Seguin in June 1786. The petition noted that the “island
Seguin seems to be designated by Nature for this purpose,” and it
stated the opinion that “if there was a Light upon this Island many
Vessels would be saved from Shipwreck, and many Persons preserved from
immature Deaths.” At that time, there were only three light stations on
the coast north of Boston: at Thacher Island off Cape Ann, at
Portsmouth Harbor in New Hampshire, and at Portland Head in Maine.
|Nearly a decade passed before the establishment of a
light station was
approved by President George Washington in May 1793. Ten acres of land
on the island was ceded in February 1794 to the federal government by
the State of Massachusetts, as Maine was part of Massachusetts at the
In June 1794, Commissioner of the Revenue Tench Coxe sent word
to Gen. Benjamin Lincoln, the customs collector and local lighthouse
superintendent in Boston, that he should examine Seguin Island to
select the most advantageous position for the lighthouse.
April 1795, a site had been chosen and a request was posted in local
newspapers for proposals to build an octagonal wooden lighthouse tower
on a stone foundation and a one-story, wood-frame dwelling. A newspaper
notice in late October 1796 announced that the buildings had been
completed under the supervision of Henry Dearborn, who would later
become the customs collector in Boston and secretary of War under
Seguin’s first keeper, appointed in
March 1796 at $200 per year, was Major John Polereczky, a Hungarian
Hussar and count who was born in France and fought with French troops
during the American Revolution. The Polereczky family had been
Hungarian nobility as far back as 1613.
Polereczky settled in
Dresden, Maine, after he resigned his commission, and he served for 25
years as town clerk, before and after his time on Seguin. In October
1795, Polereczky wrote to Benjamin Lincoln to express his desire for
the keeper position “for the better support” of his family. “I am
willing to sacrifice the pleasures of society,” he wrote, “to the
fulfillment of the Duties of that office.” Polereczky obtained the
keeper’s position as a reward for his war service, Henry Dearborn
having served as his champion.
In May 1796, Polereczky
wrote to Benjamin Lincoln to request a raise in pay. Revenue
Commissioner Coxe, in charge of lighthouses, replied to Lincoln
regarding the keeper’s request:
house, the fuel, the land and the salary with the opportunities for
fish would attract numbers of perfectly competent persons; tho perhaps
few as respectable and of as much public merit as himself. But the fund
assigned by law has been predicated upon strict ideas of what a keeper
would merit, and could be engaged for, without difficulty. With these
sentiments I do not at present propose to apply to the President to
increase this salary.
In November 1796, Polereczky again
requested a raise in his salary to $300. “I have but one Cow here for
my family,” he wrote, “and one tun of haye I purchased for her,
delivered to the house. Cost me 20 dolars and so it is with all the
necessities of life till I Cann Raise them.”
The raise was again denied. Polereczky
served about eight years as keeper. His successor, Jonathan Delano, was
appointed in October 1804. Like Polereczky, Delano often complained of
the conditions on Seguin. In an 1809 letter, he wrote that the dwelling
was very leaky and in great need of repair. When new lamps were
installed in the lighthouse in 1812, Delano complained in a letter to
the local superintendent that the lamps were defective.
original tower had deteriorated and had to be rebuilt in 1819, this
time of stone. The new lighthouse was much smaller than its
predecessor; the specifications called for it to be 20 feet tall to the
base of the lantern, 16 feet in diameter at the base, and 13 feet in
diameter at the top. A fog bell was added to the station in 1837. In
his 1843 report to Congress, the engineer I. W. P. Lewis described the
stone tower as in "bad order." Lewis noted that the old 1795 house was
“in very good preservation” and was used for storage and as a
new fog bell with automatic striking machinery was installed in 1854,
and after an appropriation of $35,000, a new 53-foot stone tower was
built in 1857. Because of the heavy maritime traffic in the area, a
first-order Fresnel lens, Maine’s most powerful light, was installed in
The nine-foot-high lens was large enough for the
keepers to go completely inside it to light the lamp. A duplex keepers’
dwelling was also built in 1857.
Nineteenth century engraving of
Seguin Light Station
a period of 31 years, the station was foggy 15 percent of the time. In
1907, the island set an all-time Maine mark for fogginess—2,374 hours,
or about 31 percent of the year. The Lighthouse Board announced in 1870
that preparations had begun for the establishment of a new steam-driven
fog signal to replace the bell. A new well was dug to provide the
necessary water for the engines. A 10-inch steam whistle was installed
by 1873, sounding one eight-second blast every minute.
Thomas Day became keeper 1875. Before becoming keeper, he had
been captain of the Black Ball Liner Roanoke.
When he retired as keeper in 1886, Day bought a farm in Bowdoinham,
near Brunswick, Maine. In a 1942 interview in the Lewiston Journal, Day's grandson
Joe York said:
hated to leave the lighthouse. They used lard oil then in the lamps,
and I can remember seeing grandfather with a big paddle stirring up the
grease and preparing it for the lamp in the big lantern each night.
Some different from the way old Portland Head is lighted now. But I
never got interested in becoming a lightkeeper. I wanted to go to sea.
- (Thanks to Charlie Kellogg for the information on Thomas
of the steep quarter-mile climb up to the lighthouse, a tramway system
was installed in 1895, its tracks leading from the boathouse up to the
keepers’ house. Supplies were loaded into a car that was brought up
more than 1,000 feet on the tracks by means of a hoisting engine.
A 1904 Boston Globe
article profiled Herbert Spinney, who had been an assistant keeper
beginning in 1893 and was principal keeper from 1903 to 1907. Spinney,
who was a native of nearby Georgetown, Maine, also served as president
of the Maine Ornithological Society. He had collected and mounted birds
since boyhood, and he also collected birds’ eggs, butterflies,
minerals, and corals. He always carried a camera, and he developed and
printed his own photos.
The tramway (U.S. Coast Guard)
Keeper Herbert Spinney
collection filled much of the dwelling’s wall space from floor to
ceiling. This makeshift museum drew increasing numbers of visitors to
the island, and eventually the keeper began charging an admission fee
of a dime to keep the crowds more manageable.
Included in the
collection was a stuffed monkey, and a visitor once asked the keeper if
he had shot the monkey on the island. “No madam,” replied Spinney, “I
didn’t, but I’ve seen little monkeys on this island that I should like
of the birds Spinney collected were found dead after flying into the
lantern glass of the tower. On one memorable morning, Spinney found 275
birds dead around the lighthouse.
Spinney kept a journal of his observations; here’s the entry for
September 3, 1899:
northwest, very dark, not a star to be seen; the air so
impregnated with smoke as to make my throat smart in breathing; at this
hour I came on duty, the birds were flying around the light; on going
into the lantern I found about 75 birds on the outside; pine warblers,
black and white yellow throats, oven birds, two hermit thrushes and one
yellow-bellied flycatcher; all seemed to alight on the glass as fast as
they appeared; very few seen flying around the light.
At 3 a.m. came
a light shower, which seemed to check the flight. Those on the lantern
remained until morning. All the mortality occurred with the yellow
throats, 10 of this species being found dead. This seems odd, as I
could hear many birds strike the dome of the lantern, the concussion
when they struck sounding like a body of several hundred pounds weight.
Spinney, seen here with his family in 1898, was an assistant keeper on
Seguin Island 1893-1903 and principal keeper 1903-07.
Friends of Seguin Island
Elson Small, previously at Lubec Channel Light and Avery Rock,
keeper from 1926 to 1930. His wife, Connie, later wrote the book The
Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife, in which she painted a vivid portrait
Bracey, who had been a crewman on the Portland Lightship, was one of
the keepers in the 1920s and 1930s. He claimed to have seen seagulls
knocked from the air by the concussion of the foghorn, which on at
least one occasion was heard as far away as Bath, 14 miles distant.
also told the historian Edward Rowe Snow that he witnessed the fog
signal extinguish an oil lantern on the ground eight feet below the
circa early 1930s, courtesy of Dave Gamage. The tank the children
are sitting on is an air receiver tank for new air compressors,
being installed for an air-driven foghorn.
||As befits a remote lighthouse location, Seguin Island
has ghost stories
galore. Keepers spoke of furniture moving on its own and doors slamming
A popular tale concerns a nineteenth-century keeper’s wife
who played the same tune over and over on her piano. The keeper was
eventually driven insane and destroyed the piano with an axe, then
killed his wife and himself.
Legend has it that the piano tune
still be heard drifting from the island on calm nights. Some local
people have attributed the story to nearby Pond Island.
writer William O. Thomson claims that Coast Guard keepers told him
about the specter of a young girl they saw running and laughing in the
house—the ghost, it’s said, of a keeper’s daughter who died on the
island. Other keepers have reported doors opening and closing
themselves and mysterious coughing not produced by any of the keepers
|The last civilian keeper on Seguin was Clarence
Skolfield, a former
merchant mariner who arrived as third assistant keeper in 1936 and left
as the very popular principal keeper in 1946. He later became keeper at
Perkins Island Light and Squirrel Point Light, retiring in 1966.
Skolfield’s son, Tom, became a lobsterman in Cape Elizabeth. He later
remembered his days at Seguin fondly. “It was perfect there, like being
Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn,” he told Down
East magazine. One of the
keepers kept two cows and a bull on the island. The bull was allowed to
run loose, and it sometimes charged at Tom Skolfield’s sister. The
Skolfields’ complaints yielded no results, so the next time the bull
came near their residence, Tom’s father fired a shotgun into the air.
The bull ran to a far corner of the island and never bothered them
again. “The bull was scared of Dad,” said Tom.
tramway built to help the keepers get supplies up the steep slope to
the station was generally a great help, but it proved dangerous on at
least one occasion. In 1949, a keeper’s wife, Joyce Irvine, was riding
in the car on the tramway with her 18-month-old daughter when the car
broke loose and hurtled downhill, out of control. The woman was badly
hurt, but she managed to toss the baby safely to the soft grass. From
that point, the Coast Guard didn’t allow passengers on the tramway.
This magneto phone was used to call the
house from the boathouseT
became a males-only station in 1963. The last keeper whose family lived
on the island was George F. Johns of Bath. There were two other crewmen
and their families, with a total of five children living at the
station. Mrs. Johns said she never dared let their two little girls out
of her sight because of the high precipices on the island. The family
was the last to live in the 1876 assistant keeper’s house, which was
families left, four Coast Guard keepers were assigned to the station;
three were on the island and one was on shore leave at all times. Some
took to island living more easily than others. Kenneth Estey, who spent
two years on the island in the early 1980s, told a local newspaper,
“Sometimes I don’t know if I should eat—if I’m hungry or just bored.”
Estey said he passed his time by reading Mark Twain or science fiction.
Another keeper at the time, Eric Thompson, enjoyed target shooting on
|The light was automated in 1985 and the keepers were
removed. The last Coast Guard keeper was First Class Boatswain Mate
Edward T. Brown, who hated leaving Seguin. "I'd stand on my head to
live on the island with my family," he said.
ghostly story about the automation of Seguin Island Light, related by
the lighthouse historian William O. Thomson, concerns the crew that
arrived to take all the furniture from the keeper’s house. They packed
up most of the furniture and spent the night in the keeper’s house,
planning to leave in the morning.
The iron spiral stairway in the
The officer in charge later claimed that he was rudely awakened by a
figure standing in front of him, pleading, “Don’t take the furniture.
Please leave my home alone!” The next day the crew went ahead and
loaded the furniture into a boat. Suddenly the chain holding the boat
broke, the engine stopped, and the boat sank with all the furniture.
automation, the future of the station was uncertain. Concerned local
citizens led by a real estate broker, Anne Webster, founded the Friends
of Seguin Island in 1986. Three years later the Friends of Seguin
Island received a 10-year lease on the property from the Coast Guard.
In February 1998, under the Maine Lights Program, the property was
transferred to the group.
The Denkers family of Ontario
spent the summer of 1996 on Seguin Island as the caretakers, and since
then they've come to the island each year to help get things ready for
the summer season. This photo of Lawrene, Rachael, and Harry Denkers
was taken in May 2005.
|Grants and donations paid for the restoration of the
Since 1990, caretakers have lived at Seguin in the summer. The
caretakers in the summer of 1996 were Harry Denker, a carpenter and
contractor from Ontario, his wife, Lawrene, a writer, and their two
daughters, Rachael and Anna. Harry Denker explained his attraction to
Seguin to the Bath Times-Record:
“The lighthouse comes across to me as something stable, something the
mariners can count on. It’s a reassuring thing.” Since the summer of
1996, the Denkers have returned almost every spring to help get things
ready for the summer season.
Nick and Stasi Bottinelli of Denver, Colorado, were the
caretakers for the summer of 1997. Stasi wrote in the logbook:
We are both so excited every time we open the door and go
outside because the weather is always interesting and pleasant in one
way or another... The air is full of the smell of wild roses, green
grass, sea mists, all the blooming and ripening things. The sounds of
the catbirds and warblers bring such peaceful delight, especially near
dusk on the main trail near the tramway.
The 2001 caretakers, Jim Woods and
Kris Pescatore of Boulder, Colorado
In February 1998, the Coast Guard announced plans to replace
Seguin's first-order Fresnel lens with a modern solar-powered plastic
optic. The Coast Guard said that it was too expensive to maintain the
17,000-foot underwater cable necessary to run the light inside the
large lens, so they would have saved taxpayers' dollars by replacing it.
The Friends of Seguin Island wanted the lens to remain in the
lighthouse; it's the only operating first-order Fresnel lens in Maine.
(The Coast Guard did offer an alternative: leaving the lens in place
but not active, replacing it by erecting a solar powered light on a
A look inside the lens
The Friends mounted a petition drive to convince the
Coast Guard to leave the historic lens in operation. They collected
more than 7,200 signatures.
In March 2000, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine announced
that the Coast Guard had agreed to leave the lens in operation. Senator
Snowe said in a press release:
Seguin Island light remains the only
operational [first order] Fresnel lens north of Rhode Island, and the
Coast Guard's decision will assure that this historic light will remain
working into the new millennium, consistent with this historic
Captain Bob Papp, chief of congressional affairs for
the Coast Guard, told the Portland Press Herald, "The Coast
Guard is in the service of the taxpayer. We came up with the best plan
we could, but it may not fit every situation. We made an exception in
Woodward (right), one of the nation's leading "lampists," or lighthouse
lens experts, went to the island in May 2005 to have a close look at
the lens. The expansion and contraction in the tower over the
years, caused by temperature variations and high winds, was being
absorbed by the lens, causing damage.
- Later in 2005, lens experts Joe Cocking, Nick
Johnston, and Jim Dunlop went to Seguin to examine the lens. The Coast
Guard awarded the contract for the restoration of the lens in June 2006
to Lighthouse Lamp Shop, Inc., owned by Joe Cocking, a retired Coast
Guard chief warrant officer.
The restoration project began in July 2006. Cocking and Nick Johnston
repaired and re-installed two damaged central prisms. The lens's frame
and the lens itself were cleaned and corrosive contaminants were
removed. Cracks were repaired and the lens was polished.
The view from the top
You can drive to Popham Beach for distant views of Seguin
Light -- bring your binoculars. Better yet, you
can visit Seguin Island Light by boat. For lovers of
lighthouses teeming with legends and lore, this is a must.
For more information about visiting Seguin Island, or to
donate to the maintenance of the property, contact:
- Friends of Seguin
- P.O. Box 866
- Bath, Maine 04530
- Keepers: (The
following list of keepers is not complete. It is a work in progress,
and any additional information is welcomed and appreciated; you can
email me at email@example.com. If you copy this list to another site,
you do so at your own risk. I can't guarantee its accuracy.)
- John Polereszky (1796-1804); Christopher Pushard
(assistant, c.1796-1804); John Hollaway (assistant? c.1800); Jonathan
Delano (1804-1825); John Salter (1825-1839); Nathaniel Springer Todd
(1839-1849); James Marston (1849-1853); A. E. Osgood (1853-1857); Boyd
L. Miles (assistant, 1855); Joseph King (assistant, 1855); Stephen
Marston Jr. (1857); Daniel Dodge (1857); John C. Lowell (1857-1859);
Granville Lowell (1859-1861); Tallman B. Lowell (assistant, 1859-1860);
William M. Knight (1860-1861); Zina H. Spinney (1861-1866); P. O.
Spinney (assistant, 1861-1865); David Spinney 2nd (assistant,
1861-1863); David Spinney (assistant, 1863-1865); Rachel Spinney
(assistant, 1865-1866); William S. Oliver (assistant, 1865-1866);
Francis L. Morrill (1866-1868); William C. Marr (assistant, 1866);
Ephraim S. Marr (assistant, 1866 and 1874-1875); Henry E. Morrill
(1866-1867); Charles S. Morrill (assistant, 1866-1867); Jane Morrill
(assistant, 1867-1869); Arthur Hutchins (assistant, 1867-1869); Samuel
(Lemuel?) G. Crane (1867-1875); O. B. Crane (assistant, 1868-1871); J.
B. Crane (assistant, 1868-1974); Louisa N. Lane (Crane?) (assistant,
1871-1872); Turner Jewett (assistant, 1872); Elisha B. Crane
(assistant, 1874-1875); Thomas Day (1875-1886); Thomas Bibber
(assistant, 1876-1880); Willis E. Chase (assistant, 1875); Henry Wiley
(assistant, 1881-1882); Samuel Cavanor (assistant, 1882); Fernando
Wallace (assistant, 1882-1886); Edwin M. Wyman (assistant, 1886-1889);
Henry Day (1886-1890); Henry M. Clark (assistant, 1887); William H.
Wyman (assistant, 1888-1889); Jesse Pierce (assistant, 1889); Merritt
P. Pinkham (assistant 1889-1890, head keeper 1890-1898); Parker O.
Healey (assistant, 1890-1893); William A. Stetson (assistant 1898);
Fred Hodgkins (assistant, 1903); George A. Lewis (1898-1903 and
1907-1912 - died 1/6/1912); Herbert L. Spinney (assistant 1893-1898,
head keeper 1903-1907); Walter S. Adams (assistant, 1907-1908);
Clifford B. Staples (assistant, 1908-1912); Henry M. Cuskley
(1912-1915); Maurice M. Weaver (1915-1922); Vinal Beal (first
assistant, 1921-1924); Arthur Marston (assistant? 1921-1923); Napoleon
B. Fickett (1922-1926); Elson L. Small (1926-1930); Frank E. Bracey
(assistant 1926-1930, head keeper 1930-1931); Millard H. Urquhart
(assistant 1928-1931, head keeper 1931-1938); Jasper L. Cheney
(assistant, 1930-1931); Joseph M. Conners (assistant, 1931-1936);
Donald E. Robbins, assistant (1930-1932); Clinton L. Dalzell
(assistant, 1932-1933); Floyd Ettinger Singer (assistant, 1932-1933);
Truman L. Lathrop (assistant, 1933-1934); Benjamin Stockbridge
(assistant, 1934); Ernest F. Witty (assistant, 1935); George A.
McKenney (assistant, 1935-1936); Clarence Skolfield (assistant,
1936-1944; principal keeper 1944-1946); Arthur G. Hill (assistant,
1936-1938); Maxwell A. DeShon (assistant, 1938-1941); Alton S, Chaney
(Coast Guard, 1939-1944); Herbert Mitchell (Coast Guard assistant,
1940-1944); Archie McLaughlin (Coast Guard assistant, 1944-1945);
Robert J. Werner (Coast Guard assistant, 1944-1945); Irving Dobbins
(Coast Guard assistant, 1944); Alonzo Morong (Coast Guard, 1946-1950);
Clyde T. Whittaker (Coast Guard,1948-1951); Edgar M. Wallace (Coast
Guard,1949-1950); Daniel Irvine (Coast Guard assistant, 1949-1950); ?
Bardsley (c. 1950); David Morrison (c. 1950-?); Harvey Lamson (Coast
Guard,1951-1952); Harry Leighton Cressey (Coast Guard
assistant,1947-1951, officer in charge 1951-1954); Horace Smith (Coast
Guard assistant, 1953); Douglas Cameron (Coast Guard assistant, 1953);
Charles Balsdon (Coast Guard assistant, c. 1953); Francis Manzie
(Manzi) (Coast Guard assistant, c. 1953-1954); Mac McKinley (Coast
Guard, c. 1955); Charles A. Hart Jr. (Coast Guard assistant, 1955);
George F. Barnes (Coast Guard assistant, c, 1956); Marshall Witherell
(Coast Guard assistant, c. 1956); ? Farrington (Coast Guard, c. 1958);
John Johnston (Coast Guard assistant, c. 1959); James R. Wilson (Coast
Guard,1961); Kenneth J. Dukes (Coast Guard assistant, c. 1962); George
F. Johns (Coast Guard assistant, c. 1963); William B. O'Neill (Coast
Guard assistant, c. 1963); Timothy Flaherty (Coast Guard assistant, c.
1963); Henry LeBlanc (Coast Guard,1963); Fred Kahrl (Coast
Guard,1966-1967); Robert Bly (Coast Guard,1966-1967); Elwynne Kenny
(Coast Guard,1966-1967); Robert Grindall (Coast Guard assistant, c.
1966-1968); Hank Lipian (Coast Guard, 1976); Oreta Bridgeman (Coast
Guard assistant, 1976); Edward T. Brown (Coast Guard,1983-1985); Lamar
Alexander (Coast Guard assistant, 1986).