Congress appropriated $7,000 for a light station on Whitehead in March 1803. The specifications called for an octagonal wooden tower on a stone foundation, 30 feet high to the lantern deck, along with a wood-frame dwelling about 60 to 70 feet from the tower. The contractors Benjamin Beal and Duncan Thaxter constructed the buildings in the spring of 1804. Some sources state that the light went into service in 1807, but the first keeper, Ellis Dolph (or Dowlf) was hired in June 1804.
The station had a scandal early in its history. It seems that Dolph had a side business selling oil intended for the light. Officials became suspicious as Dolph ordered larger and larger quantities of spermaceti oil, and they discovered that storekeepers in the nearby town of Thomaston had been buying whole barrels of oil from the keeper. Needless to say, Keeper Dolph was immediately dismissed.
In 1817, Winslow Lewis, who built many early lighthouses and designed the lighting apparatus used in most, described Whitehead Light:
Whitehead Island is one of the foggiest spots on the coast, averaging 80 days of fog a year. In 1829, nearly a decade after West Quoddy Head Light got one of the nation's first fog bells, Whitehead got its bell.
After an appropriation of $6,000 in March 1831, the tower and dwelling were rebuilt. Jeremiah Berry, a mason from Thomaston, constructed a rubblestone tower, about the same height as its predecessor, with a wrought-iron octagonal lantern. A stone dwelling was also built, with three rooms downstairs and three small rooms in the attic. The new lighthouse went into service in September 1831.
In 1838, new equipment was installed that created the first tide-driven fog bell. The "perpetual fog bell," invented by Andrew Morse, was run by a Rube Goldberg-type combination of timbers, chains, and weights. The master of the steamboat Bangor stated:
Mary Bradford Crowninshield's 1886 book, All Among the Lighthouses, reported that Isaac Grant was "one of the best keepers on the coast; that his light was always well cared for, and his fog-whistle was never out of order."
Arthur Beal became keeper in 1929, after 10 years as an assistant keeper at Matinicus Rock. Beal would go on serve for 21 years at Whitehead. Dave Gamage, who currently lives much of the time in a small house on the island, is the grandson of Keeper Beal. Gamage spent much time as a boy living with his grandparents on the island, and he calls the island his "playground." He remembers picking berries and helping his grandfather hoe potatoes, as well as going up into the lighthouse to help dust and clean the prisms of the Fresnel lens. In Lighthouse Digest Gamage wrote:
Ken D. Johnson was a Coast Guard keeper at Whitehead 1979-81. Johnson took part in a daring rescue one early December morning in 1980. The Coast Guard station at Rockland phoned Whitehead to report that a lobster boat, with two men aboard, was in danger of sinking in the harbor at Spruce Head. With the seas running eight to ten feet, the Coast Guard was unable to send out their 44-foot motor lifeboat. Instead, Johnson took out the light station's 14-foot Boston Whaler. He reached the two men and took them safely to shore. It was the last known rescue performed by a Coast Guard crew at Whitehead.
The owners of Pine Island Camp, the Swan family, had bought 70 acres of Whitehead Island in 1956, and campers have been visiting the island ever since. Under a work program the campers helped restore the lighthouse and keeper's dwelling.
The light was converted to solar power in 2001. The lighthouse is difficult to see from shore, but some of the tour boats and schooners in the area pass the island.
Restoration of the keeper's house was completed in 2008. There
are now adult programs offered at the light station in summer, and the
station is available for rent during certain periods. Details can be
found at www.whiteheadlightstation.org
or by calling (207) 729-7714 or (207) 465-3031.
Keepers: Ellis Dolph (1804-1807); Ebenezer Otis (1813-1816); Charles Haskell (1816-1821); Samuel Davis (1821-1840); William Perry, Jr. (1840-1841 and 1845-1849); Joshua Bartlett (1841-1845 and 1849-1853?); Dennis Pillsbury (1853); Samuel B. Stackpole (1853-1858); Albert Thomas, assistant (1854); Edwin R. Stackpole (1853-1858); Eugene Stackpole, assistant (1857); Elisha Snow. Assistant (1857-1859); Isaac Sterns (1858-1860); Thomas Shoutts, assistant (1859-1860); Samuel Ludwig, assistant (1860); William Spear (1860-1861); William Spear, Jr., assistant (1860-1861); Ephraim Quinn (1861-1862); William Perry, assistant (1861-1862); Archibald McKellar (1862); James McKellar, assistant (1862); Edward Spaulding (1862-1865); E. Cooper Spaulding, assistant (1862-1866); Hezekiah Long (1865-1875); Horace Norton, assistant (1866-1874); Abbie B. Long, assistant (1867-1875); Isaac N. Grant (1875-1890); Abby B. Grant, assistant (1875-1890); Knot Perry, assistant (1876); George L. Upton (1890-1892); Frank N, Jellison, assistant, then keeper (1890-1905); Daniel Stevens (1892); George Matthews, assistant (1892-1898); Joseph W. Jellison, second assistant (1895-1898); Walden B. Hodgkins, second assistant (1899-1902); Otto A. Wilson, second assistant (1899); George S. Connors, second assistant (1899-1902); Edward T. Merritt, second assistant (1902-1903); Elmer Reed, assistant, then keeper (1902-1919); George M. Joyce, second assistant (1903-1905); A. Faulkingham, second assistant, then first assistant (1905-1909); Stephen F. Flood, first assistant (1905-1907); Frank B. Ingalls, second assistant (1907-1909); Fairfield H, Moore, first assistant (1909-c.1917); John E. Purrington, second assistant (1909-1911); Lester Leighton, second assistant (1911-1913); Charles Robinson, assistant (1913-?); Hervey H, Wass, first assistant (1913-1919); Arthur B. Mitchell (1919-1929); Arthur Marston (1923-1928, assistant?); Arthur J. Beal (1929-1950); Frank Alley, second assistant (1928-194?); George Lester Alley, first assistant (1926-194?); Clyde Grant (Coast Guard, c. 1950); Gordon P. Eaton (Coast Guard, c. 1950-1952); Richard C. Ames (Coast Guard, 1950-1951); Ronald Upton (Coast Guard, 9/1973-5/1974); Second Class Machinery Technician Kevin Arsenault (Coast Guard, 1977-1979); Boatswain Mate First Class Frank Wescovich (Coast Guard, c. late 1970s); Second Class Machinery Technician Ken D. Johnson (Coast Guard, 9/1979-2/1981); Fireman Apprentice Brian Happy (Coast Guard, c. 1979-1980); James Alexander (Coast Guard c. 1980-?); Boatswain Mate First Class Jerry Radcliffe (Coast Guard, 2/1981-?); Boatswain Mate First Class Dan Anderson (Coast Guard, c. 1980)