The Lighthouse Keeper’s dwelling

Wed, 07/22/2020 - 8:30am

    When the Burnt Island Lighthouse was built in 1821, a keeper’s dwelling was also constructed. However, drawings or photographs that document that first house have never been found. The only clue about its construction was in the 1842 Annual Report of the U.S. Light-House Establishment where it mentioned that Burnt Island’s buildings needed repointing and whitewashing. This is an indication that it, like the lighthouse, was a masonry structure and is the likely explanation to why rough-cut, granite blocks can be found scattered about the island.

    In 1857, the original house was demolished and replaced with today’s wooden structure. Maine Historic Preservation Director Kirk Mohney reported that during this era William B. Franklin served as Army Engineer of the Light-House Board and was responsible for building design. His layout was typically a wooden dwelling with an attached covered walkway connecting the house to the lighthouse. Once completed, Keeper William McKown (1853-1861), and the twenty-four keepers to follow, must’ve enjoyed the luxury of attending to the light without having to go outside at night.

    In 1859, the government conducted its initial photographic survey of lighthouses. This provided the first visual record of Burnt Island’s buildings. The dwelling and covered way were sided with board and batten, a skylight was present between two chimneys, and an outhouse existed out the back door. Other noteworthy items include the strategic positioning of three people to show perspective, a lack of trees, and the presence of stonewalls for containing livestock.

    Today, the crew of Marden Builders is tasked with restoring the dwelling to the 1950’s era. When they removed the old clapboards, the original brown, board and batten siding in the 1859 photograph resurfaced. Another remnant of the past was an inscription on the wall: “Thick fog today - May 9, 1907 - Howard S. Haggett of Arrowsic, Maine.” A little sleuthing found that Mr. Haggett was listed in the 1906 Town Register as an employee of the U.S. Lighthouse Service’s repair department. This supports a statement made by Keeper Joseph Muise’s daughter Adele Bailey. She mentioned that government workers traveled from station to station to assist with major projects, and while on Burnt Island they slept in the back room adjacent to the station office. She expressed how she and her sisters loved it when workers stayed over because not only would they play games in the evenings, but mama’s cooking was so much better thanks to the stipend of $1.00/person/day.

    The current restoration project has also revealed unwelcomed discoveries of rotten wood, carpenter ant damage, and rusted roofing nails. Carpenters Mark Holbrook and Steve Faulkingham have been addressing these issues, while carefully preserving the historic elements of the dwelling. A series of 1950’s photographs and architectural drawings collected from the National Archives, Coast Guard historian in Washington DC, Coast Guard civil engineering unit in Providence, RI, and personal photographs from former keepers are all serving as historic references.

    Since 2008, the non-profit organization “Keepers of the Burnt Island Light” have offered living history tours through the lighthouse and dwelling. Dressed in period costume, they have educated thousands of school children, teachers, and the public about the life and times of this historic site. Their efforts have extended beyond educational programming to include a successful campaign that helps fund this restoration project.

    The Department of Marine Resources would like to thank Marvin Windows and Hammond Lumber for their support in producing beautiful, historically-correct windows for the dwelling, work-shed and lighthouse. A special thanks also goes out to an anonymous donor who has generously supported the dwelling’s restoration. The Burnt Island Light Station will soon shine again as a result of widespread generosity.