CREDITS: I would like to thank Jeremy D'Entremont for providing much of the history one can find on this site. He is a speaker, author, historian, and tour guide who is widely recognized as the foremost authority on the lighthouses of New England. For a story on Jeremy or to visit his site (New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide), use the corresponding link in the right hand information bar under "Related Links".

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I have set up this site as a means to share my photographs of lighthouses. Since retiring and finding more time to study photography, my interests have expanded a little. For some of my work other than lighthouses please enjoy my Facebook page at, John Shaw Photography. Come visit, enjoy, and 'LIKE' if you wish.

Also, for your enjoyment, I have provided a slideshow of our journey. To view it please use the link on the right under 'Site Navigation Tools'.

I sincerely hope you enjoy my efforts and use my site not only for information and education but also to provide directions for many enjoyable, inspirational visits to the beacons along our beautiful coas.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Burnt Coat Harbor (Hockamock Head) Lighthouse - Swan's Island

     First lit on August 15, 1872, Burnt Coat Light Station on Hockamock Head was transferred to the Town of Swan’s Island from the Coast Guard in 1994. Without a resident caretaker, the boarded-up station, which included a keeper’s house, light tower, and bell house, soon fell into disrepair, but a restoration of the property began in 2006, with funding provided by the town and grants. The town is diligently working to restore the station to its 1930s appearance, but more than that, they are striving to assemble its oral history, replete with stories and photos from the keepers and their descendants. It is worth a visit to their website to see the maps, photos, and personal information they have collected.

    The logbook kept by the light's first keeper, Frederick Alexander Allen, is now in the National Archives and affords a glimpse at life at Burt Coat Harbor Lighthouse. Appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant in January 1872, Keeper Allen received the logbook in April 1874 and only made entries when he felt something was noteworthy. Many of the notes in his fine hand are about weather, repairs, and whitewashing or painting the station, inside and out. As Burnt Coat had two towers that served as range lights, Keeper Allen did have more to whitewash and paint than most keepers. The harbor at Swan’s Island was an important refuge in storms, as the nearest place of safe anchorage along the coast was thirty-six miles distant.

     The winter of 1874-5 was so cold that Allen repeatedly had to heat the lard oil for the lights on his stove before carrying it to the top of the towers to power the lights. The tendency of lard oil to congeal in cold weather led to the adoption of kerosene in 1877.

     On February 10, 1875, Keeper Allen recorded that the area was frozen solid, and it was possible to walk five miles to the town of Brooklin - a normal wintertime occurrence. Luckily, the 1.5-story, wood-frame keeper’s house was spacious and comfortable, and the nearby coal shed was loaded with an ample six to seven tons of coal brought up from the shore by the keeper. And spacious it needed to be, for Keeper Allen had nine children. The house was connected to the rear thirty-two-foot-tall tower that shone its light seventy-five feet above sea level. In 1881, a covered walkway, eighty feet long and four feet wide, was erected between the rear tower and the smaller front tower, which beamed its light at a focal plane of forty-two feet. Both of the square brick towers shone white lights through Fresnel lenses — a fourth-order lens in the rear and a fifth-order in the front. 

     Instead of guiding mariners into the harbor, the range lights confused seagoers who sometimes ran aground while trying to make the harbor for its aid. Thus, on August 1, 1883, the rear side of the front tower was jacked up and the tower tipped into the ocean. That same year a new, 3,500-gallon rainwater cistern was provided, which saved the keeper many hours of rowing across the harbor for water. In 1885, a fourteen by twenty-foot boat house was added, complete with boat hoisting gear. Another much appreciated addition must have been the sewer pipe, installed in 1900.

     The British schooner Prohibition ran aground near the station on the evening of New Years Day, 1902. Nettie, wife of the keeper, remembered that the night was pleasant, but cold and windy. The schooner attempted to weather the gale off Harbor Island, but its anchor parted. Her husband Orin and two seamen found six crew members safe on Scrag Island and bought them to the light. Nettie said, “They’d have had to stay there all night at two below zero if the dory hadn’t brought them home to warm beds. My, but they were grateful!”

    Nettie, Swan’s Island’s newspaper correspondent and president of Ladies Aid for thirty-five years, said she hated gossip. “There’s so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it behooves none of us to speak ill of the rest of us.”

     Frank, son of Nettie and Orin, would proudly announce that he was the only person conceived in one lighthouse and born in another – he was born seven months after his parents arrived at Burnt Coat Lighthouse. In 1974, he wrote about life on Swan’s Island and hoped others would do the same. He related that he frequently had to wind the bell tower’s striking mechanism. “This tower had to be quite high so that they would have room to hoist the weights that would cause the bell to ring. As the weights would come down they would cause the striker to hit the bell, which would continue for over five hours. I have wound them up a good many times, and you can take my word that it wasn’t easy.”

     When Frank was 3½ years old, he saw the doctor going upstairs carrying his black bag in hand. When a short time later he heard the cries of his sister, Urla, Frank was convinced that the “the doctor produced Urla from that little black bag.”

     Once when Frank was five or six years old, his parents were frantic when they discovered that both he and his little sister were nowhere to be found. Suddenly someone noticed Frank out at the harbor’s entrance rowing the dory home with Urla sitting in the bow. Somehow he’d managed to take the boat from where it was moored and row ½ mile to Harbor Island to visit “Aunt” Sue Hardy.

     Frank also discovered that it was a great adventure to grease the ways of the long, steep boat slip, remove the dory’s hook, and quickly slide into the water with a great splash. He would repeat the process anytime his father was away, despite the hard work of pulling the dory back up with the hand winch. When the tide was low, the dory would bounce off a few rocks on its slide into the water. Every time the men on the lighthouse tender would bring a new dory, they would wonder out loud how his father could go through so many dories. “Of course, I never volunteered any information on the subject,” said Frank.

       Roscoe Chandler, keeper from 1932 to the early part of World War II, chose a lighthouse career so he could stay closer to home. He sired nine children and took in two of his sister’s following her death. His grandson, Joseph Kelley visited the light several times. One of the family’s favorite stories was about the fearsome lighthouse inspector, who “wore white gloves and checked over door lintels, behind pictures, and so forth.”

     “In this particular instance,” Kelley related, “a dozen or more of the family were visiting, creating some disorder, when a ship that looked like the tender was spotted coming into the bay. The cry went up and the cleanup started. Roland, the oldest son, had just come in from fishing and removed a pair of hip boots. Anything questionable was quickly tossed into one of the boots. At that point a rat, disturbed by the ‘to do,’ ran out and was spotted by the Irish setter, Jack. The rat ran into the boot for refuge, closely pursued by Jack, who wedged his head and neck into the boot. Jack ran around the house, wreaking havoc with the boot flopping ahead of him as he continued to try to catch the rat. Fortunately, it was a false alarm and no inspector arrived to survey the shambles.”

      Due to the war, the Coast Guard asked Roscoe’s wife, Mary, to vacate the station, making way for four or five young Coast Guardsmen, who were supposed to assist the keeper. “Without Mary to cook for him, and with four or five unruly teenagers to supervise,” Kelley said, “Roscoe’s ulcers forced him into retirement.”

      The Coast Guard remained at the station until the light was automated in 1975. In 1977, the fourth-order Fresnel lens was removed and replaced by an automatic light on a nearby skeleton tower. The Coast Guard intended to tear down the station, but letters, phone calls, and personal visits to the Coast Guard station in Southwest Harbor prevented it. The new light wasn’t as bright as the old one, and after a public meeting, an automatic 250-mm optic light was placed in the lighthouse on December 18, 1978.

     Once the town has finished repairs to the station, the downstairs of the keeper’s dwelling will be available for such events as weddings, meetings, exhibits, performances, and family gatherings. The upstairs will retain its historic floor plan and be used as an apartment for an on-site caretaker and docent.

     The light station grounds are now owned by the town of Swan’s Island.  The island is accessible by ferry from Bass Harbor with the lighthouse about four miles from the ferry landing.  The Lighthouse may also be viewed from the water on cruises from various towns along the coast.

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