Camden Harbor is finely locked in between two jutting points of land, one high, the other low, with a pretty little wooded island deftly dropped in at the entrance. Negro Island is its name. The harbor light stands on this island. Back of this, the mountains rise so near at hand that the village spires are thrown up against them in strong relief... Sails bathed in sunshine look like cloths of gold; masts and ropes, like cobwebs borne along by the breeze. -- Samuel Adams Drake, The Pine Tree Coast, 1891.
Camden's well-protected harbor helped the town develop major lime-kiln and shipbuilding industries in the nineteenth century. Today, thousands of tourists come to the town each year, attracted by the combination of the handsome harbor, the beauty of Penobscot Bay and the nearby Camden Hills, and a cluster of shops and restaurants.
Seven-acre Curtis Island, a short distance offshore at the entrance to the harbor, was long known as Negro Island. According to a 1922 article, it got is name because an African-American cook, aboard the vessel that brought the early settler James Richards to Camden in 1769, expressed his admiration for the island as they sailed past.
To aid local navigation, Congress appropriated $4,500 for a lighthouse on the island on June 30, 1834. John Dorr of Boston sold the property to the federal government for $400. For a sum of $2,569, the contractor George Galt (or Gault) built a rubblestone lighthouse, 20 feet tall to the lantern deck, along withand a stone dwelling with three rooms on the first floor and three small rooms in the attic.
According to an 1850 inspection report, the tower was leaky and in need of repointing, and the whole establishment was in need of “immediate attention.” The Lighthouse Board achieved an inexpensive temporary fix in 1855, when the stone tower was encased in an octagonal wooden outer sheath and shingled in an effort to stop the problem with leaks. In the following year, a fourth-order Fresnel lens replaced the eight lamps and reflectors. The dwelling was largely overhauled in 1867–68, and a new woodshed was added to the station.
For many years, the island served as a signal station for the large steamships that passed by. When the keeper saw one of the passenger steamers approaching, he hoisted a large ball to the top of a tall pole. The word would go out that “the ball is up,” and Camden hack drivers and others would prepare for the arrival of the vessel at the steamboat wharf.
In 1889 a new wood-frame dwelling was built on the original foundation. A new barn and boathouse were constructed at the same time. Then, in the spring and summer of 1896, a new, 25-foot-tall, round brick lighthouse tower was built in place of the original tower.
The name of the island was changed to Curtis Island in 1934 in memory of Cyrus H.K. Curtis, publisher of the Saturday Evening Post and other publications. Curtis was a longtime summer resident and benefactor of Camden. He gave the town the land and building that became the Camden Yacht Club.
The light was automated in 1972. The Coast Guard keepers were removed and the Fresnel lens was replaced by a modern optic. The Town of Camden officially acquired the property, except for the lighthouse, during the following year. The light is now solar-powered and is an active aid to navigation maintained by the Coast Guard.
In November 1997, the people of Camden voted to allow the town to assume ownership of Curtis Island Light. Under the Maine Lights Program, created by congressional legislation and coordinated by the Island Institute of Rockland, the lighthouse officially became the property of the Town of Camden in 1998.
This is one of the prettiest light stations in Maine and it looks like its occulting green light will be welcoming boaters to Camden, the "Jewel of the Penobscot," for many years to come. The lighthouse is difficult to see from land, but it can be seen from all the schooners and excursion boats leaving Camden Harbor. You can also get a breathtaking, panoramic view of Camden Harbor by driving or hiking to the top of Mount Battie in Camden Hills State Park.
Directions: Take U.S. Route 1 to Camden. Turn onto Bayview Street and proceed past Laite Beech for about one-quarter mile. Right where the road dips to the left there is a well kept path on the left to a beautiful overlook. Afternoon light is best for photographs from this vantage point. Also, tours from the harbor pass the light. The island is open to the public for picnics and panoramic views of the harbor, the mountains, and the ocean.
Credits: I would like to thank Jeremy D'Entremont, webmaster of, http://www.newenglandlighthouses.net/, for sharing the above history. Jeremy is a speaker, author, historian, and tour guide who is widely recognized as the foremost authority on the lighthouses of New England. To view a story on him, go to, (Jeremy D'Entremont).