The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board for 1890 recorded that "the old narrow and leaky stone deck and dilapidated lantern were replaced by an iron deck, 14 feet 6 inches in diameter, with iron railing and modern fourth-order lantern, thus putting the tower in excellent condition for many years' service.
The report for the following year noted that the keeper's dwelling was also in need of significant repairs. "The keeper's dwelling, built when the station was established in 1853, was designed to be an excellent one, having 8-inch brick walls separated by a 2-inch air space from a 4-inch brick lining and having interior 4-inch brick partitions. It is, however, understood to have been built by contract, and so little mortar was used that many of the joints do not appear to have been filled. In driving rainstorms they received large quantities of water which keep the walls very damp and almost incessantly exudes moisture into the dwelling. The dampness of the dwelling is further increased by the character of the site, which is underlaid by a sloping ledge over which the water flows, saturating the soil surrounding the dwelling and keeping its cellar wet. From these causes the dwelling is unhealthy and it is unsuitable for occupancy in so severe a climate. It is claimed that on this account five deaths have occurred since its erection in 1853.” The brick dwelling was torn down and replaced with the present wooden dwelling in 1895. A stone oil house was added in 1903, and a boathouse and boat slip were added in 1904.
On February 17, 1911, the lighthouse tender Lilac stopped at the Heron Neck Lighthouse, where Captain Sterling went ashore to find the keeper’s widow and his son in charge of the station. The keeper had just passed away the previous day.
Heron’s Neck is the only lighthouse known to have been equipped with a “fog-bark.” This was provided by Nemo, a Newfoundland dog that was trained by its owner, keeper Captain Levi Farnham, to bark in response to ship whistles sounding nearby on foggy nights. The Captain named the dog after the famous Captain Nemo in the Jules Verne stories.
Although he was not listed in the government lighthouse equipment rolls, and received no budget appropriation for his maintenance and upkeep, for over three years Nemo provided an important service to ships passing by Heron Neck station. Whenever the fog rolled in, Nemo understood it was time for him to go on duty, and he faithfully trotted out to the extreme end of the neck to wait and listen for ships’ horns.
Since sound carries well over water, and even better in a fog, the dog’s sharp ears heard ships from far enough away to be able to provide them with sufficient warning. During fair weather, boats came close to shore sounding their horns, and when Nemo came running down to greet them, threw him bits of meat and other treats as thanks for his work.
On April 19, 1989, a fire broke out in the keeper’s dwelling, which had been empty since the station was automated in 1982. Firefighters from Vinalhaven rushed to the scene and hauled two pumps up to the lighthouse to get seawater up the steep hill for fighting the fire. A Coast Guard vessel also arrived on scene to fight the fire, but the flames broke through the dwelling's eves, consumed the roof and caused extensive damage before the fire could be brought under control. The light tower was saved by a Halon fire suppression system.
An investigation into the cause of the fire concluded that an electrical short in the kitchen area was the likely source. Lacking funds to restore the dwelling, the Coast Guard eventually proposed demolishing the structure. Strong public opposition to that plan sparked a discussion of alternative solutions. The Island Institute participated in this process and soon stepped in and offered to assume title to the lighthouse, auxiliary buildings, and the surrounding ten acres in exchange for restoring and maintaining the keeper's dwelling.
The outcome of the debate over the Heron Neck Lighthouse resulted in the preservation of the dwelling, but this success was tempered by the unnecessary deterioration that occurred during the four years that elapsed between the time of the fire and the signing of an interim lease agreement. Based on this experience, the Island Institute proposed a streamlined process be developed for transferring en masse a large number of Maine lighthouses to deserving non-profits, educational institutions or government entities. The result was the creation of the Maine Lights Program, which over a two year period from 1996 to 1998 enabled the transfer of 32 lighthouses to owners capable of preserving the structures for the benefit of the public.
The Island Institute entered into a lease agreement with a private partnership which was chosen for their previous offshore island historical restoration experience. In exchange for a multi-year lease on the property, the partnership funded the restoration on Heron Neck.
Heron Neck Lighthouse remains an active aid to navigation. It was recently purchased and is being restored by the new owners. They ask that their privacy be respected and that viewers not come ashore on the island by the lighthouse. The station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.