Prominent Whitehead Island, with its bleached, rugged granite shores, was a vital seamark for mariners long before its lighthouse was established. The 70-acre island marks the southwestern entrance to the important Muscle Ridge Channel in Penobscot Bay. The channel runs between the mainland and a dangerous archipelago of numerous islands and reefs, with Owls Head at its northeastern end. It was the favored route for the vessels that carried granite and other exports from local harbors.
Congress appropriated $7,000 for a light station on Whitehead in March 1803. After an appropriation of $6,000 in March 1831, the tower and dwelling were rebuilt. In 1852, a new 41-foot lighthouse was built along with a new wooden keeper's house. The light was automated in 1982 and the keepers were removed. The light was converted to solar power in 2001.
Whitehead Light was included in the Maine Lights Program authorized by Congress and coordinated by the Island Institute of Rockland. In December 1997, the Maine Lighthouse Selection Committee announced that Whitehead Light would be transferred from the Coast Guard to Pine Island Camp, a historic boys' camp situated on Pine Island in Great Pond of the Belgrade Lakes. 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.