|The Village on Monhegan Island|
The first permanent European settlement was established in 1619. Before that, Monhegan Island was long used by local Indians who gave it its name, which means "island of the sea." The island's history was turbulent for several centuries. In the late 1400s, Gaspar Cortereal of Spain landed at Monhegan and took 57 Indians to sell as slaves, but his ship was apparently wrecked on the return voyage. During King Philip's War in 1676, settlers took refuge on the island and were eventually relocated to other locations along the coast. In 1689, Baron Castine captured the English settlement for the French.
For many voyagers coming across the Atlantic, Monhegan was the first sight of land. By the early 1800s, trade in the area was increasing. In 1822, Congress and President James Monroe authorized the building of a lighthouse on one of Monhegan's highest points for $3,000. The light went into operation two years later. The first lighthouse was a 30-foot conical stone tower. Thomas B. Seavey, the first keeper, remained at Monhegan for 10 years.
In 1855, a fog bell station was established at Manana Island, just west of Monhegan. The 2,500-pound bell was replaced by a Daboll trumpet in 1870. This signal still wasn't loud enough, so a steam whistle was installed two years later. Finally, in 1877, a powerful first-class Daboll trumpet was installed at Manana Island.
|The Manana Island Fog Station|
An 1886 book, All Among the Lighthouses by Mary Bradford Crowninshield, described the view from Monhegan Island Light: "Way off there to the north spread out the woods and forests of Maine, miles and miles each way, as far as the eye could penetrate; and out there to the west , the south, the east, stretched that limitless blue expanse, heaving, rolling, sparkling, dotted with its flaky signs of enterprise and commerce, which dipped and bowed to the heaving sea, some close, some far away, others showing a dim outline on the distant streak which limits the boundary of our vision."
Stevens told the Boston Globe about life at Monhegan Island Lighthouse in 1904: "We are satisfied here because it's a good place. Why shouldn't we be satisfied? This is one of the loveliest spots on the great round earth. What do we want better than this? And it's all ours! We can look at it all when we want to, and breathe this good air, and be free and well and happy as anybody can be in this world."
An 1857 keeper's house was torn down in 1922. The station remained staffed by civilian keepers until 1956, when the Coast Guard took over. Beginning when the light was automated in 1959, the Coast Guard keepers at the Manana Island Fog Signal Station were given the additional duty of keeping an eye on the light at Monhegan.
During a 1981 snowstorm, two Coast Guardsmen were crossing the harbor when their boat capsized. They were rescued by the island's harbormaster and a selectman.
In 1962, the lighthouse grounds and buildings, except the lighthouse itself, were sold to the Monhegan Associates. A museum was opened in 1968 in the 1874 keeper's house, focusing on the island's rich history and wildlife.
In 1985 the property, except for the lighthouse, was transferred to the Monhegan Historical and Cultural Museum Association. Under the Maine Lights Program, the lighthouse became the property of the association in 1998. The association has reconstructed the 1857 assistant keeper's house to serve as a museum for their art collection. It is the first time a keeper's house has been reconstructed in Maine.
Monhegan has a long tradition as an inspiration to artists; the distinguished list includes Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, George Bellows and Jamie Wyeth. The association has also had the covered walkway to the tower reconstructed in recent years.
In 2006, the Monhegan Museum was awarded a grant from Heritage Preservation for an assessment of the buildings. Problems found in the lighthouse tower included deteriorating pointing in the exterior granite, leaking and rusting in the lantern, derioration of iron surfaces, peeling lead paint on the interior brick walls and iron stairs, and more. In 2009, the J. B. Leslie Company was contracted to carry out the restoration of the tower. At this writing in late September 2009, most of the work has been completed.
The light was converted to solar power in 1995 and is still an active aid to navigation. Monhegan Island can be reached by ferry from Port Clyde, New Harbor, and Boothbay Harbor. Reaching the lighthouse requires a moderate uphill walk.
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).