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Mount Desert Rock Lighthouse

mount desert rock light

Mount Desert Rock, Maine
Built in 1829



 

 

Location:

Mount Desert Rock is located 26 miles away from Mount Desert Island in Acadia. It is the most remote lighthouse in New England. It is a bird sanctuary, so public is not allowed on the island, and there are no boat tours out to the lighthouse.

Latitude: 43° 58' 06" N
Longitude: 68° 07' 42" W

 

Historic Stories:

Mount Desert Rock Lighthouse was built in 1829 to aid mariners away from this rocky ledge into the Frenchman Bay and Blue Hill Bay, this is the most isolated lighthouse in New England because of its location 26 miles away from mainland. The island is merely 600 yards long and 200 yards in width.

The first lighthouse was a wooden tower and was later replaced by the current 58-foot conical shaped granite tower in 1857. Each year, any soil was washed away from the fall and winter storms, and each year, the keepers at the lighthouse would bring soil to plant flower and vegetable gardens as an annual ritual.

mount desert light old keepers bldg

Mount Desert Rock Lighthouse
Old Keeper's Building
Photo courtesy of US Coast Guard

In the early 1880’s the schooner Helen and Mary carrying a load of granite started to break up during a storm near the island, the captain and his wife, who brought a baby girl, perished in the storm. The one surviving mate, who’s sister happened to be the captain’s wife, found a package drifting by the wreckage he was clinging on to, which turned out to be the baby girl wrapped inside. Both survived the ordeal and were picked up the next day by the lighthouse crew. 

During a fierce gale storm In December of 1902, the tugboat Astral, which was towing a barge, ran aground on Mount Desert Rock. Keeper Fred Robbins and his assistant were able to throw a line onto the craft and pull 17 of the eighteen-crew members to safety; the 18th crew member had frozen to death in the freezing temperatures. The barge that was being towed drifted to Rockland with several crewmen aboard, and was later rescued. The keeper would describe for many years afterwards that the ice was over a foot thick in the tug’s pilothouse windows from so many days of freezing temperatures before the incident occurred.

Lighthouse historian Edward Rowe Snow wrote that the island "seemed a part of another world." Snow was the "Flying Santa" at Christmas, after flying with and taking over the duties of the original Flying Santa, Captain William H. Wincapaw.

During the 1940s and 1950s he flew along the coast dropping Christmas presents for isolated light keepers and their families. Of Mount Desert Rock he said, "I have made several flights over this far-distant isle of the deep, and can never overcome a feeling of uneasiness while circling above the rocky ledge in a small land plane."

mount desert rock 1892 construction

Mt Desert Rock Lighthouse
with 1892 Construction
Photo Courtesy of US Coast Guard

In 1931 generators were brought to the island to provide electricity. 

In October 6, 1962, Hurricane Daisy swept away the walkway, fuel tanks, and other structures, while the three Coast Guardsmen spent the terrifying night in the swaying tower and survived. After the storm they found a 4-ton boulder on top of the boathouse near the lighthouse.

In the early 1970’s a helicopter pad was built and was later washed away in a violent storm. In the late 1970’s the lighthouse was leased as a whale watching station to Bar Harbor’s College of the Atlantic.

In 1985 a new lantern was installed and the college provided some restoration work of the lighthouse over the years. Today the station’s engine room contains survival gear for any shipwrecked or lost mariners who may find themselves on this isolated remote location.

 

New England Lighthouses

 

Places to Visit:

Walk around the resort town of Bar Harbor and its specialty shops and wonderful restaurants, or take in some of the many sightseeing land and ocean tours offered in and outside the region. There are not only lighthouse cruises, but deep-sea fishing, whaling, and sailing excursions as well. Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company offers daily whale watch tours, lighthouse tours to many of Acadia’s beacons, along with nature, lobster fishing, and sunset tours. Whale watching and some deep sea fishing boats may sometimes pass by the lighthouse where you can see from a distance on their whale watching cruises but it is a gamble. The whale watching boat travels where the whales go.

Due to its open remote location, the lighthouse and buildings are ravaged by the constant New England storms and there always seems to be work needed for repairs. The stone beacon tower is fitted for measuring storms, etc. It provides insight to the desolation and isolation the keepers felt so far away from the mainland.

As the island is part of a wildlife refuge for protected species of birds, you can sometimes hitch a ride with Bar Harbor's College of the Atlantic, which may sometimes go out to the lighthouse to check on these bird populations. You want to be sure and sincere that you will only go where they tell you as the island is not open to the public, and you don't want to disturb any nests. When I was allowed, we also went to the top of the tower. The island is small and very rocky, but 26 miles out it has its own sense of beauty and calmness about it. if you can go, it is a very refreshing experience.

 

 

Contact Info:
Bar Harbor’s College of the Atlantic

If you phone the Bar Harbor College of the Atlantic, and discuss your honest reasons for taking photos of the lighthouse, during an opportune time when they may be heading out to the island, you may be allowed to join them as they head out to the island and take pictures of the lighthouse. The island is a bird sanctuary so heed to their requests to stay around certain areas of the island away from nests if you are allowed to go. Be wary this is at least a two-hour trip (one way) out 26 miles and is not a tour. Please provide a generous compensation for their efforts.

 

 

 

My 300-page book (with over 360 images), Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Northern New England: New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont, published by Schiffer Publishing, provides human interest stories from each of the 76 lighthouses, along with plenty of coastal attractions and tours near each beacon, and contact info to plan your special trips.

In the book, you'll find more details on the story of the miracle baby rescue at Mount Desert Rock Lighthouse.

Look inside!

book northern New England lighthouses and attractions

 

 

 

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