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Boon Island Lighthouse

Boon Island lighthouse

York, Maine
Built in 1811



Boon Island, about nine miles from the York coastline. Can only be viewed by boat.

Latitude: 43° 07' 18" N
Longitude: 70° 28' 36" W


Historic Stories:

Being a tiny desolated island or rocks, Boon Island became the point of many stories of shipwrecks, one especially regarding the Nottingham Galley in the winter of 1710, where the survivors had to struggle on the rock for three weeks to survive by resulting to cannibalism. In fact, the name “boon” came from packed food and clothing called boon that fishermen placed on the island for those mariners who may have found themselves shipwrecked on the rocky island.

A wooden tower was constructed as an unlit beacon in 1799. It survived for nearly five years until it was washed away in a great storm of October 9, 1804, and was replaced by a stone beacon in 1805. The construction was not without tragedy as three of the workers on the tower had their boat capsize from a rogue wave on the way to the mainland, drowning them.

With the stone tower falling into decay, a new lighted 32-foot stone tower was built in 1811, and finally federally established that year. A storm in 1831 washed away most of the lighthouse and another tower was authorized to be built as a 49-foot lighted tower, 69 feet above mean high water.

When the first lighted lighthouse was built in 1811, its lonely desolation and constant over pouring of the waves, as it was only 14 feet above sea level, caused the first two keepers to resign within weeks of being installed there. Eliphalet Grover, the fourth keeper who started in 1816, managed to stay on the island for the next 22 years. He passed the time playing his fiddle.

In 1846, the schooner Caroline shipwrecked on the island during a storm and Keeper Nathaniel Baker saved the entire crew. He was later dismissed in 1849 due to "political reasons" in being outspoken against some of the government practices. This was usually the case for some keepers in those times, regardless of their heroic deeds.

early Boon Island light

Early Boon Island Light
Courtesy US Coast Guard

In 1854, Congress authorized still another lighted tower, which was finished in 1855 and still stands. The stone tower, built of granite, is 133 feet high.

Boon Island lighthouse is the tallest beacon in New England.

William W. Williams, spent 27 years from the 1890’s to World War I as keeper on Boon Island. The keeper used to bring barrels of dirt to plant flowers and vegetables on the rock, as the constant storms would simply wash everything away over the months. His most famous rescue involved one of the coldest days of December, with temperatures below zero with howling winds. Crewmembers of the yawl boat, the Goldhunter were caught in the waves trying to get to the island for safety. The keeper and has assistants managed to get the frozen survivors to shore safely.

One Thanksgiving, Williams and his assitants were stranded on the island without much food due to stormy weather. On Thanksgiving eve, eight ducks, attracted by the light during a storm, flew into the lantern and killed themselves. Williams and his assistants were able to have quite a delayed feast, as their families on the mainland had a bleak holiday meal of boiled potatoes and bread.

Flying Santa Edward Rowe Snow Nearly Crashes By Boon Island Light

As a tradition that was started in 1929 by Captain Wincapaw, where many lighthouse keepers and their families were the recipients of special gifts all over the country as a thank you for their service by what was called the Flying Santa, the tradition was continued by historian Edward Rowe Snow. Snow hired pilots, as he was not one himself, and during one of his drops he had quite a scare when two packages which were tied to a rope lodged themselves around the tail of the airplane near Boon Island Lighthouse in York, Maine. The experienced pilot he had hired kept his cool and they were able to make an emergency landing safely nearby in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The rope and bundles were untied, and the plane took off to continue their journey dropping gifts for keepers and their families.

Haunted Sightings Over the Years at Boon Island

Over the years, the constant cold and rogue waves that would often encompass the island, and the constant thrashing of these waves against the lighthouse kept its desolate location an erie sight. Many keepers and mariners have reported seeing the ghost of a woman on the rocks amongst other paranormal activities and sounds. There is a legend of a keeper drowning and his new bride going insane, trying to keep the light burning with his corpse at the bottom of the tower.

In the early 1970’s, a Coast Guard keeper and fellow crewman went off fishing a short distance from the island when they noticed they had drifted too far from the island to make it back in time to turn the light on before dark. Although no one was on the island, the light was turned on and glowing brightly by the time the keepers returned.

sunset by boon island light

Note: For more intricate details about this haunted story or the "Flying Santas" story mentioned earlier, select the appropriate links at the top of the page to be directed to my Lighthouse Stories section.


During the great Blizzard of 1978, as the gale force winds forced huge waves to crash and cover over the island with blinding snow, three Coast Guard keepers were clinging to the spiral staircase inside the tower that was swaying in the storm. They survived that day and were rescued by helicopter the following the day during a lull in the blizzard. They were the last lighthouse keepers to staff the tower. The buildings were destroyed from the storm and later the Coast Guard had them burned in the 1980's. Only the automated tower remains today. The original 2nd order Fresnel lens is on permanent display at the Kittery Historical and Naval Museum.

The Republic of Boon Island 

In May 2000, the U.S. Coast Guard leased Boon Island Lighthouse to the American Lighthouse Foundation (ALF) for the restoration and preservation of the historic isolated beacon. In a humorous effort to raise funds to restore and maintain the remote lighthouse, they set up a fictional lighthouse nation, declaring its independence as The Republic of Boon Island on April 1, 2003, April Fools Day, accepting donations as "bribes" for the new "government", and jokingly promising to build a casino on the tiny island. Citizenship was also available to anyone who was willing to pay a $25.00 fee. The efforts suceeded in getting donations needed to help restore the beacon, and to provide a gentle reminder of the seriousness of funds needed to help restore decaying lighthouses nationwide.

Schooner in the distance to Boon Island light



Places to Visit Nearby:

York is an affluent community with beautiful Victorian homes, beaches, and organizes many events year round. In the heart of York Village, lies the Museums of Old York, operated by the Old York Historical Society. The Museums consist of nine historic buildings including The Old Jail (Gaol), the nation’s oldest royal prison, where the jail keeper’s family lived above the prisoners’ dungeon. Other buildings include the 1834 Remick Barn, Jefferd’s Tavern, a true colonial tavern dating back to 1750, and an old schoolhouse.

Mount Agamenticus nearby is an easy hike on this “big hill” to enjoy mountaintop views of the ocean and surrounding area, and the occasional concerts that happen there during the summer months. Just follow Mountain Road from Route 1.

Boon Island lighthouse can only be viewed by boat and is not accessible to the public. The Friends Of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, in cooperation with Granite State Whale Watch, has a special lighthouse cruise in September that takes visitors around Boon Island and four other local lighthouses. They may also provide a couple sunset lighthouse cruises to view Portsmouth Harbor light, Whaleback light, and White Island light in June. Boat leaves out of Rye Marina in NH.

Cove Runner Coastline Cruises and New England Eco Adventures, mentioned below, provide frequent trips out to Boon Island lighthouse during the summer.


Contact Info:
American Lighthouse Foundation
P.O. Box 565
Rockland, ME 04841
Phone: (207) 594-4174


Boon Island Lighthouse on a sunny day


Local Boat Tours

Boat cruises mentioned below offer different cruises. Each offers specific lighthouse cruises and may also pass lighthouses during charters, fishing tours, and other types of excursions.

New England Eco Adventures
They provide tours on a fast, low to the water, Navy S.E.A.L Rigid Inflatable Boat (R.I.B) that glides over the water. They offer tours along the southern Maine coastline with narrated tours to four lighthouses, which include Nubble light, Goat Island light, Wood Island light, and out to Boon Island lighthouse. They also offer a unique guided walk about tour around Goat Island lighthouse and grounds, a land/sea adventure cruise, a 1-hr speedy thrill ride along 20 miles of coastline, and a 3-hour sunset whale watching cruise.

8 Western Ave
Kennebunk, ME 04043
(207) 502-8040


Cove Runner Coastline Cruises
Private intimate trips (up to 6 passengers) along the southern coast of Maine to destinations of your choice, in a smooth riding 23’ power catamaran. Cooler (BYOB), Bluetooth sound system, comfortable seating and a full-sized head provided. Enjoy seal sightings and other wildlife. Departs out of Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, Maine.

Captain Bob Spencer
(207) 216-2844



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.

There is also a segment of stories of haunted lighthouses, of which Boon Island is considered haunted by the distraught wife of a keeper that died on the island.

Look inside!

book northern New England lighthouses and local coastal attractions





New England Lighthouses: Famous Shipwrecks, Rescues & Other Tales

This image-rich book contains over 50 stories of famous shipwrecks and rescues around New England lighthouses, and also tales of hauntings that occurred.

You'll find more extensive details and imagery on stories of the Nottingham Galley shipwreck, the "Flying Santas," and the hauntings of Boon Island Light.

You'll find this book and others I've written from the publisher Schiffer Books, or in many fine bookstores like Barnes and Noble.




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