Mark Island Lighthouse
Deer Island Thorofare Lighthouse
Say lighthouse and an iconic image suffused with the romance of the sea invariably comes to mind. But lighthouses weren’t always perceived merely as romantic symbols of an idyllic, if isolated, life. In fact, they were the beacons by which many a ship was saved from destruction on a rocky or otherwise inhospitable coastline. In their earliest form, these life-saving devices were nothing more than bonfires burning on dangerous shores.
The earliest commissioned lighthouse in America was Boston Lighthouse, erected in 1719, during the colonial era. Not until 1791, under George Washington’s authorization, was Portland Head Light built, becoming the first lighthouse in America under federal government ownership. So important were lighthouses to seafaring commerce and transportation, in fact, that one of the earliest pieces of legislation passed by Congress – in 1789 – dealt with erecting and maintaining lighthouses. From approximately 12 lighthouses built during the Colonial era to some 29,000 by 1940, these navigational aids have long been indispensable to mariners and pleasure boaters alike.
Over the years, the lighthouse service has been under various government jurisdictions, finally resting with the United States Coast Guard. When the USCG decided to relinquish control of many of the lighthouses under its aegis, however, a number of them passed into private hands or deteriorated beyond repair. In Maine, an effort was launched by the Island Institute to try to save as many as possible. Through the Institute’s efforts US Congressional legislation was passed just in time, transferring ownership of 36 Maine lighthouses to responsible local groups, thus ensuring their preservation.
For Deer Islanders the most noteworthy of these is our own Mark Island Light, officially known on nautical charts as the Deer Island Thorofare Lighthouse, which Marnie Reed Crowell describes as “the light at our front door.” In 1998, some 140 years after its light beamed for the first time, Mark Island Light entered another chapter in it ownership when it passed into the hands of Island Heritage Trust through the efforts of a coalition of concerned individuals and organizations. To highlight the acquisition of the light, Crowell published a comprehensive and fascinating history of the light, its keepers and operational details, including such information as a description of the lens and the horn, for example, as well as a record of the heroic keepers who lived the isolated life we tend today to romanticize. Included in Crowell’s affectionate history are vintage and contemporary photographs and drawings and excerpts from journals, letters and newspapers.
Donate to the Restoration Fund.
Purchase Mark Island Light by Marnie Reed Crowell.