Two guardians at the gate keep Burnt Island Light burning for another 200 years
The way Elaine Jones, Burnt Island Lighthouse keeper and Education Director for Maine’s Department of Marine Resources puts it, “This light has provided aid to mariners for nearly 200 years. It’s time we gave something back to the light.”
Burnt Island Light is on Down East magazine’s Great Maine Scavenger Hunt list and for good reason. For the past 19 years, Elaine and the Keepers of Burnt Island Light, a non-profit group of passionate and energized volunteers, have sustained the 1821 light tower, the lighthouse keeper’s cottage, the Education Center and the five-acre island as a priceless resource for schoolchildren and summer visitors alike.
Each week on Mondays and Thursdays in July and August, a family of re-enactors in the Living Lighthouse Program portray life as it was on the island during the 1950s, depicting Keeper Joseph Muise, his wife Annie and their children living and working in the house, now restored to its 1950s guise. The island also welcomes daily visitors who arrive by water taxi or kayak to explore the natural history walk, the beach, woods, meadow and seawall. On Sunday mornings in July and August take a Pancake Paddle to Burnt Island between 7 and 10 am. Each $10 ticket goes to the restoration effort. And on Wednesday and Thursday mornings, from 7 to 8 am, Elaine gives a guided tour of the island and its light to guests who arrive from Spruce Point Inn on the inn’s motorlaunch Bright Line.
But there is so much more to the story of Boothbay Harbor’s most historic lighthouse and the tenacity of the keepers from Joshua Cushing who lit the oil lamps for the first time on November 9, 1821 to today. It’s a story held deep in the granite blocks, cut from the island itself to form the 30-foot tall tower (that puts the light 61 feet above mean sea level) and in the hearts of the Keepers who now strive to raise the funds necessary to keep the light burning for another 200 years. Spruce Point Inn is a part of that story, too.
Last month, an art auction at Spruce Point raised more than $33,500 – enough, combined with donations from last year’s fund-raising efforts, to underwrite the cost of restoring the iconic white tower. Though it gleams through the colors of the day’s passage like a giant sundial gnomon situated directly opposite Spruce Point Inn, the rubble stone granite beneath its stucco exterior has lost its mortar and the lantern room and spiral stairs have rusted. The interior brick liner is in need of repair. Thanks to Don Demers and fellow nationally-known and local painters who have made Burnt Island Light their artist’s model for a dozen years, the sale of works at the auction and on the Burnt Island Light Trail at the Chamber and local galleries (Gleason Fine Art in Boothbay and Down East Gallery in Edgecomb) help underwrite the restoration.
After that, there’s work to be done on the exterior of the lighthouse keeper’s cottage whose clapboards are held by paint and wood putty, and on installing a solarization system to take the island’s Education Center self-sufficiently off the grid. The entire project is halfway to its $200,000 goal and donations are always welcomed by the 501c3 non-profit Keepers of Burnt Island Light. Every dollar goes to preserving Maine’s oldest ‘original’ lighthouse. As Elaine observed, none of the funds for Burnt Island’s operation, maintenance or restoration have ever come from government taxpayers’ dollars, it all needs to come from individuals who want to help realize the goal in time for the 200th birthday. “This is the only lighthouse that is truly a public one.”
Burnt Island Light gives Spruce Point Inn its iconic “Maine lobsters and lighthouses” view. The innkeepers’ children have joined the “Muise Family” as costumed role-players over the years; and Elaine’s children have worked their charm on guests at Spruce Point Inn. Each family’s heart lies in the place known as Boothbay Harbor and in the light that stands guard.
They say that special places are guarded by twin spirits: dragons, lions and mythical beasts. At the entrance to Boothbay Harbor, two such spirits — the hospitality of Spruce Point Inn and the guiding light of Burnt Island — stand guard on opposite sides of the pass. Beacons in the night.