Camden Harbor is finely locked in between two jutting
points of land, one high, the other low, with a pretty little wooded
island deftly dropped in at the entrance. Negro Island is its name. The
harbor light stands on this island. Back of this, the mountains rise so
near at hand that the village spires are thrown up against them in
strong relief... Sails bathed in sunshine look like cloths of gold;
masts and ropes, like cobwebs borne along by the breeze.
-- Samuel Adams Drake, The Pine Tree Coast, 1891.
Camden and its harbor
from the top of Mount Battie in the Camden Hills
Camden's well-protected harbor helped the town
develop major lime-kiln and shipbuilding industries in the nineteenth
century. Today, thousands of tourists come to the town each year,
attracted by the combination of the handsome harbor, the beauty of
Penobscot Bay and the nearby Camden Hills, and a cluster of shops and
restaurants. The town was the setting for the movie Peyton Place,
and for the 1995 film Thinner, based on a Stephen King novel.
Curtis Island, a short distance offshore at the entrance to the harbor,
was long known as Negro Island. According to a 1922 article, it got is
name because an African-American cook, aboard the vessel that brought
the early settler James Richards to Camden in 1769, expressed his
admiration for the island as they sailed past. To aid local navigation,
Congress appropriated $4,500 for a lighthouse on the island on June 30,
1834. John Dorr of Boston sold the property to the federal government
|For a sum of $2,569, the contractor George Galt (or
Gault) built a
rubblestone lighthouse, 20 feet tall to the lantern deck, along withand
a stone dwelling with three rooms on the first floor and three small
rooms in the attic. Joseph Berry, a contractor from Georgetown, Maine,
installed eight oil lamps and accompanying 14-inch reflectors for $650.
Also involved in construction was the mason Oliver A. Andrews of
Rockport, who later served in the state legislature and as deputy
sheriff of Lincoln County.
The first Curtis Island
Lighthouse (U.S. Coast Guard photo)
fixed white light went into service in 1836, and Henry K. M Bower (or
Bowers) was the first keeper. Bower cultivated a garden and was given
permission to cut down trees on the island for wood. As was common at
lighthouses at that time, the keepers kept animals, including cows,
ducks, and chickens.
Obadiah Brown served two stints as keeper,
1845–49 and 1855–57. When Brown died in July 1857, a newspaper
reported, “Mr. Brown in building [a] wall upon the island injured his
stomach which resulted in his death.” Brown was “universally
respected,” according to the newspaper.
to an 1850 inspection report, the tower was leaky and in need of
repointing, and the whole establishment was in need of “immediate
attention.” The Lighthouse Board achieved an inexpensive
temporary fix in 1855, when the stone tower was encased in an octagonal
wooden outer sheath and shingled in an effort to stop the problem with
leaks. In the following year, a fourth-order Fresnel lens replaced the
eight lamps and reflectors. The dwelling was largely overhauled in
1867–68, and a new woodshed was added to the station.
years, the island served as a signal station for the large steamships
that passed by. When the keeper saw one of the passenger steamers
approaching, he hoisted a large ball to the top of a tall pole. The
word would go out that “the ball is up,” and Camden hack drivers and
others would prepare for the arrival of the vessel at the steamboat
In 1889, while Henry Wiley was keeper, a new wood-frame
dwelling was built on the original foundation. A local newspaper
light keeper’s new dwelling on Negro Island has just been completed. It
is in a modern and pleasing style of architecture and very convenient.
It contains six large, airy, well lighted rooms, beside numerous
closets, halls &c. Every floor in the house is of hard pine and the
whole house is built in the most thorough manner and of the best
materials. . . . Capt. Wiley, the courteous and efficient keeper and
Mrs. Wiley seem very much pleased with their new and comfortable home.
new barn and boathouse were constructed at the same time. Then, in the
spring and summer of 1896, a new, 25-foot-tall, round brick lighthouse
tower was built in place of the original tower. The old lens was
transferred to the new tower. The builder cited in a May 1896 newspaper
was a Mr. Hutchins of Bristol, Maine.
Wiley saw the new
lighthouse go into operation on July 30, but he died in early
September. That same month, a wooden fog bell tower with a 1,000-pound
bell and striking machinery was added to the station. For some years
prior to that, the keepers were provided with a small, hand-operated
bell that was used in times of poor visibility.
Plans for the present
lighthouse tower (U.S. Coast Guard)
The Arctic exploration schooner
Bowdoin passes Curtis Island, circa 1920s
its easy proximity to town and attractive setting, Negro Island was a
sought-after family light station. Several keepers served lengthy
stints on the island, including Henry Wiley (1882–96), Howard M. Gilley
(1896–1909), Aldiverd Alteverd A. Norton (1909–19), and Elmer Reed
(1919–38). Because the island was so easy to access, it also was a
favorite picnic spot for generations of area residents and visitors.
The name of the island was changed to Curtis Island in
1934 in memory of Cyrus H.K. Curtis, publisher of the Saturday
Evening Post and other publications. Curtis was a longtime summer
resident and benefactor of Camden. He gave the town the land and
building that became the Camden Yacht Club.
Six Coast Guardsmen were stationed on the island during
World War II. It was reported that the men were treated like sons by
Myrick Morrison, keeper of the light at the time.
In 1970, word spread that the Coast Guard was planning
to auction the light station, except for the tower. Three Camden
residents traveled to Philadelphia for a meeting and managed to
convince the Coast Guard that the station should go to the Town of
Camden rather than a private party.
Keeper Myrick Morrison,
courtesy of North Haven Historical Society
The light was automated in 1972. The Coast Guard keepers were
removed and the Fresnel lens was replaced by a modern optic. The Town
of Camden officially acquired the property, except for the lighthouse,
during the following year. The light is now solar-powered and is an
active aid to navigation maintained by the Coast Guard.
1980, Garrett Elliot "Connie" Conover, Jr., and his wife, Deedee
Conover, began a long stint as the caretakers of the island and light
station. The island was the scene of a highly unusual event in
September 1993. Deedee Conover saw what she thought was a sick or
injured dolphin come ashore. The animal was still alive, and Conover
said she felt as if it was trying to talk to her.
The creature soon died, and an autopsy performed by Allied Whale found
that it was a 13-foot immature female beaked whale. There have been
only sixteen beaked whales ever found in North America, and six in
Europe. There has never been a confirmed sighting at sea of a beaked
A fog bell is on
display in the public parking lot at Camden Harbor.
In November 1997, the people of Camden voted to allow the town
to assume ownership of Curtis Island Light. Under the Maine Lights
Program, created by congressional legislation and coordinated by the
Island Institute of Rockland, the lighthouse officially became the
property of the Town of Camden in 1998.
Caretaker Connie Conover
died at the age of 81 in October 2010. Just a few months earlier, he
had worked closely with the Coast Guard in the planning of the
repainting of the keeper's house. The project was completed in
This is one of the prettiest light stations in Maine and it
looks like its occulting green light will be welcoming boaters to
Camden, the "Jewel of the Penobscot," for many years to come. The
lighthouse is difficult to see from land, but it can be seen from all
the schooners and excursion boats leaving Camden Harbor. You can also
get a breathtaking, panoramic view of Camden Harbor by driving or
hiking to the top of Mount Battie in Camden Hills State Park.
For more information, contact:
A view of Curtis Island from the top
of Mount Battie
Town of Camden
P.O. Box 1207
Camden, Maine 04843
- Keepers: (This
list is a work in progress. If you have any information on the keepers
of this lighthouse, I'd love to hear from you. You can email me at email@example.com.
Anyone copying this list onto another web site does so at their own
risk, as the list is always subject to updates and corrections.)
- Henry. K. M. Bower (1836-1841); Ephraim S. Fly (1841-1845);
Obadiah Brown (1845-1849 and 1855-1857); William Prince (or Price)
(1849-1853); Ebenezer M. Carelton (1853-1855); Andrew M. Annis
(1857-1861); Isaiah Barbour (1861-1872 and 1873); Josuha Bramhall
(1872-1873 and 1873-1879); Fred D. Aldus (1879-1882); Henry Wiley
(1882-1896); Howard M. Gilley (1896-1909); Aldiverd A. Norton
(1909-1919); Elmer Reed (1919-1938); Myrick Morrison (1938-1950);
Martin Jordan (Coast Guard lookout during WWII, 1942-43); Gordon Bruce
(Coast Guard lookout during WWII); Joe Ash (Coast Guard lookout during
WWII); Ted Keller (Coast Guard lookout during WWII); Betts Kiesel
(Coast Guard lookout during WWII); BM2 Carroll A. Hallowell (1950);
Benjamin C. Stockbridge (1950-1951); Albert F. Osgood (1951-1959);
Melvin Kirchoff (Coast Guard, ?-?); BM1 Jean B. C. DuBois (DuBios?)
(Coast Guard, 1959-1960); EN1 Richard Kwapiszewski (Coast Guard, 1960);
EN2 Francis X. McCarthy (Coast Guard, 1960-1962); BM1 James H. Perry
(Coast Guard 1962-1964); EN2 John R. French (Coast Guard, 1964-1967?);
Allen Jon "Jack" Hamel (Coast Guard, 1967-1968); Thomas L.
Christie (Coast Guard, c. 1968-1970); EM 2 Clifton W. McKenney, Jr.
(Coast Guard, 1970-1971); FA Roy Fruschertz (Coast Guard automation
crew, c.1971-1972); EM1 John Gustin (Coast Guard automation crew,