Cape Porpoise village is built around the shores of its
harbor, which a cluster of large and small islands protects.
On one of them stands the baby lighthouse of the coast. This
harbor -- or perhaps we should say harbors, since there are two
basins -- is remarkable for being the only one between Portsmouth
and the Saco...
-- Samuel Adams Drake, The Pine Tree Coast,
Porpoise was named by Capt. John Smith for a school of porpoises he saw
there. Cape Porpoise is a village of the town of Kennebunkport, a
popular tourist destination with a variety of shops and historic homes.
in August 1833 for $6,000, Goat Island Light was established
to help guide mariners into the sheltered harbor at Cape Porpoise,
a busy fishing center for many years. A 20-foot stone tower and
dwelling were built, and John Lord of Kennebunk became the first
keeper at a salary of $350 per year.
In 1859, the tower and house were rebuilt. The new tower received
a fifth-order Fresnel lens.
The first Goat Island Lighthouse,
U.S. Coast Guard photo
For many years, the tower was connected
to the 1 1/2-story house by a covered walkway. A boathouse was
added in 1905 and an oil house in 1907.
Dangerous rocks near Goat Island continued to claim vessels,
including 46 between 1865 and 1920. There was not one death in
all the wrecks, partly due to the keepers at Goat Island picking
up survivors near the island. In 1930, a schooner, the Margery
Austin, went aground near the lighthouse. Keeper James M. Anderson went out in rough seas and helped
refloat the vessel.
George Wakefield of Saco kept the light from 1887 to 1921,
the longest stint of any keeper at the station. Wakefield moonlighted
as a harbor pilot and fisherman.
M. Anderson was keeper in 1929 when the famous aviator Charles
Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, anchored their yacht
near Goat Island during their honeymoon. Anderson and his family
watched with binoculars as the Lindberghs moved around on the boat, and
the keeper told a reporter that the lights were turned off on the yacht
at 8:25 p.m.
Coast Guard Keeper Joseph Bakken, who lived on Goat Island
with his wife and three children, told historian Edward Rowe
Snow about his experience during a particularly severe storm
in 1947. The waves washed over the island and damaged the walkway
and the boat slip and ripped out a fence. In the commotion the
family forgot about their dog and her newborn puppies.
Later that night, Bakken went into the cellar and found several
feet of water. Floating in the seawater was the box that contained
the dog and her puppies. All were safe and sound and the keeper
brought them upstairs out of harm's way.
Julie Owyang, whose brother Mark Brooke was the Coast Guard's
officer in charge for two years in the 1970s, wrote the following
note in January 2009:
I came and spent two weeks with them Christmas of '73.
My Mom and Dad and I took the train up from western North Carolina
to Boston, and Mark picked us up there. What a treat! I'll never
forget the piles of lobster we had for dinner in the kitchen
with the table covered with newspapers. We had kept them alive
in the sink that had the saltwater faucet in it until it was
time to cook them.
The Coast Guard initially planned to automate Goat Island
Light in 1976. Local residents felt that having a keeper on Goat
Island was important to protect the island and lighthouse station
from vandalism, so the automation plans were postponed.
U.S. Coast Guard photo
Cain, a Minnesota native, was the Coast Guard’s officer in charge from
October 1975 until June 1978. Cain monitored the local buoys and
recorded the weather four times daily. He switched on the foghorn when
a lighted buoy almost two miles away was obscured by fog or storm.
lived on the island with his wife, Cathy, their baby, Martin J., and
two cats and a dog. In a 1976 interview, he said he and his wife had to
be more compatible than the average couple, but if they did have a
fight, “One goes to one side of the island and the other goes to the
other side and talks to the seagulls.”
The Cains were on the
island for the memorable blizzard of February 6–7, 1978, which folded
the covered walkway between the house and tower “like an accordion” and
swept it off the island. At the end of his stay, Cain said, “We’ve seen
a lot out here and for the most part we’ve enjoyed it, but we’re ready
Estee was the Coast Guard keeper 1978-80. He lived on the island with
his wife, Kris, and their two young children, Nathaniel and Michelle.
In an email in June 2011, Kris (Estee) Woodgate recalled life on the
such an adventure. We were quite young, early 20s, and from
Wisconsin so we had never seen such a beautiful place ever. We
were the ones who put in the new wooden walkway and cleaned up after
the storm of 1978. The island was quite a mess. We had lots
of company from Wisconsin; our relatives thought it was pretty
In 1990, Goat Island Light became the last lighthouse in Maine
to be automated. Its Fresnel lens was replaced by a modern 300mm
optic. Brad Culp, his wife Lisa and their two children Christian
and Dakota were Maine's last traditional lighthouse family. Lisa
Culp said of her eight-year old son Christian, "I think
it's something he'll carry with him all his life."
For a time during the presidency of George H. W. Bush, secret
service agents lived at Goat Island, which offers a good vantage
point on Bush's estate at Walker's Point. The island served as
an air-sea command center complete with a radar beacon.
In 1992, Goat Island was leased to the Kennebunkport
Conservation Trust. In 1998, under the Maine Lights Program,
the lighthouse officially became the property of the trust, which
since its founding in 1969 has protected 560 acres of town land
Scott Dombrowski, the island overseer for the trust, has spent
some summers on the island with his wife, Karen, and their two
sons, Eric and Gregory.
Dombrowski has been decorating Goat Island Light with
an elaborate display of Christmas lights each holiday season for years.
For about eight years, the caretaker on the island during most
of the year was Dick Curtis.
Curtis died in a boating accident near the island in May 2002
and is deeply missed by the members of the Kennebunkport Conservation
Trust and local residents.
Goat Island Light remains an active aid to navigation. The
lighthouse can be seen at a distance from the public wharf in
Cape Porpoise. Visitors with private boats are welcome to the
island and tour boats from Kennebunkport pass nearby.
The station's old fog bell was on display at the Kennebunkport
Historical Society on North Street for many years.
The old fog bell at the Kennebunkport
Inside the tower
In July 2009, the Kennebunkport
plans to restore the keeper's house to the 1950s period. Work began in
the spring of 2011 to rebuild the station's fog bell tower and the
covered walkway as part of a $380,000 restoration project. The project
was completed in the fall of 2011.
For more information about the preservation of Goat
Island Light, contact:
The reconstructed fog bell tower.
The station's fog bell, long on display at the Kennebunkport Historical
Society, was returned to the island and now hangs on the side of the
Here is a video of the celebration of the restoration on October 12, 2011:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyone copying this list onto another web site does so at their own
risk, as the list is always subject to updates and corrections.)
John Lord (1834-1841); Thatcher Hutchins (1841-1846); George
Fletcher (1846-1850); Samuel Grant (1850-1858); George Averill
(1858-1862); Joseph Huff (1862-1866); Stephen Illsley (1866-1873); Brad
Emerson (1873-1878); John Emerson (1878-1887); Leander White
(1887-1888); George Wakefield (1888-1921); Leo Allen (1921-1926); James
M. Anderson (1926-1939); Justin Foss, Sr. (1939-1942); Austin Lamont
Sinnett (c. 1940s?); Joseph Bakken (Coast Guard, 1946-1950); Robert
McWilliams (Coast Guard, 1950-1953); Bruce Jordan (Coast Guard,
1953-?); Robert L. Haley (Coast Guard, 1968-1970); Charles Howard Worrell (Coast Guard, 1970-1973); Mark Brooke
(Coast Guard, c. 1973-1975); Martin Cain (Coast Guard, 1975-1978); Mark
Estee (Coast Guard, 1978-1980), Larry L. Toler (Coast Guard, 1981-1983), Brad Culp (Coast Guard, ?-1990).