New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide
Perkins Island Light
Georgetown, Maine
Perkins Island Light main page / History / Bibliography / Cruises / Photos / Postcards

History

The light stations established at Seguin and Pond islands near the mouth of the Kennebec River in 1796 and 1821, respectively, while a boon to maritime commerce, did nothing to aid vessels mariners once they entered the river.

In 1892 alone, a total of 3,137 vessels were counted entering the river, excluding the large passenger steamships that plied the river daily. The steamers Kennebec and Sagadahoc each made 96 round trips from Gardiner, Maine, to Boston that year. Other steamers traveled between Bath, Augusta, Boothbay Harbor, Popham Beach and other destinations, carrying a total of 232,150 passengers.

For years, the Kennebec Steamboat Company maintained lanterns at turning points and other difficult parts of the river. In spite of these small lights, according to the Lighthouse Board, on dark or foggy nights it was “sometimes impossible to tell where the water ends and the shore begins.”


In 1892, the Lighthouse Board asked Congress for $16, 725 for the establishment of several more substantial aids to navigation, including a "fixed red lens-lantern light" with a fog bell on the southwest point of Perkins Island, on the east side of the river, about two miles from its mouth.

The request was repeated in 1893 and in December 1894, when Representative Dingley of Maine introduced a bill calling for $17,000 for the new river aids. Congress approved the $17,000 appropriation in early 1895.

Construction was carried out by J. B. White of Auburn, Maine, and the light went into service in February 1898. The station originally consisted of a 23-foot octagonal wooden lighthouse tower, a one-and-one-half -story, six-room, wood-frame keeper’s house with six rooms, and a barn. A cistern in the cellar of the house held 2,350 gallons of water for the keeper and his family. The light went into service in February 1898.

A boathouse and boatslip were added in 1901. In 1902, a pyramidal wood-frame bell tower, with a 1,000-pound fog bell, was added, and the light was upgraded from a lens-lantern to a fifth-order Fresnel lens. The last major change to the station was the addition of a small oil house for the storage of kerosene and another outbuilding in 1906.


aerial view of lighthouse station
U.S. Coast Guard photo

Life on Perkins Island was generally peaceful, but there was some occasional excitement. J. W. Haley, the keeper from 1911 to 1927, was praised in 1916 for having saved a man whose rowboat was swamped. The boat was filled with lumber, and Haley saved that, too.

On June 16, 1931, Keeper Eugene Osgood left the light station to pick up his mail in Phippsburg. He happened to see a man struggling in the currents in a sluiceway. The man had been thrown from his rowboat as he tried to cross the sluiceway. Thinking quickly, Osgood launched his own boat and soon rescued the drowning man. For his trouble the keeper received an official commendation from the Secretary of Commerce.

On another occasion, Osgood took in a party of 19 when their boat grounded near the island during a thunderstorm. The keeper's wife fed the hungry and grateful group.

Charles L. Knight, a lighthouse keeper and journalist, was quoted in Robert Thayer Sterling's 1935 book Lighthouses of the Maine and the Men Who Keep Them:

My first station was on the Kennebec River and, as it was spring and the warm sunny days had begun, I thought everything was rosy for me. But I had no idea what an isolated section I was going into or the hardships I would have to put up with. It is well not to forget that the Kennebec River has its rough spots and, when it is rough and plenty of sea, a small boat has no excuse for being out in it.

Clarence Skolfield, keeper from 1946 to 1955, was a native of nearby Harpswell and a former principal keeper of Seguin Light. Perkins Island was closer to the mainland than Seguin, but the station lacked electricity, a telephone, and running water. During his tenure, Skolfield added a system of walkways on the grounds of the station, and he also installed hardwood paneling in the interior of the lighthouse tower. When he could find the time, Skolfield enjoyed hunting with his dogs. His wife, Annette, cultivated a fine garden, and her daffodils and roses and daffodils still bloom on the island each spring and summer. The Skolfields’ two children, Tom and Lorraine, attended school on the mainland.

The job of a lighthouse keeper always involved plenty of paperwork, including an endless variety of log entries and reports. In a 1953 “Word from the Wickies” column, Skolfield wrote, “I am in favor of the women folks doing all the paperwork. My difficulty is in making the wife think the same.”

The light was automated in 1959, and the lens was replaced by a modern 250 mm optic in 1979. The fog bell was removed from the tower and is now on the grounds of the Georgetown High School.

The light station, except for the tower itself, was transferred to the State of Maine in the 1960s. In 1974 the Georgetown Conservation Commission ran a short-lived Marine Awareness Program for high school students on the island.

fog bell tower

The old fog bell tower on Perkins Island before and after restoration

Perkins Island Light remains an active aid to navigation. The keeper's house is in a state of severe disrepair. In late 2000, a restoration of the bell tower took place, funded by the Maine Department of Conservation and a New Century Program Preservation Grant, administered by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. Local resident Joshua Bate was the project foreman and volunteers from around the state helped with the restoration.


The lighthouse itself was licensed by the Coast Guard in May 2000 to the American Lighthouse Foundation (ALF). A chapter of ALF, the Friends of Perkins Island Lighthouse, was formed. Volunteers of FPIL have sealed leaky windows in the house, removed debris, cleared underbrush, and repaired the badly damaged roof of the house. They’ve also scraped and repainted the tower. All the work has been done under the guidance of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.

If you are interested in joining the group or making a donation you can contact:

Friends of Perkins Island Lighthouse
c/o Dr. Jane Beaulieu
P.O. Box 376
Georgetown, Maine 04548
Email: perkinslight@hotmail.com
 


Right, on October 24, 2011, a group gathered to paint Perkins Island Lighthouse. L to R: Jim Leslie and Kyle Brant of the J.B. Leslie Company, Rod Beaulieu of the Friends of Perkins Island Lighthouse, and Bob Trapani, Jr. of the American Lighthouse Foundation. Photo by Ann-Marie Trapani.
Group of people in front of lighthouse

The lighthouse can be seen from cruises leaving Boothbay Harbor and the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath.


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 nelights@gmail.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.)

J. W. Haley (c. 1911-1927); Eugene Osgood (c. 1930s); Charles L. Knight (?); Clifford Morong (Coast Guard, c. 1946); Clarence Skolfield (1946-1955)

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Last updated 12/13/11
  Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any images or text from this website without permission of the author.

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