Swan's Island, Maine   44˚8'3.49"N 68˚26' 50.44"W



The Town of Swan's Island has received a grant from the Belvedere Fund of the Maine Community Foundation, to be used to restore the oceanside porch of the keeper's house, one of the buildings of the Burnt Coat Harbor Light Station. The keeper’s house porch is a favorite spot for visitors, with long views out to sea, to Marshall Island, Isle au Haut and the islets in between. It's a wonderful place to relax and watch traffic going and coming into Burnt Coat Harbor -- and it will be barrier free when entered from the house. It’s also a great spot for musical performances! Restoration of the porch is the last major step in restoration of the keeper's house, and will make a remarkable difference in the appearance of the building. FOSIL assisted the Town in obtaining this grant. We are so grateful to the Belvedere Fund and the Maine Community Foundation for their generous assistance to our historic restoration project at the Light Station.



Swan’s Island is an off-shore island in Maine, reached by a 6 mile ferry ride from Bass Harbor. The lighthouse is on a rocky peninsula at the entrance to Burnt Coat Harbor. It can be reached by road from the ferry landing (about 4 miles) or by boat. The upstairs apartment has a spacious living room with a dining area and long views out to sea. The bedroom has a double bed and views across the harbor. The bathroom has a tub and a handheld shower, and the kitchen is fully equipped. For more details, or to make a reservation, go to http://www.swansislandvacations.com. Click on Rental Listings and look for Lightkeeper’s House. Be one of the first to experience staying in this spectacularly beautiful spot!

View of Burnt Coat Harbor Lighthouse from the ocean.
The living room overlooks the Western Way to the east, and has long views out to sea, with Marshall Island and Isle au Haut visible to the southwest.
The bedroom has a double bed and a seating area by the window. The window has views across the harbor to the old quarry in Minturn, and is a great spot for watching lobster boats, schooners and pleasure craft entering and leaving the harbor.
The lighthouse is adjacent to a town park, with 1.8 miles of trails and access to two beaches. Swan’s Island village has a small but well-stocked general store, with a takeout restaurant. For more information about visiting Swan’s Island, check out Planning a Visit FAQs and Things to Do.


The buildings at the Burnt Coat Harbor Light Station, also sometimes called the Swan’s Island Lighthouse, are closed for the season as of September 10, 2016. Although the buildings are closed, the park and the trails will remain open until the road is closed due to ice and snow.

We are happy to report a very successful 12 week season, with more than 2000 visitors to the keeper’s house and about half that number visiting the tower and climbing to the lantern room.

The Historical Society exhibit, “A Living from the Sea: Swan’s Island 1850-1950,” garnered lots of attention and many favorable comments. As often happens (and we love it), folks with personal memories of the events covered in the exhibit added comments and explanations. The exhibit will be preserved as part of the Historical Society’s records.

Our restoration continues! We made lots of progress this summer. An apartment upstairs in the keeper’s house is almost ready. We expect to begin renting it next summer. Details about rental arrangements will be posted on the website as soon as they are available.

Thanks to everyone who volunteered, visited, contributed, and/or worked this summer at the Burnt Coat Harbor Light Station!


Summer's coming - Opening June 21!

The light station buildings at the Burnt Coat Harbor Light Station on Swan's Island will be opening for the summer season on Tuesday June 21.  
  • The keeper's house will be open 11am to 3 pm, Tuesday through Saturday (closed Sunday and Monday).
The keeper's house
  • The new Historical Society exhibit in the keeper's house is entitled "A Living from the Sea - Swan's Island, Maine, 1850-1950." It's about fishing, boat building, trading and innovating, and traces the history of some famed Swan's Island schooner captains.
The new Historical Society exhibit
  • The light tower will be open from noon to 3 pm, Tuesday through Saturday. Come see the newly restored tower interior, with fresh new paintwork in historic colors.
The light tower


The interior of the light tower at the Burnt Coat Harbor Light Station has been transformed by a restoration project that was carried out between September and December of 2015 by Amburg Builders and Construction of Swan’s Island. In restoring the tower, the Town is following a detailed engineering cost study and workplan commissioned by the Town in 2013 and prepared by Resurgence Engineering of Portland, ME. To complete Phase 1 of the Tower Workplan, Amburg Builders:

  • Removed cupola window panes, repaired metal frames and astragals, so that the panes could be returned and professionally reglazed.
  • Removed the wooden wainscoting in the lantern room, restored it and replaced it.
  • Repaired leaks in the metal shell of the cupola.
  • Removed lantern vents in the lantern room, repaired, restored and reinstalled them.
  • Removed rust and lead paint from all wood and metal surfaces in the lantern room and the watch room, and from the stairs.
  • Refinished all wooden and metal interior surfaces with architecturally approved paints in historically accurate paint colors.

For a photo gallery with "before and after" photos of the interior restoration of the tower, click here.




The Light Station buildings will open June 18, 2015, and close September 12, 2015


Sunday – CLOSED
Monday – CLOSED
Tuesday – Keeper’s house 11 – 3, Tower 12 – 3
Wednesday - Keeper’s house 11 – 3, Tower 12 – 3
Thursday - Keeper’s house 11 – 3, Tower 12 – 3
Friday - Keeper’s house 11 – 3, Tower 12 - 3
Saturday - Keeper’s house 11 – 3, Tower 12 - 3

Historical Society exhibit on display at the Keeper’s House:
Keep Calm and Carry On:  Island Life in the WWII Years

trails pic


FOSIL Annual Appeal launched

FOSIL's annual appeal was launched earlier this week. Gifts from our friends keep the house and tower open, maintain the trails and help with the continuing restoration of the buildings. If you would like to contribute, here’s the link: http://www.burntcoatharborlight.com/home/make-a-donation.html

In other news:

Once again, the keeper's house and the light tower will be open for visitors. Check here or on the FOSIL Facebook page in early June for the latest word on open days and hours.

There will be a Historical Society exhibit at the keeper's house, entitled "Keep Calm and Carry On:  Island Life during WWII," and new art work will be on display.

There will be a working kitchen and bathroom downstairs in the keeper's house, and we will begin restoring the upstairs rooms.

Restoration of the interior of the light tower will continue, and by the end of the summer we will begin to focus on the restoration of the tower exterior.

We plan some special events during the year and, as usual, the lighthouse surroundings and the  trails will be open dawn to dusk.

A big thank you to everyone who helps make this progress possible!


More than 2000 Visitors. The keeper's house and the tower were open 5 days a week during the 2014 summer season, with two islanders on staff (and some volunteer assistance). There was a steady stream of visitors, who were able to see three exhibits:

  • A photography exhibit titled "Hailing Hockomock" that was prepared by the SI Historical Society, showing images and telling stories about commercial shipping and Coast Guard vessels using Burnt Coat Harbor.
  • An elegant wooden model of Novelty, the first steam powered fishing vessel in the East Coast fishing fleet. The model was built by Galen Turner and was on loan, with several photographs and other artifacts, from the Lobster and Marine Museum.
  • Art by local artists.

Free brochures were available about the light station history and the geology of Hockamock Head, plus a free map showing lighthouse trails and island businesses. Many visitors stopped by the “gift shop” table; their donations help finance keeper’s house and tower operations.

Progress on the Restoration

We hope you might consider a year- end gift to FOSIL to help keep things moving forward on the restoration. FOSIL is a tax exempt, Maine non-profit corporation managed entirely by volunteers. 100% of your gift will go directly to FOSIL and Lighthouse Committee projects.

Progress on Keeper’s House Kitchen and bath.

We expect that there will be a kitchen and bathroom downstairs in the keeper’s house, ready for use next spring. Volunteers cleaned out the storeroom area to the left of the main entry in the keeper's house in preparation for installation of a bathroom. Plans for the bathroom and kitchen were prepared and approved. Our contractor removed damaged plaster and lathing from the future bathroom area, and removed lead paint in accordance with state and federal lead safe standards. Plumbing and electrical connections were placed for the bathroom and kitchen. A contract is in place and work is going forward.

Keeper’s House Ventilation

There is no ventilation upstairs in the keeper’s house; consequently mold has been a problem. We wrote specs for installation of ridge and soffit vents to resolve this, the plans were duly approved by the Maine Historic Preservation Office, and this project is underway.

Light Tower

Restoration of the light tower has begun. The wooden wainscoting in the tower lantern room was carefully removed, then restored and rebuilt off site. It will be reinstalled soon. (Some repairs to the metal shell are needed before the woodwork can be reinstalled.)

Other notable developments:

  • With the help of a generous monetary gift and a donation of materials, we were able to complete the long-planned project of moving the fog bell back from the ferry landing in Atlantic to Hockamock Head. It is now installed on granite blocks near the pathway to the keeper’s house, and is the first artifact a visitor sees when coming down the hill to the light station.
  • We made progress on replacing the flagpole. We have been promised an aluminum mast to replace the wooden flagpole that was shattered in a storm last winter, and expect to have it on site next spring. In the meantime, a temporary spruce flagpole has served us well.
  • The interior of the keeper’s house was rearranged for better visitor flow, and we installed two elegant wooden tables, purpose-built for the display areas. There is improved signage on the displays and there are new shelves in the storage room.
  • Several special events took place at the keeper’s house this summer: a concert of Celtic music attended by more than 100; a private family celebration with a catered lunch for 50 guests; an island tour group sponsored by Maine Coast Heritage Trust.
  • We have embarked on a capital campaign to complete the restoration in four years (by the end of 2018) and already have some substantial contributions towards that end.
  • Shingles on the keeper’s house were replaced, and flashing around the chimney was repaired.
  • Landscaping was repaired and cultivated around the keeper’s house front door, and in the conservation area.
  • We placed two large natural granite blocks near the flagpole, and one near the path to the oilhouse, which have proved to be attractive and irresistible seating for visitors.
  • There are new signs in four locations on the trails, with maps and a narrative explanation of nearby vistas.

Plans for 2015

Plans for 2015 will be more fully developed after the FOSIL board planning meeting, which will take place in February 2015. But for sure these will be part of the plan:

  • Install a new flag pole
  • Get the kitchen and bathroom working on the first floor in the keeper’s house
  • Open the keeper’s house and tower to visitors in the summer season for a fourth year, and, with the kitchen and bathroom in place, promote the keeper’s house as a venue for special events, all contributing to our expectation that when the restoration project is finished, the site will be self-supporting or close to it.
  • Prepare the keeper’s house second floor for restoration. Preparation requires careful removal of hazardous materials such as mold and lead paint.
  • After removal of hazardous materials, proceed with restoration of the second floor of the keeper’s house, as time and finances allow.
  • Continue work on the tower, as time and finances allow.
  • Produce an informational pamphlet about the flora and fauna of Hockamock Head.



trails pic


The Annual Meeting of Friends of the Swan's Island Lighthouse (FOSIL) will be held on Monday August 18, at 4 pm, at the Town Office, 125 Harbor Road, Swan's Island, ME.


Plans for summer 2014 at Burnt Coat Harbor Light Station

This year, the Town is ready to make major progress on the light station restoration. Two grants received over the winter assured that funds are available to make a good start on the tower, and funds from several generous gifts will enable extensive work on the keeper’s house.

One major issue is removal of hazardous materials (hazmats) from the light station buildings. The hazmats include lead paint (in all four buildings), and asbestos tiles and black mold (primarily in the keeper’s house). In the light tower, removal of lead paint and rust would be combined with other tasks to restore the interior of the tower.

The Lighthouse Committee had hoped to get all these tasks accomplished through a single contract this spring, but the plan fell apart when we received only one bid, and that substantially greater than the professional estimates that we had been relying on (and on which our budget was based).

So – back to the drawing board. As to the tower, the Committee has concluded that the better way to start is to issue a base bid request for a smaller component of the project with the option of the contractor doing other alternate tasks through contract modifications once on the job.   It may take a little longer (and the work will not start this spring), but in the end we believe it will give us a wider choice of contractors, better cost control and allow closer monitoring of the work.  

As to the keeper’s house, we will focus first this summer on completing the downstairs rooms. This will include installation of kitchen facilities (in the old kitchen area) and bathroom facilities (in the closed off area to the left of the main entrance). Another task that must be done this year is to improve ventilation through installation of roof and soffit vents. Structural strengthening of the oceanside porch is also on the agenda.

There are two other construction or restoration tasks that we expect to complete this summer. The first is moving the fog bell from its present location near the ferry terminal back to Hockamock Head. It will be placed on a simple granite base in the area near the electrical meter, with appropriate landscaping and an explanatory plaque. The second is replacing the flagpole, which was shattered in a winter storm. Hinckley Yachts has promised the gift of an appropriate mast for that purpose, and we are presently working on arrangements to have it transported from Rhode Island to Swan’s Island.

As always, the Committee prefers to have Swan’s Island contractors doing the work at the light station. When local craftsmen are unable to schedule the work, or when skills are needed that are not available on the island, then we use off-island contractors. When we use off-island contractors, we provide them with information about local businesses, room and board, and encourage them to rely as much as possible on those services that are available on the island.


trails1New steps on the Burying Point TrailOur trails are complete! 2014 will be the first year without major work on the trails around Hockamock Head. If you haven’t yet tried it, plan to walk the loop from the keeper’s house to Burying Point beach, and back up to the road by way of the 42 steps built last summer by Maine Conservation Corps. Other improvements to look for this summer: There will be new signage on the trails and the new information kiosk will display maps and information for visitors. Look for the pasture roses and rugosa roses planted last summer to the west of the keeper’s house. We are hoping they have made it through the winter and will show some color along with other wild flowers in the conservation area.

trails2trails3Planting roses in the conservation area

Getting ready for the summer season

The keeper’s house will be open this summer starting about June 20th and going till mid September. It will be open for at least 5 days a week (we are still working on finalizing the schedule) with tower tours scheduled for 3 afternoons a week. Days and hours will be posted on this page, and on the website. The keeper’s house will also be reachable by phone, with a recorded outgoing message giving open days and hours. Once again, we will have a local history exhibit prepared by the Historical Society, and artifacts and art will also be on display. And of course, our “donation station” shop will be open, with some new items and some old favorites. Look for some more updates over the coming weeks.


The Little Tower, A Shipwreck, & Some Swan’s Island Heroes

In old photos of the Burnt Coat Harbor Light Station, you can see two light towers, the smaller front tower standing about where the bell house is today. What happened to the little tower? It’s a story that begins with a stormy night in March, 1883 -- and a tragic shipwreck.

When the light station was built in 1872, the plan was that vessels coming into the harbor would use the two lights as range lights. But someone had miscalculated. Range lights have to be far enough apart so that there is a narrow passage where the two lights line up. The two towers at Burnt Coat Harbor Light Station were too close together. A vessel coming in to the harbor could line up the lights and still run into danger.

That is what happened on March 7, 1883. The schooner J. W. Sawyer was returning to Portland from Georges Bank, loaded with fresh fish. Coming in from the east in a thick snowstorm, Captain John Orchard decided to shelter overnight in Burnt Coat Harbor. At about 8 pm the captain had the Burnt Coat Harbor Light Station range lights exactly lined up, and the schooner was preparing to make a run for the harbor. But she was south of Heron Island amid a cluster of dangerous ledges and soon struck hard on Black Ledge (lower left corner of the chart). There were 16 men aboard, and over the next several hours they struggled to make it from the damaged schooner to the relative safety of the ledge.

A reporter for the Portland Argus newspaper interviewed Captain Orchard and described his ordeal:

In leaving the vessel he was caught by a sea and swept from the rocks under the vessel’s bottom. He came to the surface again, and again reached the rock and was again washed away into the sea. The third time he reached the rock, when a sea struck him, throwing him on his back and he was being drifted away. He was sinking but had presence of mind enough to kick his foot out of the water, when it was fortunately seized by one of the men on the rock, and he was dragged up.

Three other crew members did not make it to the rocks, and a fourth made it, but suffered a broken leg.

The crew had managed to bring one dory up onto the ledge, and on Thursday afternoon four men set out in the dory to row about two miles to Marshall Island. They reached the island and made contact with John Lane, who rowed to Swan’s Island for help. As the Argus reported, “[B]eing in the ice all night” he had “nearly perished when he reached Swan’s Island.” The first Swan’s Islander located was George Hall, who gathered some men for a rescue party. One can only imagine the relief of the men of the Sawyer when they saw their rescuers approaching.

By Friday evening, 48 hours after the wreck, all survivors – the captain and 12 crew members - were safe on Swan’s Island. The Argus reported that Captain Orchard “and the survivors of his crew are filled with gratitude for the kindness shown them by all the good people on Marshal and Swan’s Islands.”

It was not exactly news to Swan’s Islanders that the range lights did not work. As the Light House Inspector’s report on the wreck explained, the lights were not used by those familiar with the harbor, and “only serve as a snare to strangers trying to make use of them – as in the case of the Schooner Sawyer – for if there had been but one light she never would have attempted to enter the harbor on such a stormy night.”

The wreck of the J. W. Sawyer convinced the Light-House Board that they should discontinue the lower range light, and the tower went dark in the summer of 1883. For several years thereafter, the little tower remained, unlit, useful only as a daymark. On June 6, 1902, the Board authorized the keeper to remove the unused tower. That, at least, happened quickly: on June 16, 1902, Keeper Orin Milan recorded in his logbook: The little tower went over about 2 pm.

Sufferings of Shipwrecked Men, Portland (ME) Argus, March 20, 1883. © NYTimes. Available on www.nytimes.com.
Keeper’s Log, Burnt Coat Harbor Light Station, National Archives RG26, E80
Letter dated April 27, 1883, from A.S. Crowninshield, Light-House Inspector, 1st District, to Vice-Admiral Stephen C. Rowan, USN, Chairman, Light-House Board. National Archives RG 26, Light-House Service General Correspondence Vol.559, p.532.


The Town Light House committee is seeking to fill at least two paid summer positions at Burnt Coat Harbor Light Station this summer. The Site Manager would open the keeper’s house each day (mid June through August) from 11 am to 3 pm, answer questions and manage the “donation station” (keeping track of inventory and donations). Two people could share this position, keeping the house open seven days a week. Alternatively, one person could take the position for 5 days a week. Hours and days are slightly flexible.

We are also looking for a tower tour guide (1 or 2 people) 2 or 3 afternoons a week, days and hours flexible.

If you are interested or if you have questions, please respond to [email protected]


Here’s what the keepers’ logs say about severe weather at Burnt Coat Harbor Light Station:

Jan 19 - NNW winds clear and very cold last night had a little snow at 1:30 pm. US Steamer Iris capt Johnston came off the Harbor ran into the Ice off Harbor Island Point had to back out and go round to the Eastern passage ran into the Ice as far as he could and made fast to the Ice by cutting a hole and hooking his anchor into it the Bay all full of rimming Ice Eastern outer Harbor all clear of Ice.
Feb 9 - NW Gale very cold weather at 2 AM so cold could not keep the lights burning had to take them down and heat them on the stove and set them agoing again with hot oil.
Feb 10 - Still cold had to keep a regular watch to keep the light burning the Harbor all closed up with Ice.
Feb 17 - Edward went to Brooklin on the Ice
Feb 18 - Edward returned from Brooklin on the Ice

Jan 25 - Crossed the Harbor to Harbor Island with Horse team

Jan 30 - Moderate NW. Clear. Frank Bridges and Charles Gross came near being frozen on Gunning Rock and was brought in here to the light to get warm and some dry clothes.
Feb 14 - Fresh breeze, NW. Clear. The Vinalhaven had a hard time getting through the ice. The harbor is all frozen over.

Feb 12 - Vapor. Mercury 18 below zero, the coldest ever remembered here.

January 31 - 24 below zero …

How about this bell to ring in the New Year for lighthouse friends!

Season’s Greetings from your friends at FOSIL!


Friends of the Swan’s Island Lighthouse (FOSIL) invites you to take a break from wrapping presents and take time to enjoy these unusual photos. The B&W photos are not snow scenes, but were taken using an infrared-converted camera. The one showing red roofs was selectively colored from a color photo taken at the same angle. The photos were taken last October by photographer Martin Bluhm while on a trip to Swan's Island with a group of camera enthusiasts. Check out Martin’s other photos from Swan’s Island and environs at www.martinbluhm.com.
AND -- have a wonderful holiday season!

Fixing Up the Tower – Help Is On The Way!

1474564 686005968097115 422622107 nThe Burnt Coat Light Station tower, though it looks sturdy and solid, has some serious maintenance issues. Rusting of the metal components has created cracks in the masonry joints. The metal components themselves need repair, and the masonry needs repointing and repainting.

Engineering Workplan.

The Town recently received a comprehensive report from Resurgence Engineering of Portland setting out a workplan for complete restoration of the tower. Professional preparation of the workplan was financed by grants from the Maine Department of Transportation (Small Harbor Improvement Program) and the Davis Family Foundation. Individual gifts made up the balance.

Two Phases.

The Engineering Workplan breaks restoration of the tower into two phases. The first phase covers urgent work inside the tower to address leaks and stop deterioration, especially in the lantern and watch room. This phase will include lead paint abatement, improved ventilation and reglazing of the lantern windows.

The second phase requires scaffolding around the tower to rehabilitate the masonry and paint the exterior. It also includes replacement of the glass brick windows and replacement of the railings on the catwalk around the lantern.

When will the work get done?

With the Workplan in hand, we have applied again to the Small Harbor Improvement Program for a grant to help with the cost of the first phase of the tower restoration. Friends of the Swan's Island Lighthouse (FOSIL) will help to raise funds for this work. If the grant application is successful, we expect the work will be done in spring 2014.

Family Memories – Living at the Light Station

Jackie Kettering and her sister Rene Riggs, daughters of USCG C5 Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Braman and Ronna Townsend Braman, recently visited Burnt Coat Harbor Light Station and toured the tower and the keeper's house. Officer Braman was the lightkeeper from 1968-1973. The sisters remembered their childhood years in the keeper's house, and shared some of those memories in an interview at the lighthouse with Joe Boisvert. The interview adds to the information we have about the lives of the families who lived in the keeper’s house and is our first interview about family life on Hockamock Head during the Coast Guard years. Many thanks to Jackie and Rene for sharing their memories!