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



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!


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.