About This Location
Baker Island Lighthouse, located on the 123-acre Baker Island in the Cranberry Isles, Maine, is an iconic maritime landmark with a rich history. The island, one of the five that make up the Cranberry Isles, is named for the low-bush cranberries that thrive in the area. The year-round population of the islands is approximately 120, but this number increases to around 600 during the summer months.
The construction of Baker Island Lighthouse was prompted by the dangerous ledges and sandbar in the vicinity, aiming to mark the western approach to Frenchman Bay. Congress allocated $2,500 for the lighthouse's construction in 1823. However, due to delays, the funds had to be reappropriated in 1826, with an additional $1,300 authorized for completion in 1828. Situated on the highest point of the island, it became the earliest light station in the Mount Desert area.
The first lighthouse on Baker Island was a 26-foot rubblestone tower with an octagonal wrought-iron lantern, housing 10 whale oil–fueled lamps and 15-inch reflectors displaying a fixed white light. A dwelling with an attached kitchen was built nearby. William Gilley, the island's resident, was appointed as the first keeper in the early 1800s, overseeing a farm that sustained the family with livestock and crops.
In 1843, a survey by engineer I. W. P. Lewis revealed structural issues with the tower, including cracked and leaky walls. The lime mortar used was of poor quality, and the tower lacked a proper foundation. Despite these challenges, Gilley remained the keeper until July 1849 when he was dismissed for political reasons.
The lighthouse faced further difficulties with subsequent keepers, including harassment by Gilley's sons, leading to legal disputes. In 1855, an agreement was reached between the government and the Gilleys, defining the boundaries of the light station and the rights of the keeper.
The current 43-foot-tall cylindrical tower was built in 1855 after a congressional appropriation of $5,000. It features a fourth-order Fresnel lens and was fueled by lard oil. In 1903, a layer of brick was added to the tower's exterior. The light was deactivated in October 1955 but was re-established in early 1957 as an automatic, unattended light.
The lighthouse underwent refurbishment by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission in 1989. In 1991, despite proposals to discontinue the light due to visibility issues, public outcry led to its retention. The Coast Guard, in collaboration with concerned citizens known as the Keepers of Baker Island, has maintained the light, with ownership of the tower transferred to the National Park Service.
Baker Island Lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places on March 14, 1988, underlining its significance as a cultural and historical landmark. The lighthouse's enduring legacy, coupled with ongoing preservation efforts, ensures its place in maritime history and the heritage of the Cranberry Isles.
- Originally Constructed: 1828
- Current Tower Constructed: 1855
- First Lit: 1855 (current structure)
- Construction: Brick (tower)
- Tower Shape: Cylindrical
- Height: 43 feet
- Focal Height: 105 feet
- Markings: White
- Characteristic: Flashing white every 10 seconds
- Range: 10 nautical miles
- Status: Active
- NRHP Number: 88000046