Bear Island Lighthouse

Cranberry Isles, Maine
Bear Island Lighthouse was established in 1839 at the entrance to Northeast Harbor, Maine off Mount Desert Island.
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About This Location

Bear Island Lighthouse, situated near Mount Desert Island at the entrance to Northeast Harbor, Maine, has a captivating history that adds to the maritime heritage of the region. Authorized by federal legislation signed by President Martin Van Buren in 1838, Bear Island Light was established in 1839, with the present structure, constructed in 1889, standing as a testament to its enduring legacy.

The government acquired 2 acres of land at the southwestern end of Bear Island to build the lighthouse. In 1839, a stone keeper’s house was constructed, serving as the base for the initial light installation. Unfortunately, in 1852, disaster struck as the structure burned down. Promptly, in 1853, a replacement brick tower was erected, featuring a fifth-order Fresnel lens in 1855. A fog station was added in 1888, enhancing the lighthouse’s navigational capabilities.

The most significant transformation occurred in 1889 when the 1852 tower was dismantled, making way for the construction of the current complex of buildings. The cylindrical brick tower, standing at 31 feet, became the focal point, topped by a polygonal lantern chamber and surrounded by an iron parapet and railing. The keeper’s house, a modest 1½-story wood-frame structure with a gambrel roof and gable-roof dormers, complemented the tower.

The light station also features three outbuildings, including a gable-roofed barn set at a distance from the keeper’s house and tower. A stone oil house, built in 1905, and the boathouse and slip to the northwest of the tower, constructed in the same year, complete the ensemble.

Bear Island Light played a vital role in maritime navigation until its deactivation by the Coast Guard in the 1980s. However, in 1989, the Friends of Acadia National Park took up the responsibility of restoring and relighting the lighthouse as a private aid to navigation. This restoration project ensured the preservation of Bear Island Light and its integration into Acadia National Park in 1987.

Though not open to the public, Bear Island Light remains accessible from the water or the mainland along Shore Road in Manset. The Cranberry Isles mailboat passes Bear Island daily, offering glimpses of this historic landmark. The light is currently leased to private residents who maintain the property, with the keeper’s house standing as a distinctive, gambrel-roofed dwelling reminiscent of a French barn, adorned with baby blue trim.

Designated as a historic site, Bear Island Light was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on March 14, 1988. This recognition underscores the lighthouse’s cultural and architectural significance, contributing to the rich tapestry of Maine’s maritime history.

Lighthouse Specs

  • Originally Constructed: 1839
  • Current Tower Constructed: 1889
  • First Lit: 1889 (current structure)
  • Construction: Brick (tower)
  • Tower Shape: Cylindrical tower attached to lightkeepers house and workroom
  • Height: 31 feet
  • Focal Height: 100 feet
  • Markings: White tower with a black lantern
  • Characteristic: Flashing white every 5 seconds
  • Range: 10 nautical miles
  • Status: Active
  • NRHP Number: 88000043

Location

Address: Bear Island, Cranberry Isles, Maine
Place GPS Coordinates: 44.283444, -68.270000
Parking GPS Coordinates: 44.283444, -68.270000
Parking Notes: There are very limited views of the lighthouse from the mainland. One place to potentially see the lighthouse is from the Clifton Docks in Northeast Harbor. It is best to see the lighthouse by air or boat.

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