About This Location
Burnt Island Lighthouse, situated on Burnt Island near the western entrance of Boothbay Harbor, Maine, holds the distinction of being the state's second oldest surviving lighthouse, with its history dating back to 1821. The island's name finds its origins in the local tradition of periodically burning its vegetation to maintain clear grounds for sheep grazing.
During the 1700s, the town of Boothbay, known as Townsend at the time and encompassing present-day Boothbay, Boothbay Harbor, and Southport, was a bustling hub for shipbuilding, gristmills, and fishing. In 1764, local merchants and mariners petitioned the government for the construction of a lighthouse on Damariscove Island, located five miles south of Boothbay Harbor. However, the American Revolution intervened, causing discussions about the lighthouse to wane.
It was later recognized that Burnt Island presented an ideal location for a lighthouse. In March 1821, the necessary funds were authorized for its construction, and a petition from town officials and pilots swiftly resulted in the island's purchase. A granite rubble tower with brick lining was erected on the island, accompanied by a stone keeper's residence. The lighthouse first cast its light in the late summer of 1821, employing the conventional combination of whale oil lamps and parabolic reflectors. Standing at 30 feet in height, it boasts a focal height of 61 feet.
In 1857, the original keeper's home was demolished and replaced with the existing frame building, connected to the tower by a covered walkway. This transformation also saw the installation of a fourth-order Fresnel lens, marking the inception of a series of enhancements to the beacon's lighting and appearance.
In 1895, a fog bell found its place on the lighthouse premises, housed within a newly constructed wooden tower. In 1962, the bell was relocated from the tower to a metal frame equipped with an automatic electric striker. Notably, Burnt Island Light Station was among the last to be staffed in Maine, with automation finally occurring in 1988. The lighthouse emits red flashes every 6 seconds, accompanied by two white sectors. The red flashes are visible for 12 nautical miles, while the white sectors have a range of 15 nautical miles.
The significance of Burnt Island Light Station led to its inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places on November 23, 1977, a recognition of its historical and architectural importance. The reference number for this listing is 77000139.
In 1998, as part of the Maine Lighthouse Program, both the island and the light station were transferred to the State of Maine Department of Marine Resources. The buildings underwent restoration to approximate their 1950s condition, accompanied by the launch of a living history program in 2003. In celebration of its 200th anniversary, Burnt Island Lighthouse received a comprehensive restoration in 2021, with over $350,000 raised for the project. This effort encompassed refurbishing the tower and dwelling's foundations, the exterior of the dwelling and shed, as well as mortar and windows.
Access to Burnt Island Lighthouse from the mainland is somewhat limited. The best vantage point is from the water, whether by boat or personal watercraft. Balmy Days Cruises offers two lighthouse tours weekly during the summer season, permitting visitors to explore the lighthouse grounds and delve into its rich history. Several other sightseeing cruises departing from Boothbay Harbor also pass by the lighthouse, including Cap'n Fish's Cruises. Additionally, on calm days, kayaks and paddleboards offer an adventurous means to reach Burnt Island and bask in its historical charm.