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Mt. Desert Rock Lighthouse

Mount Desert Light is a lighthouse on Mount Desert Rock, a small island about 26 miles south of Trenton, Maine. The station is both farther offshore and more exposed than any other lighthouse on the east coast. It was one of the most isolated and desolate places within the U.S. Lighthouse service. Built on a rocky outcropping, the island could be explored completely in minutes. Its highest point was only 20 feet above low tide, and storms frequently sent waves crashing over the rock, many causing flooding in the lighthouse keeper’s house.

The first light station was established in 1830, but complaints about its construction began almost immediately. The first lighthouse keeper assigned to the “Rock” stated that “the lighthouse (is) in a state of rapid decay. It must have been rapidly built. The material is all bad. The mortar in particular is made with saltwater sand and mixed with saltwater. If you analyze it, you can see no lime whatsoever…”

It was also not effective for navigation, so the U.S. Lighthouse Board authorized funds for a new lighthouse. This current lighthouse was built in 1847. In 1858, the conical granite structure had a bell tower and fog bell added, as well as a new lantern with a Third Order Fresnel lens. This addition would permit navigators to get within hearing distance of the bell on the rock and then set a new course, rather than trying to avoid the rock. An assistant keeper was assigned to the station in 1855 to help with the extra work created by the bell, but no matter how hard this large bell was struck, it still wasn’t loud enough to be heard too far over the noise of the crashing waves. Finally, a more powerful fog signal was added to the station in 1891.

Few keepers lasted very long at this inhospitable station. Even with one week off and 22 days on, life on the Rock was difficult. One keeper lasted almost six years, from 1853 to 1859, but was terminated. His replacement resigned after seventeen months, and the following lighthouse keeper lasted just eight months. One keeper did manage to last almost twenty years. The Coast Guard tried to make life more bearable on the Rock by supplying the keepers with books, radios, television sets, video games, and even a pool table.

Mount Desert Rock had almost no vegetation. A few lighthouse keepers would bring the soil back with them from leaving during the summer, and build a summer garden with flowers and grass that would be taken out each year by the waves.

The station was electrified in 1931 and automated in 1977. In December of that year, a helicopter arrived on the rock and the Coast Guard removed the last two keepers of the Mt. Desert Lighthouse. Around that time, the lantern was removed and the lens was replaced with aero-beacon. In 1985, a replica of the lantern was installed, and the aero-beacon was replaced about 10 years later.

In 1998, the station was transferred to the College of the Atlantic. It is used as an ecology research station, primarily known for its work on finback and humpback whales. It sustained serious damage during Hurricane Daisy in 1962 and Hurricane Bill in 2009. In August 2009, the boathouse was washed away, two walls of the generator building were ripped apart, and all the furniture and equipment on the first floor of the lightkeeper's house were ruined when it flooded almost to the ceiling. The college research station was subsequently closed until August 2010.
The lighthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


A 52 Weeks of Fun Fascinating Fact about Mt. Desert Rock Lighthouse

This lighthouse is the most isolated lighthouse in the United States. At only 20 feet above low tide, the entire rock can be swamped during storms.

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