Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2017-03-07.
By the late 1800s, Boothbay Harbor was a large fishing and shipbuilding center. The western approach has been often treacherous due to a pair of islets off the southerly end of Southport Island known as "The Cuckolds." Although they were marked with a day mark in 1874, and a fog bell in 1892, the Cuckolds Lighthouse wasn't established until 1907.
The term "cuckold" is said to come from a point of land on the Thames River in England. King John gave the point of land to appease a man, after having an affair with his wife. Local fisherman nicknamed the point The Cuckolds and built a marker on it in the shape of cuckold horns. Centuries later, a settler to the Boothbay region remembered the seamark called The Cuckolds and gave the name to the ledges.
Although government documents recommended an aid to navigation for The Cuckolds as early as 1837, no action was taken. In fact, nothing would be done until 1874 when a 57-foot wooden tripod was erected as a day mark. A little over a decade later, a bell buoy was established a half mile to the south on June 1, 1886.
Both of these actions did little to help mark the obstructions, and petitions kept pouring in requesting a fog signal for The Cuckolds. Finally, in 1890, the Lighthouse Board recommended a fog signal station:
Cuckolds Island Fog-signal, entrance to Booth Bay or Townsend Harbor, Maine - The Cuckolds consist of two rocky islets rising about 15 feet above high water in the westerly edge of the channel at the entrance to Booth Bay.
They are much dreaded by mariners in thick weather and are a great peril to a large number of vessels, as it is estimated that from three to four thousand enter the bay for refuge in Booth Bay Harbor, which is well protected and is one of the most useful and important harbors of refuge on the coast of Maine. It is therefore recommended that a fog-signal be placed on the Cuckolds of sufficient range to warn vessels of their approach. Numerous petitions have been received asking for the establishment of this fog-signal, and the Board, after careful investigation, has found that a fog-signal of sufficient range upon the easterly island of the Cuckolds will give vessels adequate warning of their approach and would be of great benefit to navigators. It is estimated that a keeper's dwelling, fog-signal house, cistern, bulkhead, machinery, etc., will cost $25,000, and an appropriation of this amount is recommended therefor. This was authorized by the act of August 30, 1890, but no appropriation was made for doing the work.
Although Congress appropriated the $25,000 on March 3, 1891, construction wouldn't begin until April 22, 1892. During the course of construction, 105 yards of granite, 430 casks of cement, 60,000 bricks, 100 tons of sand, 200 tons of stone, and 70,000 feet of lumber were used, most of which were transported to the island by the lighthouse tender Myrtle.
Cuckolds Fog Signal Station (Courtesy National Archives)
To ensure the station would stand up to the frequent storms, the structure was constructed of a semicircular granite pier, which was 36 feet in diameter and 12 feet high. Its center was hollow, allowing for cisterns and a storeroom. Atop the granite pier was a brick fog signal house.
Attached to the rear of the semicircular granite pier was a two-story double dwelling containing 10 rooms. A bulkhead of hard pine, 60 feet long, was erected to protect the dwelling. The boathouse and slip were built on the west side of the rock, which was protected from the sea.
Work on the station, totaled $24,750 and was finished on November 16, 1892. Installed were twin steam-driven Daboll fog trumpets, which were first placed into service on December 15, 1892. During periods of low visibility, a three-second blast was sounded every 20 seconds.
In 1895, a 1,000-pound bell was installed. It was to be operated by hand while steam for the Daboll trumpet was being built up, or to be used in situations when the Daboll trumpet had failed.
The first keeper of the Cuckolds Fog Signal was Edward H. Pierce. Clarence Marr, the son and brother of the keepers at Hendricks Head Lighthouse, served as an assistant. Although the fog signal helped, it didn't prevent wrecks in the vicinity. One such wreck was that of the Aurora, which occurred on January 4, 1896.
The Aurora, a two-masted, coastwise schooner from Nova Scotia had been anchored in Booth Bay Harbor for a few days due to weather. On January 3, the weather cleared, and the ship, loaded with a cargo of hard wood, left the harbor, en route to Boston.
After making it out past the Cuckolds and heading towards the Seguin Island Lighthouse, the weather began to quickly turn. The wind had shifted to the north and the temperature plummeted. As the ocean was still warm, a thick layer of fog formed over the surface. The Aurora turned to head back to Boothbay Harbor, but ended up on the shoals of the Western Cuckolds.
That night, the station's thermometer read -18. Keeper Marr was on duty, and while scanning the horizon through the ocean's thick vapor, he could see the light of an approaching vessel to the west. Upon further inspection, he could tell the vessel was in distress and quickly woke Pierce.
As the station's dory was out of commission, the two hastily launched an 11-foot rowboat. They fought their way through the waves and stinging cold and eventually made it to the Aurora, which lay broadside, with waves pounding against its hull. Clinging to the rigging, were six nearly-frozen crewmen.
As their small rowboat couldn't accommodate six people, the pair hastily rowed to Cape Newagen, where they met up with a pair of lobstermen. From there, they launched two dories and headed back to the Aurora where they were able to save the crew. Several months later, the Canadian government awarded the two keepers and two lobstermen silver watches in recognition of their "humane and gallant services."
Due to the bureaucracy in Washington, the watches for Pierce and Marr were held up for several years. By the time they received them, they were no longer working together. Pierce was serving at the Doubling Point Range Lights and Marr had been transferred to the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse.
In 1902, the old steam-driven fog signal was replaced by a modern one operated by oil engines. The following year, a wooden oil house was built. The fog signal apparatus was reported in the 1904 Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board as follows:
Cuckold's fog-signal station, off entrance to Boothbay, Maine - The fog-signal plant consists of 4-horsepower oil engines, air compressors and air tanks, all in duplicate, and a first-class Daboll trumpet. It has 4 pounds of pressure and 1.2 cubic feet of free air are used a second of blast. This trumpet was in operation some 1,220 hours during the year, and consumed about 573 gallons of oil.
Even with the fog signal, wrecks still occurred. The vociferous delegation from Maine, along with local mariners requested a lighthouse, which was finally erected in 1907. As the islet was too small to add a separate tower, a small tower and lantern were added to the roof of the fog signal house. The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board had the following entry:
52. The Cuckolds, entrance to Boothbay, Me - A brick cistern for the fog-signal and a wooden cistern for domestic purposes were built. A tower was built over the fog-signal house and a fourth-order light was established giving a double white flash every six seconds.
At that time, most Fresnel lenses were French-made and came from Paris. The fourth-order Fresnel lens that was installed at the Cuckolds Lighthouse came from the Macbeth-Evans Glass Company, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Cuckolds Lighthouse (Courtesy Coast Guard)
One of the longest serving keepers was Preston Marr, brother of Clarence Marr, whom had been transferred to the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse in 1898. Preston Marr served at the Cuckolds Lighthouse from 1907 to 1920.
The Cuckolds Lighthouse was converted to electricity in 1937. The following September, the light station was affected by the Great Hurricane of 1938. Although the storm did more damage along New England's southern coast, which included destroying the Whale Rock Lighthouse and killing its keeper, the Cuckolds Light would fare better. The seas merely submerged the entire island.
The Cuckolds Lighthouse has always been a family station, meaning the keeper's family was allowed to live on the island with them. This continued with the Coast Guard throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Ramon "Kelly" Farrin and his family were the last family to live at the station. When they left in 1970, the Cuckolds Lighthouse became a stag station.
The stag station only lasted a few years as the light was automated in late 1974. Due to frequent vandalism, the Coast Guard demolished the boathouse and keeper's dwelling in 1977. In 1980, the Coast Guard removed the fourth-order Fresnel lens, which today is on display at the Maine Lighthouse Museum in Rockland.
Original plans in 2004 called for the lighthouse and fog signal to be torn down and be replaced with a fiberglass pole with a lamp on top. Instead, the Cuckolds Lighthouse was deemed excess by the Coast Guard. Through the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, it was made available to any eligible government agency or non-profit entity.
Concerned local citizens formed the Cuckolds Fog Signal and Light Station Council and in 2006, they were awarded with the deed to the property. The first phase of their restoration was to stabilize, repair, and paint the light structure, restore the boathouse and access ways, and clean up debris.
In 2010, the Cuckolds Fog Signal and Light Station Council hired Pete Rawden to rebuild the boathouse. Ironically, Pete Rawden was the same man that was ordered by his Coast Guard superiors in 1977 to raze the boathouse.
Once the boathouse was in place, the group moved on to rebuilding the dwelling. Construction started in 2011 when the group selected Marden Builders. By the fall of 2011, most of the exterior work was done. This allowed them to finish up for the year and start on the interior work in 2012.
The Inn at Cuckolds Lighthouse opened for guests in June of 2014. Today, the keeper's dwelling is open for overnight stays. Resident Keepers welcome visitors to the island, provide tours, and serve as concierges to overnight guests. Book your overnight stay today.
Directions: The lighthouse sits on an island, therefore the best views are from the water. Cruises that pass by the Cuckolds Lighthouse are available from the Maine Maritime Museum out of Bath and Cap'n Fish's out of Boothbay Harbor.
Decent views of the lighthouse is visible from shore in Cape Newagen. From Southport, follow Route 238 (Cape Newagen Road) south. At the end, follow Town Landing Road south to its end. There will be a small parking area. From the pier, the Cuckolds Lighthouse is visible.
Access: The lighthouse is owned by the Cuckolds Fog Signal and Light Station Council. The lighthouse and grounds are open for tours and overnight stays. Visit the Inn at Cuckolds Lighthouse for more information.View more Cuckolds Lighthouse pictures