Tenants Harbor Lighthouse

Tenants Harbor, Maine - 1857 (1857**)

Photo of the Tenants Harbor Lighthouse.

History of the Tenants Harbor Lighthouse

Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2018-09-23.

As early as 1838, a local shipowners and masters requested a light for Tenant's Harbor. However, as Whitehead Lighthouse was only two miles away and Marshall Point Lighthouse was roughly seven miles to the west, the government declined to build the light at Tenant's Harbor:

Tennant's harbor (proposed light) - This harbor is about two miles from White-head light; the harbor is free of access, containing about six houses, and there are from four to six fishing-smacks belonging to the place; Herring-gut light, or rather Marshall's point light, lies but seven miles to the westward; and should a vessel mistake this contemplated light for either of the others, she would certainly be shipwrecked. It would place three lights within the distance of nine miles. I should, therefore, disapprove of building a light there.

Within two decades, sentiment had changed. By 1856, the Lighthouse Board was in the process of acquiring a one-acre parcel on Southern Island. Starting in 1857, contractors erected a wood-frame dwelling and a 27-foot-tall round brick tower. A small workroom connected the two.

U.S. Coast Guard Archive Photo of the Tenants Harbor Lighthouse Tenants Harbor Lighthouse (Courtesy Coast Guard)

Levi Smalley was appointed the lighthouse keeper position and placed the lighthouse into service on January 1, 1858. A revolving fourth-order Fresnel lens exhibited a red flash, which was visible for 13 miles.

By 1863, the Lighthouse Board had replaced the fourth-order Fresnel lens with a smaller fifth-order lens manufactured by Henry-Lepaute. In response to the change, the light's characteristic changed to fixed red punctuated by a red flash, each minute.

Other than some minor repairs in 1868/1869 timeframe, the next major repair occurred in 1878 when the roofs of the keeper's dwelling and the workroom were reshingled. Both structures also received clapboard siding and new white paint. Before that, the structures were brown. A new boathouse, measuring 12 by 20 feet in size, was built in 1880.

Additional enhancements took place in 1881. The cellar floor of the dwelling was concreted, and the walls repointed. The following year, contractors erected a 100-foot-long boat slip and repaired the upper portion of the chimney.

In 1887, the summer kitchen received lathe and plaster to add a room to the dwelling. That same year, a small shed was built adjoining it. An additional shed was built in 1895 to serve as a fuel house.

In 1901, several changes were documented in the Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board:

42. Tennant Harbor, on the east side of Southern Island, entrance to Tennant Harbor, Maine: The entrance to the lantern, through the iron deck, was enlarged, a fence was built along the front of the reservation, the revolving clock was overhauled and cleaned, and minor repairs were made to the dwelling.

Additional changes were made in 1903 to improve access to the lantern. The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board provided the following details:

42. Tennant Harbor, Southern Island, Maine - An iron half-deck and ladder were provided for improving access to the lantern. The revolving machinery and boat slip were repaired, and a quantity of rock was removed at the landing.

An oil house was added to the station in 1906. Its purpose was to store the more volatile kerosene away from the lighthouse in a fire-proof building.

The federal government discontinued the Tenants Harbor Light Station in 1934. A lighted bell buoy replaced the lighthouse. Soon after that, the island was sold at auction and purchased by a local Rockland resident.

The unique property changed hands a few more times over the years. Walter Whitehead bought it in 1953 and owned it until its sale to artist Andrew Wyeth and his wife Betsy in 1978.

Wyeth located his studio in the base of the bell tower and used the station as his inspiration for many famous paintings, including "Storm Signal," "Easterly," and "Signal Flags." The fog bell at Tenants Harbor was featured in "Fog Bell" and "Sea Running."

Since 1990, the couple's son Jamie Wyeth, also an artist, and his wife have been living on the island. He is quoted as saying "It is like living in an Andrew Wyeth painting." He too has featured the Tenant's Harbor Lighthouse in many of his paintings. Some of which in "Iris at Sea" and "Lighthouse Dandelions."

Note: The lighthouse is private property, please respect this and do not trespass.

Directions: The lighthouse sits off shore from Tenants Harbor, Maine. The best view would be from the water. However, a distant view might be possible from shore. From Route 131 in Tenants Harbor, follow Hartsneck Road to the end. Monhegan Boat Lines offers lighthouse cruises that pass the island.

Access: The Lighthouse is private property. Tower, grounds, and dwelling closed. The best views are from the water.

View more Tenants Harbor Lighthouse pictures
Tower Information
Tower Height: 27.00'
Focal Plane: Unknown
Active Aid to Navigation: Deactivated (1933)
*Latitude: 43.96112 N
*Longitude: -69.18489 W
See this lighthouse on Google Maps.


* Please note that all GPS coordinates are approximated and are meant to put you in the vicinity of the lighthouse, not for navigation purposes.

** This year denotes a station date. This is the year that a lighthouse was first reported in the vicinity or at that location.

All photographs and information on this site is copyright © 2016 Bryan Penberthy unless otherwise specified. No content may be used without written permission. Any questions or comments, please email me.