Two Bush Island Lighthouse

Two Bush Island, Maine - 1897 (1897**)

Photo of the Two Bush Island Lighthouse.

History of the Two Bush Island Lighthouse

Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2017-12-28.

By the late 1800s, most vessels were steam-powered and propeller-driven. With that, they preferred the openness of the Two Bush Channel into West Penobscot Bay. Before the erection of the Two Bush Island Lighthouse in 1897, mariners steered clear of the many rocky islets around Two Bush Island.

Early development around Penobscot Bay and the Penobscot River relied heavily on the natural resources of the region and the geography. The cities and the towns that dotted the bay supplied most of the natural resources that growing East Coast cities needed.

Bangor, due to its proximity to the North Maine Woods and the Atlantic Ocean, quickly became a lumbering and shipbuilding town. Rockland provided nearly all of the lime for plaster and mortar, to New York City.

The Penobscot Bay area was also known for its many granite quarries. With the many growing East Coast cities such as Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia, demand for the material was fierce. Before the establishment of railroads, the only viable option for delivering the cargo to cities was via water.

All of this led to significant traffic into and out of Penobscot Bay and the Penobscot River. For vessels approaching from the southwest, there were two main channels into the bay - the Two Bush Channel and the Muscle Ridge Channel.

Neither channel was perfect. The Two Bush Channel put a mariner in the middle of the open bay but left them exposed to any weather that may arise. Whereas the Muscle Ridge Channel, which carried a mariner closer to shore but protected them from easterly winds. But it left mariners dodging countless islands, reefs, and ledges.

Early on in the growth and development of Penobscot Bay, mariners mostly chose the Muscle Ridge Channel. Despite the inherent risks, the protection from weather and the proximity to protected coves outweighed the risks. The Whitehead Island Lighthouse, established in 1807, and the Owl's Head Lighthouse, built in 1826, helped define the channel.

Despite the advantages of the Muscle Ridge Channel, not all mariners chose it. On clement days, with lots of daylight ahead, mariners would look for the two large pine trees that stood on Two Bush Island. However, by 1820, one of the trees was gone. Today, the island has no vegetation.

As early as 1872, locals began requesting a light for Two Bush Island. That same year, shipmasters, ship owners, and residents of Vinalhaven Island joined in, alleging that more than 5,000 vessels passed the island each year.

Congress considered the request for a lighthouse on Two Bush Island in 1878, but Rear Admiral John Rodgers of the Lighthouse Board had not found the light "of sufficient necessity to recommend its construction."

The same petition came before Congress again two years later. Still, Rear Admiral John Rodgers rejected the idea stating the "necessities of commerce" had not increased since that time and that the Lighthouse Board still didn't recommend the light.

The requests continued on every few years. Finally, in 1892, the Lighthouse Board recognized the need for a light on Two Bush Island. The following appeared in the Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board for that year:

The West Bay has a broad and deep mid-channel, which is accessible through a second channel known as the Two-Bush Channel, about 2 miles wide, between Crow Island and Two-Bush Island on the north, and the Northern Triangles on the south. This is the widest and cleanest channel into the West Bay...The light should be about 30 feet high with its focal plane about 60 feet above the sea. It is estimated that a light-station, embracing a brick tower, with illuminating apparatus, a double keeper's dwelling, a boat house and slip, a bell tower with bell and striking machine, barn and outbuildings complete, including the cost of the island and expense of title, would cost not exceeding $19,000, and it is recommended that an appropriation of this amount be made therefor.

As the Muscle Ridge Channel was narrow and frequently obstructed by fog and vessels at anchor, steamers found the navigation perilous. They instead opted for the broader and less obstructed Two Bush Channel.

The keepers of the Whitehead Light Station kept a record of vessels using the two channels into Penobscot Bay from February through May 1892. What they found was that nearly two-thirds of ships chose the Two Bush Channel, even though it had no light or fog signal.

An act approved on February 15, 1893, authorized the construction of a lighthouse on Two Bush Island, provided the cost did not exceed $19,000. Although the station was approved, it took until August 18, 1894, for Congress to appropriate the funds.

Charles F. Guptill, the owner of Two Bush Island, reportedly asked more than the island was worth. The federal government went as high as $1,000, but Guptill demanded $2,200. As the two parties couldn't come to a compromise, the government started condemnation proceedings. The following appeared in 1895 version of the Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board:

"As it is impracticable to buy the island, measures have been taken to obtain title to it by proceedings in condemnation."

By 1896, the condemnation proceedings had made it through the courts, and a jury awarded Mr. Guptill $600 for the island, which was $500 more than he had paid for it in 1892. In the end, he would have been better off taking the $1,000 the federal government initially offered.

That same year the Lighthouse Board began drawing up plans and specifications for the buildings. The contractor, W. H. Glover Company of Rockport, Maine started construction in the summer of 1897 and finished up that fall. The cost of the station was $12,250.

When completed, the W. H. Glover Company had built a 42-foot tall square brick tower with an attached fog signal building, a double wood-framed dwelling approximately 40 feet northeast of the tower, a brick oil house, a boathouse, and a boat slip. A fifth-order Fresnel lens inside the lantern produced a white flash every five seconds, 65 feet above the water.

U.S. Coast Guard Archive Photo of the Two Bush Island LighthouseTwo Bush Island Lighthouse (Courtesy Coast Guard)

Keeper Aldiverd A. Norton was assigned as head keeper and placed the lighthouse into service on the night of November 10, 1897. An assistant, Joseph A. Pruett served with Norton from 1897 to 1901.

The Lighthouse Board upgraded the intensity of the light by switching out the fifth-order lens for a more substantial fourth-order lens. The upgrade took place on November 7, 1901.

One of the most amazing stories regarding the Two Bush Island Lighthouse involved Keeper Norton's dog Smut, a three-year-old Newfoundland-shepherd mix. On March 5, 1902, a nor'easter quickly descended upon Penobscot Bay sending the fishing schooner, Clara Bella running for Rockland Harbor.

While trying to make the harbor, the vessel hit a rocky ledge and began taking on water. Captain Pulk and George Samuels escaped in the vessel's lifeboat. The pair rowed for three hours in search of a sheltered cove.

It was after midnight when Norton's dog Smut ran into the engine room barking uncontrollably, which was very uncharacteristic of the dog. Soon, Smut had started tugging on Norton's coat. Realizing that the dog was trying to show him something, Norton followed Smut from the Engine room.

As they made it outside, the dog began barking and running so fast that Norton could barely keep up. Smut had guided his master down a steep cliff to the edge of the water. It was then that Norton could hear Pulk and Samuels calling for help.

After running back to the lighthouse to get his lantern, Keeper Norton had instructed the two men to row around the point to where the station's boathouse was and used his lantern as a guide. After reaching the boathouse and waiting for some time, Norton realized the men weren't coming and returned to where he had last seen them.

Smut had once again found the men and began barking to alert the keeper. By now, Roscoe Dobbin, the assistant keeper had arrived onsite with a rope. Dobbin had secured the line, allowed Keeper Norton to descend the bank, wade into the water and toss the rope to the distressed men. The two keepers were then able to pull the weak men to safety.

Once safely on shore, the pair were smothered in "dog kisses' by Smut, as if he knew that he was pivotal in saving their lives. Although the men offered to buy the dog, Norton refused to part with his friend.

When Aldiverd Norton left the Two Bush Island Lighthouse in 1909, Jerome C. Brown took over as head keeper and served until 1912. Other keepers would come and go over the years, but in 1919, Leland Mann arrived as an assistant keeper with his wife, Gertrude, and their 12-year-old son Darrell.

Darrell was old enough to help out with lighthouse duties, and on one occasion, jumped out of a window of the keeper's house and raced to the top of the lighthouse to put out a fire that had started from the oil vapor.

A cold snap hit Penobscot Bay in February 1923. For 18 days, the temperature never rose above zero and froze most of Penobscot Bay. The lifesaving crew from nearby Whitehead Island used their dory to smash through the ice and deliver supplies to Two Bush Island.

On other occasions, Leland Mann and his son enlisted the help of two fishermen to get their "double-ender' boat to the mainland for supplies.

Leland Mann received a promotion in 1925 to Head Keeper. Ill fortune struck the following year, first with the passing of Mann's wife, Gertrude. That same year, Mann slipped on the boat slip and broke his hip. The Mann family also had some happy times that year when Darrell Mann married Ruth Duswald. Leland Mann retired in 1933.

The Coast Guard automated the Two Bush Island Lighthouse in 1964. For several years after, personnel from the nearby Whitehead Island Lighthouse would maintain the equipment at Two Bush Island. In 1969, the Coast Guard put out a request for bids to raze the keeper's duplex.

As all submissions exceeded the budgeted amount, the Coast Guard allowed the 10th Special Forces Group from Massachusetts to blow up the dwelling in a training exercise. The blast leveled the residence, left cracks in the brick walls and blew out several panes of glass.

Ownership of the lighthouse tower and land were transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1998 via the Maine Lights Program, the predecessor to the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000.

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manage the property as part of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, a collection of five individual refuges that span the coast of Maine.


  1. Annual Report of the Light House Board, U.S. Lighthouse Service, Various years.
  2. Various Government Documents, Federal & State Governments, Various dates.
  3. Lighthouses of Maine: Penobscot Bay (Lighthouses Treasury), Jeremy D'Entremont, July 9, 2013.
  4. Maine Lighthouses: Documentation Of Their Past , J. Candace Clifford, Mary Louise Clifford, April 30, 2005.
  5. The Field Guide to Lighthouses of the New England Coast: 150 Destinations in Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, Elinor De Wire, 2008.

Directions: This lighthouse sits well off shore. The only way to view it is via boat or plane. Several tours leave from neighboring cities that pass by the tower.

Access: The tower is owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Tower closed. Grounds closed during seabird nesting season (April 1 - August 31).View more Two Bush Island Lighthouse pictures

Tower Information
Tower Height: 42.00'
Focal Plane: 65'
Active Aid to Navigation: Yes
*Latitude: 43.96423 N
*Longitude: -69.07383 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.