Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2017-03-13.
By the late 1700s, the village of Wiscasset, Maine began to prosper due to its deep-water harbor. This attribute helped drive its growth as a center for shipbuilding, lumbering, and fishing. To safely guide mariners into the Sheepscot River, the Hendricks Head Lighthouse was established on the westernmost point of Southport Island.
The earliest recorded settlement at Wiscassett was in 1660. Although the community was abandoned during the French and Indian Wars, it was later resettled around 1730. From there, its growth continued through the end of the century.
By 1810, Wiscasset, Maine was the second largest seaport in New England, only Boston was larger. There were so many ships registered to the port that it was said that you could walk from deck to deck, all the way across the harbor.
With a steady stream of traffic on the Sheepscot River, mariners requested a lighthouse. In January 1826, Representative Ebenezer Herrick presented "a petition of the inhabitants of Edgecomb, Boothbay, and Wiscasset, in the State of Maine, praying for the erection of a lighthouse at Hendrick's Head, so called, or at some other suitable place near the mouth of the Sheepscot river [sic]."
It would take a few years, but on March 2, 1829, Congress appropriated $5,000 for a lighthouse on Hendrick's Head, near the mouth of the Sheepscot River. A few months later, John Chandler, the Superintendent of the Lighthouses in Maine, advertised for proposals for the light's construction.
1829 Hendrick's Head Light (Courtesy National Archives)
The proposal contained plans for a one-story stone dwelling, measuring 20 feet by 40 feet. The dwelling was to contain a cellar and attached 12-foot by 14-foot kitchen. At one end of the dwelling was to be an octagonal lighthouse tower, rising 8 feet from the roof of the house to the base of the lantern, which was to be seven feet tall, and of wrought-iron. Inside the birdcage-style lantern would be 10 oil lamps, each backed with 14-inch reflectors.
Contractor Joseph Berry of Thomaston, Maine erected the lighthouse, which Keeper John Upham placed into service on December 1, 1829. Less than a year later, the schooner Galen went aground on a nearby reef after the captain had mistaken the newly established light for the Burnt Island Lighthouse.
Almost a decade later, in an 1838 report by Lieutenant Thomas J. Manning, the station was listed as in good order. Six years later, civil engineer, I. W. P. Lewis visited all lighthouses in the New England area and created a report detailing their conditions.
The house and tower were listed in fair condition, the lantern was listed as having impure glass, four broken panes, six reflectors out of perpendicular, and one lamp and reflector was facing inland.
He continued on, questioning if the light was even needed:
Location. Hendrick's head is a small promontory on the west side of Townsend harbor, at the mouth of the Sheepscot river. The uses of this light may be considered as prospective, for the present amount of navigation in the river hardly authorizes the expense of maintaining a light here. The character of the light (fixed) is highly objectionable, from its contiguity to Burnt Island light; which is similar, and this fact has already caused sad disasters and the loss of numerous lives by one being mistaken for the other. The light should be altered to a reciprocating one, if continued, with one lamp, properly fitted.
It would take over a decade before any of Lewis's recommendations were put forth, but in July 1855, the light was changed to a fifth-order Fresnel lens and given a flash characteristic.
Keeper positions were often given due to political affiliation or for military service. Jaruel Marr would be appointed keeper of the Hendrick's Head Lighthouse in 1866 as "token compensation" for his service and injuries sustained during the Civil War.
Jaruel Marr had enlisted in the 7th Maine, Company D of the Union Army. Several months later, he was wounded and incarcerated in the Confederate Army's Liberty Prison in Richmond, Virginia. It was here that he was nursed back to health by a Union doctor named Wolcott. After being freed, he would later name his one child after the doctor.
It was during Jaruel Marr's tenure that one of the most widely told shipwreck legends had occurred. The story first showed up in Edward Rowe Snow's Lighthouses of New England, which was published in 1945. The story was said to take place in March 1870, but was reported as 1875, according to a 1955 newspaper story.
The legend tells of a shipwreck that occurred near the Hendricks Head Lighthouse. Although Jaruel Marr could see the stranded vessel and the survivors clinging to the rigging, due to the size of the waves, the keeper could not safely launch his dory. He and his wife watched helplessly from shore.
As evening arrived, Marr went back down to the shore to see if wreckage was washing ashore. It was at that time that he noticed a large bundle "tossing light and coming ashore." Marr ran over to his boathouse, grabbed a boathook, and with that, he was able to fetch the bundle as it drifted near shore.
Marr opened the bundle to find a crying baby girl. Also inside the bundle were two blankets, a locket, and a message from the baby's mother in which she commended the child to God. The legend states that the Marrs adopted and raised the baby girl at the lighthouse.
Still others say the story isn't true as no newspaper ever reported the shipwreck or the incident. Barbara Rumsey of the Boothbay Region Historical Society stated that the legend was very similar to Uncle Terry, a novel published in 1900. Robert Thayer Sterling posited it the other way, stating that the event may have been the basis of the story Uncle Terry.
Descendants of Jaruel Marr state that the story is true. But rather than the Marrs raising the baby, they say that the baby girl was adopted by a doctor and his wife and given the name Seaborn. The veracity of the story may never be verified.
Hendrick's Head Lighthouse (Courtesy Coast Guard)
By 1874, reports in the Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board recommended that the keeper's dwellings at the Narraguagus and Hendrick's Head lighthouses be replaced. By June 1875, 10,000 bricks were landed at the site, and work continued throughout the summer.
A new one-and-one-half-story, wood-framed keeper's dwelling, a stand-alone tower, and a covered walkway connecting the two were built. On September 23, 1875, the fifth-order Fresnel lens was transferred to the new tower. Jaruel Marr and his family moved into the new dwelling, one week later.
A hand-operated fog bell was added to the station in 1878. By 1891 a new pyramidal bell tower was added to the station. The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board provided the following details:
47. Hendricks Head, entrance to Sheepscot River, Maine - A bell house upon a pyramidal skeleton frame of yellow pine bolted to the lodge was built and a 1,200-pound bell, struck by machinery, was provided and put in place.
Wolcott Marr, son of Jaruel and Catherine Marr, entered the Lighthouse Service in 1890. He first served as an assistant keeper at the Cape Elizabeth Lighthouses, then at the Cuckolds Fog Signal Station, before coming to Hendrick's Head Lighthouse, his childhood home, to relieve his retiring father.
The following entry was written by Wolcott Marr in the station's log book on July 1, 1895: "Arrived at the station at 2 PM to relive Mr. Jaruel Marr, who has been keeper here for the past 29 years."
In 1895, an oil house was built to store kerosene.
Wolcott Marr remained keeper until 1930, when he passed away from acute bleeding of stomach ulcers at the age of 61. Wolcott Marr was born, married, and died in the same room at the Hendrick's Head Lighthouse.
Charles L. Knight took over duties following the death of Wolcott Marr. He served until the lighthouse was discontinued in 1933. In 1935, the entire peninsula and station was sold to Dr. William P. Browne of Connecticut.
Electricity come to the station in 1951. That, along with increased boating traffic prompted the Coast Guard to reactivate the light. A winter storm in 1978 destroyed the boat house and covered walkway. The following year, the Coast Guard replaced the fifth-order Fresnel lens with a modern 250-millimeter optic.
At some point, the light station and property had passed to Dr. Browne's daughter Mary Charbonneau, who owned it until 1991, when it was sold to Benjamin and Luanne Russel. Within a few years, the station was fully restored. As you can see from the photos taken in 2016 that meticulous upkeep continues today.
Note: The lighthouse is private property, please respect the owner's privacy and do not trespass.
Directions: From Southport, follow Highway 27 (Hendricks Hill Road) south to the round-a-bout (triangular intersection). From here, follow Beach Road west to the lighthouse. The lighthouse can be viewed from the road. Cruises that pass by the Hendrick's Head Lighthouse are available from the Maine Maritime Museum out of Bath, Maine.
Access: The lighthouse is private property. Grounds / dwelling / tower closed. Please respect this and do not trespass.View more Hendrick's Head Lighthouse pictures