Indian Island Lighthouse

Glen Cove, Maine - 1875 (1850**)

Photo of the Indian Island Lighthouse.

History of the Indian Island Lighthouse

Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2018-07-19.

With lime production in full swing, the United States erected the Indian Island Lighthouse in 1850 to mark the entrance to Rockport Harbor.

Penobscot Abenaki Indians referred to the area around Camden, Maine as Megunticook, which meant "great swells of the sea." Although Goose River Village, roughly two miles south, was originally part of the Megunticook Plantation and later, incorporated as Camden, it would split from Camden before the end of the 1800s.

Robert Thorndike first settled the Goose River Village in 1769. Several industries, notably lime production, shipbuilding, and ice harvesting, helped Goose River Village and Camden grow quickly. The Citizens of Goose River Village elected to change the town's name in 1852 to Rockport after its emergence as one of the nation's great lime production centers. After a dispute over the cost of constructing a bridge, Rockport officially split from Camden on February 25, 1891.

As the newly formed United States continued to grow, so did the call for granite, lime, and other building materials. Many of the kilns around Penobscot Bay were in full production, which increased shipping traffic. With more vessels on Penobscot Bay, the government erected lighthouses to provide safety.

As Rockland was one of the busiest ports in all of Penobscot Bay, the government erected the Whitehead Lighthouse in 1804 to mark the Muscle Ridge Channel into the bay, followed by the Owl's Head Lighthouse in 1825 to mark the south side of the entrance to Rockland Harbor.

Goose River Village, a little over five miles to the north, was another critical harbor for lime production. By the late 1840s, residents of Goose River Village (Rockport) had petitioned for a lighthouse to mark the entrance. Through the efforts of Ephraim Knight Smart, a resident of Rockport and a member of Congress, an appropriation of $3,500 was made on March 3, 1849, for a "lighthouse at Beauchamp Point, or on the opposite side of the harbor, in Camden."

Although the appropriation listed Beauchamp Point or the "opposite side of the harbor," the best location was at the easterly end of Indian Island. The U.S. Government agreed to purchase the seven-acre Indian Island from Silas Piper for $25 and received the deed on July 29, 1849. When completed, the first lighthouse was nothing more than a brick house with a lantern mounted on the roof.

Luther Jewett, Customs Collector and Superintendent of Lighthouses, made a recommendation for the appointment of Rufus Dunning as the keeper of the Indian Island Lighthouse:

As it is important to have good and worthy persons appointed to take charge of Light Houses and especially such persons, who make no use of ardent spirits as a drink, I would respectfully recommend the appointment of said Dunning and for these reasons: He never makes use of ardent spirits as a drink - He has been long at sea and Knows by experience the value of a good light - He is recommended by Ship Owners and Ship Masters, and has always sustained a good reputation...

Although Jewett made the recommendation, David Sargent was appointed as the station's first keeper, but only served for approximately one month. Perhaps Rufus Dunning would have been a better choice had he received the position?

Although the government erected the lighthouse on Indian Island, many documents still referred to it as the Beauchamp Point Lighthouse.

With the establishment of the United States Lighthouse Board in 1852, the system of lighthouses, fog bells, and buoys were removed from oversight by the U.S. Treasury Department and put under the auspices of a group which consisted of distinguished military officers and civilian scientists who understood the business.

After decades of being run by a penny-pincher, the Lighthouse Board ran the department very differently. Rather than always going with the lowest price, the new board focused on quality. Soon after being placed in charge, the board adopted the use of the more efficient Fresnel lens.

The Indian Island Lighthouse had its old, expensive, and inefficient reflectors and lamps replaced with a fourth-order Fresnel lens in 1856, and by 1858, all lighthouses in the first lighthouse district had Fresnel lens.

After the quick departure of David Sargent, Silas Piper took over the keeper position, which he held until 1853. William McLaughlin took over and served until 1857. The final keeper, Richard Grinnell, served until 1859.

Discussions began in 1856 regarding the discontinuance of the several lighthouses in the first district. The government recommended discontinuing the lights at Prospect Harbor, Kennebunk River, and the Indian Island Lighthouse due to limited commerce. The following entry appeared in the Report of the Secretary of the Treasury, on the State of the Finances for the year of 1857:

Beauchamp Point light-house is situated two miles south of Negro Island light-house, in Penobscot bay. On account of its nearness to Negro Island light-house, it is of no use to the general navigation of the bay, and it is of but little use to the village near which it is situated, the commerce of which is small. Its discontinuance is respectfully recommended.

Negro Island (later known as Curtis Island) was a five-acre island that sat at the entrance to Camden, Maine. The government operated a lighthouse on the southeastern end of the island since 1836. In 1934, the island was renamed to Curtis Island in honor of Cyrus H. K. Curtis, a philanthropist, and frequent visitor. At that time, the lighthouse was renamed to Curtis Island Lighthouse to reflect the new name of the island.

As the lime trade continued to flourish, the Lighthouse Board decided to reestablish the Indian Island Lighthouse. Congress appropriated $9,000 on June 23, 1874, to repair the facility. However, upon further inspection, the Lighthouse Board instead chose to establish a new station.

The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board for the year 1875 had the following entry:

30. Indian Island, entrance to Rockport Harbor, Maine - An appropriation of $9,000 was made by an act approved June 23, 1874, for re-establishing the light-house at Indian Island, Rockport Harbor, Maine. Upon an examination of the premises, it was decided to renew the wood-work of the old one-and-a-half-story brick dwelling, repair the walls and foundation, increase the accommodations by a frame addition 16 feet square, and erect a brick light-house tower, the light having formerly been exhibited from a lantern on the roof of the dwelling. This work was taken in hand soon after the appropriation was made, and on the 15th of January, 1875, it was completed and the light exhibited.

Work progressed quickly, and on January 15, 1875, the appointed keeper, Joseph Small, exhibited the light. The new tower stood 31 feet tall but had a focal plane of 53&fra12; above mean high water.

National Archives Photo of Indian Island Lighthouse Indian Island Lighthouse (Courtesy National Archives)

Small remained keeper until 1881 when Knott C. Perry replaced him. Perry was a well-known mariner from Rockland that had served previously at Matinicus Rock Lighthouse and stayed at the Indian Island Light until his death in 1894.

Throughout the years, additional maintenance was carried out. In 1880 repairs were made to the retaining wall and a storm porch was built over the back door. A house-pump and fifteen feet of lead pipe were added in 1883, a 150-foot-long boat slip was built in 1885, and three years later, a 67-foot-long boat-way and wood-house were built.

By 1900, some 130 feet of the boat slip required rebuilding.

In 1902, the Lighthouse Board increased the intensity of the light by swapping out the fifth-order Fresnel lens with a slightly larger fourth-order lens.

A stone oil house was built in 1904, and a portion of the retaining wall was rebuilt in 1905.

By the 1920s, the lime industry around the Penobscot Bay region began to decline. The last keeper of the station, William Foster Reed, arrived in 1925. He had previously served at the Halfway Rock Lighthouse in Casco Bay and the Cuckolds Lighthouse, near Southport.

The lighthouse Service discontinued the Indian Island Lighthouse upon Reed's retirement in 1933. The island and buildings were sold at auction into private ownership in September 1934. William L. Pattison of Chicago submitted the winning bid of $1,025. The property remains in the family today.

The Coast Guard established an automated light on nearby Lowell Rock in 1949.

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


  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, Bill Caldwell, 1986.
  4. Lighthouses of Maine: Penobscot Bay (Lighthouses Treasury), Jeremy D'Entremont, July 9, 2013.
  5. Maine Lighthouses: Documentation Of Their Past , J. Candace Clifford, Mary Louise Clifford, April 30, 2005.

Directions: This lighthouse sits off shore on Indian Island. The best views would be via a boat cruise from Rockport Harbor. If this is not possible, it looks like you might be able to get a distant view from Sea Light Lane off of US-1 south of Rockport.

Access: The lighthouse is privately owned. Grounds / tower closed. The lighthouse is best viewed from the water.

View more Indian Island Lighthouse pictures
Tower Information
Tower Height: 31.00'
Focal Plane: 53'
Active Aid to Navigation: Deactivated (1934)
*Latitude: 44.16547 N
*Longitude: -69.06105 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.