Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2017-02-11.
The Kennebec River was an early trade corridor from the Atlantic Coast to the interior of Maine. In order to safeguard navigation, the Lighthouse Board established several lighthouses along its banks, including the Squirrel Point Lighthouse.
The Kennebec River played an important role in the settlement of Maine. Several of the earliest English settlements were near the river, such as the Popham Colony, near Phippsburg, and settlements near Bath, commonly known as "The City of Ships," and near Augusta.
To mark the entrance to the river, the Pond Island Lighthouse, on the western side of the mouth of the Kennebec River was established in 1821. But it did little to help navigation, once vessels were in the river.
To make the point for a lighthouse at Squirrel Point, the Lighthouse Board stated several facts regarding the Kennebec River. During the year 1892, there were 3,137 arrivals of vessels that year, not counting the daily steamer traffic. That year, the steamers Kennebec and Sagadahoc made 96 round trips each from Gardiner, Maine to Boston, Massachusetts. The Board stated that the number of passengers carried was 232,150.
Although private companies had maintained lights at turning points in the river, the Lighthouse Board went on to recommend several new lights be established:
The Light-House Establishment maintains no lights or fog signals in the Kennebec, but the Kennebec Steamboat Company and the towboat companies have united for many years in maintaining lanterns hung on the buoys at turning points or other difficult places. The above facts establish, in the Board's opinion, the necessity for and advisability of increasing the aids to navigation in the Kennebec River, and it recommends the establishment of the following named lights:
At Squirrel Point a fixed red light from a lens lantern, with a white sector to the southward, at an estimated cost of $4,650.
The location of the Squirrel Point Lighthouse takes its name from the ship Squirrel, which ran aground in 1717 transporting the royal governor of Massachusetts to Arrowsic Island to renew a peace treaty with the local Indians.
The Lighthouse Board went on to recommend three other lighthouses also be established at that time (Perkins Island, Doubling Point, and Ames Ledge), and recommended that all four could be constructed for $16,725.
Squirrel Point Lighthouse circa 1975 (Courtesy CG)
The title to the land was acquired in 1897 and construction started soon thereafter. By February 1898, the station was done, which consisted of a 25-foot wooden frame tower, frame dwelling, and frame barn. The tower was nearly identical to the towers on Perkins Island and Doubling Point.
The illumination was originally from a lens lantern, but was upgraded to a fifth-order Fresnel lens in 1902. Today, the illumination is provided by a 250-millimeter optic and the fifth-order lens is on display at the Portland Head Lighthouse Museum.
Over the next few years, some additional steps were being done to "finish" the station. In 1899, a gallery with railing was built around the lantern, a boat slip and 70 running feel of plank walks were built, and a concrete floor was laid in the cellar of the dwelling.
On June 6, 1900, Congress appropriated $1,620 to build a boat houses at each of the four stations, of which construction started the following year. That same year, the fuel house and barn were moved closer to the dwelling.
In 1902, the lens was upgraded and a fog bell tower was built. The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board had the following entry:
55. Squirrel Point, Arrowsic Island, Kennebec River, Maine - The intensity of the light was increased by changing the lens from a lens-lantern to a fifth-order lens; a bell house and weight shaft were built on the tower, and a 1,000-pound fog-bell established. The ledge was blasted out and a drainpipe laid in it from the dwelling to high-water mark.
The final addition to the station was an oil house to store kerosene, which was built in 1906.
Over the years, many keepers would call Squirrel Point Lighthouse home. Unlike some stations where keepers would serve for a year or so, keepers tended to stay at the Squirrel Point Lighthouse much longer.
George Matthews, who was an assistant keeper at the Whitehead Lighthouse previously, was the station's first keeper, and served for 18 years. Charles L. Knight took over, and served for ten years. Clarence Skolfield, who had also served at the nearby stations of Seguin Island and Perkins Island Lighthouses, served for 13 years. These are just a few examples.
Joseph Robicheau was the last keeper to serve at Squirrel Point and left in 1981 when the light was automated. For some time after that, the keeper at the Doubling Point Range Lights remotely monitored the Squirrel Point Lighthouse as well as the Doubling Point Lighthouse.
While on a birdwatching cruise on the Kennebec River in 1993, Mike Trenholm, a semiretired real estate dealer from Yarmouth, Maine first saw the Squirrel Point Lighthouse. The next day, Trenholm contacted the Coast Guard and within six months, he had a lease for the property.
In 1996, Trenholm established the Squirrel Point Associates, a nonprofit organization. That same year, a Congressional Transfer gave the lighthouse for free to the Squirrel Point Associates, provided it be "used for educational, historical, recreational, cultural and wildlife conservation programs for the general public" and "maintained in a manner consistent with the provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966."
Two years later, Trenholm and the Squirrel Point Associates received the deed for the land.
That same year, the Chewonki Foundation, a local nonprofit entered into negotiations to purchase the property for $150,000, which was said to be the amount of money Trenholn invested in the property. However, the Chewonki Foundation exited negotiations when their evaluation and estimate of the work done and the general condition of the property didn't fit the asking price.
Less than a year later, word leaked out that Trenholm was trying to sell the property and the asking price was $500,000, which included the lighthouse, keeper's house, barn, oil house, boat house, and over four acres of land. After criticism and complaints, the potential sale was withdrawn. When Trenholm was asked about the sale, he said that it was listed with a realtor in error, and that he never meant to sell it.
Around 2002, Trenholm was again trying to sell the property, this time for $375,000. Public outcry questioned whether someone should be allowed to profit from a government property they received for free. Trenholm claimed that his failing health left him unable to maintain the lighthouse, and that he only sought to recover the amount he invested in the property.
At the time, area residents disputed that claim, citing a collapsed deck, overgrown weeds and brush, and siding that was falling off the house. An inspection by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission confirmed many of the resident's findings, and brought forth many more.
After their inspection, a six-page letter was sent to Trenholm and the Squirrel Point Associates citing either improper restoration or lack thereof. Many of the alterations Trenholm made were not approved by the State Historic Preservation Office and do not match historic profiles. Another part of the report pointed out maintenance items that needed to be addressed, such as deteriorated wooden walkways, and siding missing from the house.
The letter concluded with detailed instructions to remove the historically inaccurate improvements that were made and replace them with historically accurate ones. The letter gave Squirrel Point Associates until December 15, 2002 to submit a plan to the Maine Historic Preservation Commission as to how the corrections would be made, and gave them a deadline of September 1, 2003 to complete the work.
The Citizens for Squirrel Point, a nonprofit agency, was formed in 2002 to preserve the lighthouse property for the benefit of the public. Later that year, the group, being represented pro bono by Verril & Dana, LLP of Portland, Maine filed suit in Federal court to activate the reversion clause in Squirrel Point Associates' deed on the grounds that the group failed to honor the requirements.
In March 2004, the federal government filed its own lawsuit against Trenholm and Squirrel Point Associates.
The litigation took a few years, but in 2005, the court sided with the Citizens for Squirrel Point and ruled that the property revert to the federal government. Although the Chewonki Foundation signed a lease with the Coast Guard to manage the property, it relinquished it after only a few years.
Today, the station is leased to the Citizens for Squirrel Point. The group has started on a multi-year effort to restore the aging property. Phase one, which started in May 2016 was to make the buildings water tight and ensure that they are structurally sound. This included repointing the chimney, structural work, and replacing the roof of the keeper's dwelling and shed.
Plans for 2017 include raising funds to preserve the exterior of the buildings. Donations are being accepted and are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. Please consider donating today.
Directions: The lighthouse is best viewed from the water. We took a tour operated by the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath.
You can "hike" to the lighthouse: From Highway 1 in Bath, follow Highway 127 (Arrowsic Road) south to Bald Head Road. Take Bald Head Road south to the end, where you will find a parking area. Here you will find a hiking trail that will lead you to the lighthouse. Reports are that it is around a mile and over rough terrain.
Access: The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard, but leased to the Citizens for Squirrel Point. Grounds open. Tower / dwelling closed.View more Squirrel Point Lighthouse pictures