This Region:
Southern Maine
Previous Light:
Cape Neddick
(Nubble)

Next Lighthouse:
Cape Porpoise
(Goat Island)


Boon Island Lighthouse

boon island

York, Maine
Built in 1811


 

Location:

Boon Island, about nine miles from the York coastline. Can only be viewed by boat.

Latitude: 43° 07' 18" N
Longitude: 70° 28' 36" W

Historic Stories:

Being a tiny desolated island or rocks, Boon Island became the point of many stories of shipwrecks, one especially regarding the Nottingham Galley in the winter of 1710, where the survivors had to struggle on the rock for three weeks to survive by resulting to cannibalism. In fact, the name “boon” came from packed food and clothing called boon that fishermen placed on the island for those mariners who may have found themselves shipwrecked on the rocky island.

A wooden tower was constructed as an unlit beacon in 1799. It survived for nearly five years until it was washed away in a great storm of October 9, 1804, and was replaced by a stone beacon in 1805. The construction was not without tragedy as three of the workers on the tower had their boat capsize from a rogue wave on the way to the mainland, drowning them.

With the stone tower falling into decay, a new lighted 32-foot tower was built in 1811. A storm in 1831 washed away most of the lighthouse and another tower was authorized to be built as a 49-foot lighted tower, 69 feet above mean high water. In 1854, Congress authorized still another lighted tower, which was finished in 1855 and still stands. The stone tower, built of granite, is 133 feet high. Boon Island lighthouse is the tallest beacon in New England.

When the first lighted lighthouse was built in 1811, its lonely desolation and constant over pouring of the waves, as it was only 14 feet above sea level, caused the first two keepers to resign within weeks of being installed there. Eliphalet Grover, the fourth keeper who started in 1816, managed to stay on the island for the next 22 years. He passed the time playing his fiddle.

In 1846, the schooner Caroline shipwrecked on the island during a storm and Keeper Nathaniel Baker saved the entire crew. He was later dismissed in 1849 due to "political reasons" in being outspoken against some of the government practices. This was usually the case for some keepers in those times, regardless of their heroic deeds.

early boon is light

Early Boon Island Light
Courtesy US Coast Guard

William W. Williams, spent 27 years from the 1890’s to World War I as keeper on Boon Island. The keeper used to bring barrels of dirt to plant flowers and vegetables on the rock, as the constant storms would simply wash everything away over the months. His most famous rescue involved one of the coldest days of December, with temperatures below zero with howling winds. Crewmembers of the yawl boat, the Goldhunter were caught in the waves trying to get to the island for safety. The keeper and has assistants mamaged to get the forzen survivors to shore safely. One Thanksgiving, Williams and his assitants were stranded on the island without much food due to stormy weather. On Thanksgiving eve, eight ducks, attracted by the light during a storm, flew into the lantern and killed themselves. Williams and his assistants were able to have quite a delayed feast, as their families on the mainland had a bleak holiday meal of boiled potatoes and bread.

Over the years, the constant cold and rogue waves that would often encompass the island, and the constant thrashing of these waves against the lighthouse kept its desolate location an erie sight. Many keepers and mariners have reported seeing the ghost of a woman on the rocks amongst other paranormal activities and sounds. There is a legend of a keeper drowning and his new bride going insane trying to keep the light burning with his corpse at the bottom of the tower. In the early 1970’s, a Coast Guard keeper and fellow crewman went off fishing a short distance from the island when they noticed they had drifted too far from the island to make it back in time to turn the light on before dark.  Although no one was on the island, the light was turned on and glowing brightly by the time the keepers returned.

During the great Blizzard of 1978, as the gale force winds forced huge waves to crash and cover over the island with blinding snow, three Coast Guard keepers were clinging to the spiral staircase inside the tower that was swaying in the storm. They survived that day and were rescued by helicopter the following the day during a lull in the blizzard. They were the last lighthouse keepers to staff the tower. The buildings were destroyed from the storm and later the Coast Guard had them burned in the 1980's. Only the automated tower remains today. The original 2nd order Fresnel lens is on permanent display at the Kittery Historical and Naval Museum.

 

 

Places to Visit Nearby:

York is an affluent community with beautiful Victorian homes, beaches, and organizes many events year round. In the heart of York Village, lies the Museums of Old York, operated by the Old York Historical Society. The Museums consist of nine historic buildings including The Old Jail (Gaol), the nation’s oldest royal prison, where the jail keeper’s family lived above the prisoners’ dungeon. Other buildings include the 1834 Remick Barn, Jefferd’s Tavern, a true colonial tavern dating back to 1750, and an old schoolhouse. Mount Agamenticus nearby is an easy hike on this “big hill” to enjoy mountaintop views of the ocean and surrounding area, and the occasional concerts that happen there during the summer months. Just follow Mountain Road from Route 1.

Boon Island lighthouse can only be viewed by boat and is not accessible to the public. The Friends Of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, in cooperation with Granite State Whale Watch, has a special lighthouse cruise in September that takes visitors around Boon Island and four other local lighthouses. They will also be having a couple sunset lighthouse cruises to view Portsmouth Harbor light, Whaleback light, and White Island light in June. Boat leaves out of Rye Marina in NH. The Isles of Shoals Steamship Co. out of Portsmouth Harbor provides tours out of the harbor and out to the Isles of Shoals, but it also makes an annual tour to Boon Island in Autumn.

 

Contact Info:
American Lighthouse Foundation
P.O. Box 565
Rockland, ME 04841
Phone: (207) 594-4174

 

 

Local Boat Tour

 

New England Eco Adventures
Provides tours on a fast, low to the water, Navy S.E.A.L Rigid Inflatable Boat (R.I.B) that glides over the water. They offer tours along the southern Maine coastline with narrated tours to four lighthouses, which include Nubble light, Goat Island light, Wood Island light, and out to Boon Island lighthouse, which is rarely visited on any other tours. They also offer a unique guided walk about tour around Goat Island lighthouse and grounds, a land/sea adventure cruise, a 1-hr speedy thrill ride along 20 miles of coastline, and a 3-hour sunset whale watching cruise.
8 Western Ave
Kennebunk, ME 04043
(207) 502-8040
matt@newenglandecoadventures.com

Lighthouses: Nubble (Cape Neddick) Lighthouse, Boon Island Lighthouse, Goat Island (Cape Porpoise) Lighthouse, and Wood Island Lighthouse

 

 

 

My 300-page book (with over 360 images), Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Northern New England: New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont, published by Schiffer Publishing, provides human interest stories from each of the 76 lighthouses, along with plenty of coastal attractions and tours near each beacon, and contact info to plan your special trips.

There is also a segment of stories of haunted lighthouses, of which Boon Island is considered haunted by the distraught wife of a keeper that died on the island.

Look inside!

book northern New England lighthouses and attractions

 

 

 

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