Last Visited: September, 2003
Swans Island, about 7,000 acres in size, was first charted by explorer Samuel de Champlain in 1604. Champlain called the island Brule-Cote, or "Burnt Coast." It had long been used by local Indians as a summer fishing and hunting spot. The island was bought by James Swan, a participant in the Boston Tea Party, in 1786. The first permanent white settler was David Smith of New Hampshire in 1791. Smith had 24 children by two marriages and his feats of strength earned him the nickname "King David." Many island natives can trace their ancestry to David Smith.
The island developed strong granite, fishing, and lobstering industries in the nineteenth century. Burnt Coat Harbor, on the island's south side, was a valuable sheltered spot.
To mark the entrance to Burnt Coat Harbor, a light station was established on the promontory called Hockamock Head in 1872. Two towers were erected to serve as range lights.
In 1884, after numerous complaints that the range lights were confusing, the front light was discontinued, although the tower remained standing for some years.
The present square brick lighthouse was originally connected by a covered walkway to the 1 1/2-story wood-frame keeper's house. The oil house, still standing, was added in 1895. The bell tower that was added in 1911 also remains, although in disrepair. A foghorn eventually replaced the bell, but there were problems hearing the signal offshore.
The Coast Guard automated the light in 1975. The original fourth-order Fresnel lens was removed and replaced by an automatic light on a skeleton tower nearby. The new light wasn't as bright as the old one, and after numerous complaints the Coast Guard relighted the lighthouse with an automatic 250mm optic.
In 1982, the tower was badly in need of new paint. To save costs, the Coast Guard removed the remaining paint and coated the tower with a sealant. Local boaters complained that this rendered the lighthouse invisible against the dark background, so the Coast Guard gave the tower a new coat of white paint.
The station became the property of the Town of Swans Island in 1994.
A committee was formed to oversee the management of the property. With nobody living at the station and no regular maintenance, the property quickly deteriorated.
In 2002, the town received a grant from the Virginia Wellington Cabot Foundation for an architectural assessment of the keeper's house. A thorough study of the building was completed by Bar Harbor architect Roc Caivano, and the town initiated a comprehensive restoration plan.
A $15,000 grant was received in April 2006 from the MBNA Foundation Conservation Grants Program. Combined with private donations and funds from the town, this allowed the work on the exterior of the keeper's house to begin in the summer of 2006. The entire roof had to be re-boarded, then covered with Hatteras Red asphalt shingles.
A grant of $7,500 was also received in 2006 from the Maine Historic Preservation Commission's New Century Community Program for a survey of the windows in the keeper's house and their repair or replacement. The survey led to the discovery of problems with the building's foundation.
In addition, the town received a $7,500 matching grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The funds were used to obtain professional expertise for preservation planning for the light station. A plan was prepared by Annabelle Radcliffe-Trenner of Historic Building Architects.
The nonprofit Friends of the Swan’s Island Lighthouse have now taken responsibility for restoring, managing, and maintaining the light station buildings.
New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide
The lighthouse itself is closed but the surrounding grounds are open to the public.
The tower itself appears to be in good condition. The house seems, at least from the outside, to be in fair condition although it is in dire need of a new coat of paint!
Nearest Address: 371 Harbor Rd, Swans Island, ME
- Burnt Coat Harbor light cannot be seen from the mainland. You need to take a ferry from Bass Harbor to Swan's Island.
- To ferry Terminal - From Ellsworth follow Route 3 south onto Mt. Desert Island
- Once over the small bridge onto the island, bear right onto Route 102.
- Follow Route 102 for 13 miles through Somesville and Southwest Harbor.
- Bear left onto Route 102A.
- Just as you see the harbor to your right there will be a sign for Swan's Island Ferry to the right.
- Take a right onto Shore Road. Follow to the end to the ferry terminal.
- Once at the ferry terminal on Swan's Island, take a right onto Ferry Road.
- At the end of Ferry Road take a right onto Atlantic Road.
- Stay on Swans Island Road, which becomes Harbor Road.
- Continue on Harbor Road (it becomes a small, one lane wide road) to the end at the lighthouse.
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