Have you ever stopped to think about what life was like in an early lighthouse or what the early days of FDR’s life was like? This day trip was all about “Walking in the Footsteps of Days Gone-By.”
Whenever we visit lighthouses we always read all of the exhibits and we’ve become intrigued by the lighthouse keepers of “Days Gone-By”. We’ve discovered that they were a rugged bunch and we think this is how their job description might have looked. Would you apply?
Wanted: Lighthouse Keeper
Qualifications: Must be a self-starter, self-directed, seeks solitude, physically fit, not afraid of heights, able to read and write, mechanically inclined, safety conscious, able to take care of your own/others health needs, able to fight oil/kerosene fires, and other qualifications as needed.
Responsibilities Include (but not limited to): Maintaining a daily logbook of all activities – keeping up with shipping traffic, weather conditions, dusting, scrubbing, painting, trimming wicks, cleaning lens, cleaning windows, hauling heavy oil cans up several flights of stairs to the lantern room for the light every couple of hours, hanging outside a lighthouse tower to paint it twice per year, and other duties as required.
Responsibilities may also include: operating a pulley system for rotating the lighthouse lens every few hours, helping to rescue the crews/passengers from sinking ships, fighting fires (a daily threat due to working with oil/kerosene), and ringing a bell two gongs every 15 seconds until a fog lifts.
Must be willing to work on holidays, with low pay, love working alone in remote areas, be a quick thinker, able and willing to work during violent storms, ice floes and floods or during times of war.
Applicants with families preferred. Every family member will be required to help with the responsibilities of the keeper, as well as, plant vegetable gardens, raise domesticated animals, home-school any children or row them to the nearest school.
The Three Lighthouses Visited/Viewed On Our Day Trip from Winter Harbor, Maine
West Quoddy Head Light @ Lubec, Maine, USA
On a foggy, cold day in August (yes, we had to wear a jacket in August) we visited one of the oldest (still-original) lighthouses in Maine, built in 1808 under orders by Thomas Jefferson. This lighthouse stands on the easternmost point of the United States mainland and overlooks the U.S. and Canadian border. West Quoddy Head Lighthouse is 85 feet tall. It is the most photographed American lighthouse and I’m sure you have seen it on calendars or posters. The grounds are open to the public and are a part of West Quoddy State Park. The views from these grounds are spectacular, cliffs drop 40’ to a rocky beach and 100 yards offshore waves crash over the dangerous rocks. On a clear day it is said you can see whales off in the distance.
The first keeper was Thomas Dextor. His pay began at $250 a year (later increasing to $300/year). This lighthouse was equipped with one of the first fog signals, a bell. A series of bells were used at this lighthouse from 1820-1858. However, the keeper complained that he had to constantly ring the bell during foggy conditions so after seven years he was given a $70/year stipend for the task … Ah, the life of a lighthouse keeper.
Mulholland Lighthouse @ Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada
Next, we crossed the FDR International bridge that links Lubec, Maine, USA, to Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada. As we were in line to cross the border into Canada, we saw a small lighthouse off to our left called Mulholland Lighthouse. It was built in 1885, and served as a guide for small boats, passenger ships, and freighters coming through the Lubec Channel for passage between the USA and Canadian ports.
This lighthouse is not open to the public however visitors can walk around it or use the picnic site, but the best way to see it, is from the shores of Lubec, Maine. We had read it is a good place to see seals but we didn’t see any, maybe next time.
I couldn’t find any information about its early lightkeepers.
Head Harbour Lightstation (a.k.a. East Quoddy Lighthouse) @ Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada
The only time you can visit the second-oldest lighthouse in Canada is during low tide since it is accessible only by foot and you must use caution because the tide changes quickly at 5 feet per hour. Well, we didn’t plan our visit based on the tide, so we had to be content to view it from afar.
There were interpreters on hand to tell us about the history of the structure and the island. We found out that Head Harbour Lightstation was built in 1829, as a way to help ships navigate the fog, high tides, and the treacherous rocks surrounding Campobello Island. The structure of this lighthouse is an octagon, and it is a wooden tower painted white with a distinctive red cross. This lighthouse is still in use, and although the light still shines into the bay, it no longer has a keeper.
I couldn’t find anything directly about the first lighthouse keeper but I did find on the Head Harbour Lightstation website, essays and short stories by the first keeper’s daughter, Mary Snell. Her writings tell true stories of her life growing up and living at the lighthouse.
A Visit to FDR’s Summer Home @ Roosevelt Campobello International Park, Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada
Our final stop on the island was to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s summer house and as we arrived we were welcomed by a docent in his best Louisiana drawl. He and his wife (from Franklin, Louisiana) were volunteering here for the summer, what a small world. When he found out I was a retired teacher, he proudly announced that his relative, from Morehouse parish, was the first female school superintendent in Louisiana. He also told us that he had retired from a chemical plant, where he was an I/E technician. Well, I digress … Let me get back to telling you about the FDR summer home …
A Brief History: Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s mother and father began bringing him to Campobello Island for summers when he was only one year old, often staying in area hotels, until they purchased their own land and built a cottage. Franklin’s father loved being out in nature and wanted his son to love it also, so they spent many summers coming to the island.
Years later, Franklin and Eleanor built a 34-room “cottage” so they could continue the tradition of spending summers on Campobello Island with their children. They loved being with the local people and being out in nature. Every July, August, and part of September the family would visit, until Franklin entered public life. Over these wonderful summers, Franklin taught his children sailing and the other pastimes he had learned there during his childhood.
Although FDR’s growing political responsibilities and health problems eventually limited his visits to Campobello, his love of the island and his long associations with its people left a lasting impression.
The beautiful, landscaped 2,800 acres surrounding the house are now the Roosevelt Campobello International Park and are managed jointly by both the United States and Canada. Visitors may tour the Visitor’s Center, Roosevelt’s Summer Home, Franklin’s Mother’s Summer Home, and the park’s natural areas with trails throughout. You can also tour Hubbard Cottage and have a special “Tea with Eleanor” and hear her life story. This is definitely a stop we would recommend.
HINT: If you take this trip, we highly recommend stopping at Helen’s Restaurant in Machias, Maine. They have the best fish chowder and blueberry pie anywhere!
Sights Seen Along the Way
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