It peers over you as you drift by on the Kennebec River. Located about two miles upstream from the river’s mouth, it has stood prominently alongside a small light tower and barn since 1898.
The keeper’s house on Perkins Island is an unmistakable landmark on the Kennebec, and part of an important group of navigation aids that have helped guide vessels safely along the river’s course since the days when passenger steamships plied these waters. The light station on Perkins is the southernmost of four light stations on the Kennebec, and its structures remain the most intact among the group. However, more than a century of exposure to unforgiving wind, fog and sea spray has left the keeper’s house much worse for wear. Luckily, by the time the summer boating season rolls around this year, a restoration effort should be well underway.
Perkins Island became part of the Maine Island Trail at the Trail’s inception in 1988. Since that time, MITA has maintained a wooded campsite on the island’s southeast side as well as a walking path to the light station. The lighthouse, which remains in operation, is owned by the U.S. Coast Guard and licensed to the nonprofit American Lighthouse Foundation. The remaining light station structures, including the keeper’s house and barn, a brick oil house, and a pyramidal bell tower built in the early 1900s, were transferred from the Coast Guard to the State of Maine after the light became automated. A boat house that once clung to the island’s granite bank is the only original structure that is no longer standing.
Maintaining historic structures traditionally has been outside of MITA’s purview, but in 1999, MITA and the Bureau of Parks and Lands teamed up to rehabilitate the bell tower. It was clear at the time that the keeper’s house also needed attention, but funding limited the work to just the bell tower structure. Since then, the Friends of Perkins Island Lighthouse (FOPIL), a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation, has maintained some momentum and raised additional money for restoration. Over the course of several years, FOPIL volunteers removed debris from the keeper’s house, cleared encroaching vegetation, sealed leaking windows and made some minor structural repairs to the light station buildings. In 2011, FOPIL contracted to have the light tower repainted and its lantern weatherized. Yet deterioration of the keeper’s house marched on. It has sat mothballed for the past several years, its fate uncertain.
Enter Georgetown residents Tom and Jaana Sheehan, who felt strongly that action should be taken to revitalize the neglected keeper’s house, and who were willing to make a generous contribution to jumpstart the process. Tom reached out to MITA for help in the fall of 2013, and after a few emails and phone conversations with potential partners, a restoration movement was revived. In November, MITA brought together representatives from the Bureau of Parks and Lands, the American Lighthouse Foundation, the Friends of Perkins Island Lighthouse, and the local State legislators to meet with the Sheehans and discuss the scope of the project. It was agreed that the greatest needs included stabilizing the collapsing porch, repainting the weathered exterior, and repairing the deteriorating roof and chimney. With the challenges identified and workable solutions discussed, the keeper’s house restoration effort was in motion.
This spring and summer, the American Lighthouse Foundation will coordinate and oversee the rehabilitation of the keeper’s house. The extent of the repairs will depend on overall funding, but thanks to the Sheehans and to earlier fundraising efforts by the Friends of Perkins Island Lighthouse, there is enough capital to get the project off the ground. Additional donations are being sought to ensure that the full suite of restoration needs can be addressed. MITA members who wish to make a contribution toward the restoration of the Perkins Island keeper’s house should contact the MITA office or the American Lighthouse Foundation at 207-594-4174 or visit www.lighthousefoundation.org.
If you find yourself passing by Perkins Island this summer, be sure to give the light station a careful look. If everything goes as planned, you will soon see a restored keeper’s house enriching the Kennebec River landscape once again.
This article is reprinted from the summer 2014 edition of Maine Island Trail Association’s newsletter The Island Trail.