The American Lighthouse Foundation’s Keeper of the Light award is designed to honor those individuals and organizations in the national lighthouse community who have contributed in a significant manner to the preservation of America’s lighthouses and their rich heritage.
On April 28, 2019, ALF presented Elaine Jones of Maine’s Burnt Island Lighthouse with a Keeper of the Light award during the organization’s annual Gala, which was held at the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport, Maine.
Elaine Jones spearheaded the effort to acquire the Burnt Island Light Station for the Department of Marine Resources in 1998 as part of the Maine Lights Program. It was her vision to transform this five-acre island, at the entrance of Boothbay Harbor, into an outstanding educational and recreational facility for Maine’s residents and its visitors. Hired as Education Director for the state agency in 1991, Elaine’s success at building the Maine State Aquarium opened the door for the acquisition of Burnt Island.
As steward of the historic site, Elaine’s initial step was to understand its past by gathering pieces of a puzzle that dated back to 1821. Travels took to her to the National Archives, Coast Guard Historian, and every Coast Guard office from Civil Engineering in Rhode Island to Aids to Navigation in South Portland. Her extensive research, plus oral histories of 14 former keepers and the families of 8 others, provided a clear picture of Burnt Island’s history and a path for its future.
The year 1950 was chosen for restoration after securing architectural drawings, historic photographs, and family accounts. Immediate projects included the installation of a water line, septic, heating and docking systems, plus a new roof and plenty of paint. By 2003, the inside of the tower and keeper’s dwelling were ready for tours, while the manicured grounds and scenic trails welcomed all who came ashore.
The island is open every day from April to December with public tours offered during the months of July and August. Teachers and school children participate in experiential learning as part of day-trip and overnight programs. To accommodate residential stays, Elaine raised money to construct an Education Center that was built in the form of a Life Saving Station.
Elaine feels that her greatest accomplishment was the creation of the living history program, where interpreters in period costume teach about the life and times of Keeper Joseph Muise and his family. A three-station rotation acquaints participants with the lighthouse, dwelling, and boathouse. At each location, real stories come to life – a fun and memorable way to learn about Burnt Island’s past and the 1950 era.
Elaine plans to retire on November 9, 2021 – the day that marks Burnt Island’s 200 years of service. She has been fundraising with the “Keepers of Burnt Island Light,” a local non-profit organization, to restore the tower and dwelling’s exterior. A bicentennial celebration is being planned for Memorial weekend, a date that marks the government’s purchase of the island and the onset of construction. She has high hopes that the restoration of Maine’s oldest “original” lighthouse will be completed and that an endowment will be in place to protect it for the future.
Over the past 21 years, Elaine Jones has pursued and fulfilled a dream – one that has breathed new life into an abandoned historic site, and done so without the use of taxpayer’s dollars. She credits family, friends, former keepers, volunteers, teachers, school children, local businesses and generous donors who have championed for her cause. Their generosity to “keep the light burning” truly represents Maine’s culture and its “way of life.”
For her sustained dedication and outstanding preservation achievements at historic Burnt Island Light Station – and for creating a one-of-a-kind living history program at the historic site, the American Lighthouse Foundation is proud to present Elaine Jones with a 2019 Keeper of the Light award!