Life on ‘The Rock’ – Historical photos of a remote outpost

MOUNT DESERT — “They are as happy and content in their little kingdom as though they were in the swim of public festivities,” is how a newspaper article in 1908 described the families who lived at the Mount Desert Rock Light Station. 

Located 21 miles east-southeast of Mount Desert Island, it is Maine’s most remote light station. 

Photographs taken of The Rock and its residents between 1906 and 1909 – likely by Lucy Dodge, the wife of one of the three light keepers – are now on exhibit at the Great Harbor Maritime Museum in Northeast Harbor. 

“Beyond their artistic beauty, these views offer a lens on lighthouse life more than a century ago and provide an opportunity to think about the individuals who called this place home, as well as the joys and challenges of their life at The Rock,” reads a panel of text that accompanies the photos. 

“These images [are a] record of the lives of ordinary, yet extraordinary, people who worked to protect those at sea and who lived in the most remarkable of circumstances.” 

Three families lived on The Rock during the period when the photos in the exhibit were taken. They were Principal Keeper Fred Robbins and his wife, Lillian; First Assistant Keeper Charles Newman, his wife, Alberta, their children, Arthur, Lawrence and Charlie, and their dog, a Newfoundland named Prince; and Second Assistant Keeper William Dodge, his wife, Lucy, and their nephew Kaspar Murphy. 

“We played in the fog bell tower, played boats on Herring Puddle, walked on stilts and tried to play croquet on the volcanic rock,” Kaspar recalled later in life. “The littlest Newman boy, Charlie, was 3 years old. They kept him tethered to a spike beside the house for safekeeping. One day he had toddled too far out on a ledge, and the sea knocked him down and nearly drowned him.” 

Fishing vessels were often seen in the waters around Mount Desert Rock, and several of Lucy Dodge’s photos show sloops and schooners. 

The Rock is a treeless 4-acre island whose highest point is 17 feet above sea level. The lighthouse was built in 1847 and electrified in 1931. When it was automated in 1977, the last two light keepers were lifted off The Rock by helicopter. 

The U.S. Coast Guard continues to maintain the light as an aid to navigation, but the island and its buildings are owned by College of the Atlantic, which uses them as a marine mammal research station. 

The photo images in the Great Harbor Maritime Museum exhibit are from Lucy Dodge’s glass plate negatives, more than 100 of which were donated to the museum in 1988 by Mr. and Mrs. Jeffrey Zucker of Islesboro. 

The museum is located in the old fire station building in Northeast Harbor. It is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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