A Brief History of Little River Lighthouse
The first lighthouse at Little River was built in 1847. It was a granite and stone tower attached to a stone and granite keeper's house. It was a near twin to Prospect Harbor Lighthouse in Prospect Harbor, Maine.
In 1876 the stone tower was torn down and replaced with a brick tower, encased in steel, which still stands here today. At one time it was painted red with a black lantern room.
In 1881 the old boathouse was demolished and replaced with the boathouse that is now here.
The old stone and granite keepers house was demolished in 1888 and replaced with the two story wooden Victorian style keeper's house that stands here today.
For safety reasons the government built an oil house at the site in 1905. It was built using some of the left over granite from the original tower. It is identical to many oil houses that were built at most lighthouses in New England. Over the years various types of fuel were used to light the beacon in the tower including whale oil and kerosene. When electricity came to the island the oil house was no longer needed for its intended purpose. The building was then named "The Paint Locker."
There have been two different fog bell towers at Little River Lighthouse. Both were destroyed. The original fog bell is now on display in the Cutler Town Circle.
In 1939 the United States Lighthouse Service was abolished and its duties were merged into the Coast Guard. Willie W. Corbett, a veteran lighthouse keeper, who served at other Maine lighthouses, served here as keeper from 1921 to 1939. He had the distinction of being the last keeper of the United States Lighthouse Service to be stationed at Little River Lighthouse officially ending the era of family lighthouse keeping in Cutler.
The tower originally had a 5th order Fresnel lens as its optic.
In 1975 when the lens was removed, it was replaced by a modern optic on a skeleton tower near where the foghorn and solar panels now sit. The whereabouts of the Fresnel lens that was once was in the tower, remains a mystery to this day.
After the station was automated the Coast Guard left the island and the government attempted to maintain the station with caretakers, a situation they eventually discontinued. The station was then boarded up and abandoned to the elements. During this time period the government destroyed a number of keeper's homes at New England lighthouses, however a public outcry stopped the practice and keeper's house at Little River Lighthouse was saved the fate of demolition.
In 1993 the government offered the lighthouse to the town of Cutler, but they declined to take ownership of the island and the lighthouse. Over time the lighthouse and the island were also offered to the State of Maine, the National Park Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife. All declined ownership saying the lighthouse would cost too much money to restore and maintain.
In June of 1998 the Maine Light Program transferred over 30 of the states lighthouses from Coast Guard ownership to nonprofits, local communities and other federal agencies. Although Little River Lighthouse was offered for adoption under the program, again, no one stepped forward to take ownership of the lighthouse.
In the fall of 1998 Maine Historic Preservation declared the Little River Lighthouse Station as one of the Ten Most Endangered Historic Properties in the state.
In 2000, when it was evident that the lighthouse could eventually be declared excess property and could be sold to the highest bidder, the New England Lighthouse Foundation d/b/a the American Lighthouse Foundation stepped forward and was granted an historic preservation license and lease from the Coast Guard for the lighthouse.
At this same time the United States Congress, realizing the plight of many of America's lighthouses and using the Maine Lights program as its guide, passed the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, which would allow equal footing for nonprofits to apply for ownership of lighthouses in competing applications from other government agencies.
In 2001, the American Lighthouse Foundation, in partnership with the United States Coast Guard, proceeded with the restoration of the tower, the boat ramp and the wooden walkway on the island. This allowed for a light to again be installed in the tower, which had been dark since 1975.
In October of 2001, the Little River Lighthouse was relit as a "Beacon of Freedom to the World." The relighting ceremony, reported to be the largest gathering in Cutler's history, was a dual ceremony honoring those who lost their lives in the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 as well as honoring the memory of the people of the United States Lighthouse Service and the United States Coast Guard who served at Little River Lighthouse.
In October of 2002 ownership of the entire island and all the buildings, including the tower, were transferred to the New England Lighthouse Foundation d/b/a the American Lighthouse Foundation. It was the first lighthouse in all of New England and the third lighthouse in the United States to have its ownership transferred to a nonprofit group under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. The entire application for ownership to the General Services Administration and the United States Department of the Interior, with numerous volumes of reports and documents, was compiled entirely by Timothy Harrison, a volunteer for the American Lighthouse Foundation.
Although some grants were received from Lands’ End, (the mail order catalog), the Cruise Line Charitable Foundation, New England Lighthouse Lovers (NELL), Patrick & Evelyn Finnegan Memorial Fund, Gannett Company, Maine Community Foundation and the Machias Savings Bank, the bulk of the funds raised were from small individual contributions made through the efforts of the American Lighthouse Foundation.
In August of 2006 Boy Scouts from southern Maine were the first scouts to camp on the island. They completed a wide variety of projects and returned again in 2007.
On Sept. 3, 2006, the first-ever community church service was held on the island by the Cutler United Methodist Church.
In August of 2007, Dave and Cheryl Corbett, being the high bidders for an overnight stay with a lobster dinner, became the first official overnight paying guests to spend the night on the island.
In August of 2007 the Friends of Little River Lighthouse was officially formed as a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation. Elected as the first officers were Hal Biering, Dave Corbett, Marilyn Murdock, Karen Staake, Judy Corbett, and Kathleen Finnegan.
The current officers are:
President: Dave Corbett
1st Vice President Cynthia Rowden
2nd Vice President Timothy Harrison
Co-Secretary Cheryl Corbett
Treasurer Kathleen Finnegan
Members of the Board of Directors:
Since October of 2001, a wide variety of volunteers have helped immensely with the restoration. A large number of Coast Guard personnel also volunteered on several occasions. It would be impossible to list and thank them all. However, a major role in the restoration was from the efforts of Hal Biering, who along with his wife, Betty, came from Alabama to Maine and spent five entire summers working on the island on nearly a daily basis. A deep debt of gratitude is due to all those who have helped in so many different ways to save this historic lighthouse.
Little River Lighthouse continues to have strong ties to the fisherman of the community of Cutler. Many of the descendants of the keepers of the U.S. Lighthouse Service still reside in the community and there are also a number of former Coast Guard keepers, their descendants and other island caretakers who still live in the area.
You can help by joining or contributing to the ongoing restoration and care of the Little River Lighthouse, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. All donations are tax deductible as allowed by law.
Friends of Little River Lighthouse
P.O. Box 671
East Machias, Maine 04630
Ph # 207-259-3833