History of Wood Island Lighthouse | Maine

Located in Saco Bay’s Wood Island, the historic Wood Island Lighthouse has been keeping sailor safe for the past two centuries. The 47-feet lighthouse was commissioned by Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States, and completed in 1807. A year later, the lighthouse officially went into service. Its first keeper was Benjamin Cole, a former captain of a privateering vessel.

In the mid 1830s, keepers of the lighthouse reported that the wooden tower and lodge was becoming unstable due to rotting wood. In particular, lighthouse superintendent John Chandler called the lighthouse “rotten”, and that it “rocked” in rough weather. In 1839, the lighthouse was demolished and replaced with a 47-foot white tower made of granite rubble. A stone house was also built in the same year.

wood island lighthouse in 1859
Wood Island Lighthouse in 1859 | Image credits: The Friends of Wood Island Lighthouse Facebook page

However, the problems continued. In 1850, an inspection revealed that the tower and dwelling were both leaky. Four years later, Congress approved a $5,00 funding to renovate the stone tower. However, it was not until 1858 that the renovation works were completed. A 4th-order Fresnel lens was installed in the tower while a two-story living quarter (for the lighthouse keepers) was constructed 40 feet inland, replacing the stone house.

In 1939, the United States Coast Guard took over Wood Island Lighthouse and have been operating the facility since then.

headless wood island lighthouse
“Headless” Wood Island Lighthouse | Image credits: U.S. Coast Guard

In 1972, the original lantern room was replaced with a rotating aerobeacon which were cheaper to maintain and more durable than the Fresnel lens. However, the “headless” lighthouse was deemed to be an “ugly lighthouse” by the local community, prompting the authorities to install a new aluminium lantern in 1986. The latest addition came in 2012 when the VRB-25 LED beacon was installed to replace the previous VRB-25 lighthouse optical system.

On January 21, 1988, Wood Island Lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places for its historical significance and preservation value. Today, Wood Island Lighthouse is Maine’s second-oldest lighthouse and the eleventh-oldest in the United States. While it is closed to the public, tours are offered by Friends of Wood Island Lighthouse to give visitors a glimpse into the history of the lighthouse and its former keepers.

wood island lighthouse living quarter
Wood Island Lighthouse in 2017 | Image credits: The Friends of Wood Island Lighthouse Facebook page

Hauntings at the Lighthouse

On June 2, 1896, an unfortunate accident happened on Wood Island when Hobbs, a young fisherman, shot Milliken, a game warden and special policeman also living on the island. The tragic murder occurred on Milliken’s property where Hobbs had brought a loaded rifle to shoot birds. Milliken supposedly asked Hobbs if the gun was loaded, to which the latter replied, “It’s not loaded.”

Unconvinced, Milliken stepped forward to check if the rifle was loaded. Drunk and angered by Milliken, Hobbs picked up his rifle to his shoulder and fires a shot to Milliken’s chest. Milliken died within 45 minutes.

Distraught, Hobbs went to the lighthouse to turn himself to then-keeper Thomas Henry Orcutt; back then, the lighthouse keeper was seen as an authority figure on the sparsely populated island. Orcutt and Hobbs rushed back to the scene only to see the lifeless body of Milliken and his weeping wife. Overwhelmed with guilt, Hobbs returned to his old shack and shots himself in the head with the very same rifle he had used to kill Milliken.

thomas orcutt wood island lighthouse
Former keeper Thomas Orcutt with his dog Sailor | Image credits: The Friends of Wood Island Lighthouse Facebook page

Today, Wood Island Lighthouse is said to be haunted by the Milliken and Hobbs. Tourists visiting the lighthouse and the dwelling have reported seeing mysterious dark figures disappearing into thin air. Loud shouting was also heard in the lighthouse, supposedly by spirits of former keepers who have never left their post. Several FOWIL members involved in the restoration of the keeper’s housed claimed to have found objects being rearranged everyday during the restoration project.

In 2005, the New England Ghost Project conducted a paranormal investigation into the ghostly activities happening on the island.

Friends of Wood Island Lighthouse

Friends of Wood Island Lighthouse (FOWIL) is a local non-profit organization formed in 2003 by the American Lighthouse Foundation. FOWIL works with the U.S. Coast Guard to maintain and restore the existing facilities at Wood Island Lighthouse. This includes the lighthouse tower, the keeper’s house, the boathouse, and the oil house.

The first project by FOWIL happened in 2008 when handrails were installed on the tower stairs, allowing visitors to ascend the stairs safely to the lantern room. Previously, visitors on the tour were not allowed to climb to the top of the tower. A year later, FOWIL conducted a joint restoration project together with Stone Age Masonry and the Maine State Historical society to repair and repaint the interior and exterior of the tower.

wood island lighthouse restoration work
Members of The Friends of Wood Island Lighthouse | Image credits: The Friends of Wood Island Lighthouse Facebook page

In 2011, FOWIL engaged in its largest restoration effort, dedicating $200,000 towards the renovation of the Keeper’s house to restore it to its 1906 design. Over the next few years, the team at FOWIL engaged in several other restoration efforts including the repainting of the lantern room, the restoration of the roof of the connector (between the tower and the keeper’s house), and the repairing of the Boathouse.

Apart from the restoration of Wood Island Lighthouse, FOWIL also conduct guided tours to the lighthouse in July, August, and September of every year. Reservations for the Wood Island Lighthouse Tour can be made here.

Live Webcam of Wood Island Lighthouse

Over the years, donations by the public have allowed FOWIL to set up live web cameras at various points of the island for the public to view. The three webcams are actively maintained by FOWIL and

Tours of Wood Island Lighthouse

For safety reasons, Woods Island as well as the lighthouse is strictly off limits to the public. As such, there are no regular boats to the island, nor are individuals allowed to make their way to the island via private transport. One can only visit Wood Island Lighthouse via a guided tour by the Friends of Wood Island Lighthouse (FOWIL) which occurs in July, August and September of every year. Those interested in visiting Wood Island Lighthouse may make a reservation here.

The one-and-a-half hour tour starts off with a 15-minute boat ride to the island. Upon arrival, a volunteer guide will give visitors a glimpse into life on the island as well as a visit to the lighthouse itself. Visitors are able to climb the lighthouse tower and explore the newly restored keeper’s house.

Note that while the tour is free of charge, visitors are highly encouraged to make a donation as all proceed go towards the restoration efforts of Wood Island Lighthouse.

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