Bass Harbor Head Light
|Bass Harbor Head Light Tower|
Last year I revised a t-shirt design I had created in the 1990s of Bass Harbor Light. Several months after, I was amazed to discover Bass Harbor Head Light is going to be featured as the quarter in the United States Mint 2012 America the Beautiful Ouarters® Program. I couldn’t have planned the timing of things any better than this accident of fate. I took it as a sign to poke around Bass Harbor a little bit more and Blae was hungry for some salt air.
|Blae at Seawall Park|
SW Harbor, Maine
Around 1860, when the Bass Harbor Head Light was fairly new, more people inhabited its surrounding islands and coastline and one in five Maine residents were mariners. Maine’s lighthouses were key to survival in many instances. In modern times, our U. S. lighthouses are sort of like castles in Europe, each stands tall with its own unique history and mystique that draws visitors from near and far, year after year. Maine’s lighthouses, in many cases, are still functioning and useful, as well.
Bass Harbor, Maine is on the southwestern portion of Mount Desert Island known as the “quite side”. Its lighthouse was erected in 1858 to mark the bar across the eastern entrance of Blue Hill Bay. In 1974 the light was automated by the U. S. Coastguard and is now a private residence with outside access to the light tower and a walking path leading you to an excellent view of its front side from the ledges below. That is if you are up to a steep and somewhat challenging climb over the rocky incline tangled with weathered tree roots clinging to the cliff. It is a beautiful, but rugged, trail.
By car, you can reach this out-of-the-way destination via Route 3 in Ellsworth, turning right onto Route 198, then turning right again on Route 102. The lighthouse can also be observed from Maine State Ferries and other vessels operating out of Bass Harbor and Frenchboro.
John Thurston was the first keeper to light the beacon at Bass Harbor Head on September 1, 1858. Until the US Coast Guard automated the lighthouse in 1974, twenty-two “wickies” in all had taken a turn at keeping the steadfast light glowing by their manual efforts for 116 years. Some stayed less than a full year, others two or more. Joseph M. Gray served as a keeper there from 1921 to 1938. When I read that on a sign at the lighthouse, I thought to myself how he must have really loved his job in spite of fog horns and clanging bells on those numerous days without enough visibility for the beacon’s light to do its job for those in the water depending on its guidance. My next thought was a curiosity wondering if I could locate him in my Gray family tree, since my mother’s maiden name is also Gray. Thanks to Ancestry.com and my copy of Descendants of Joshua Gray compiled in 2005 by the Gray Reunion Committee and published by Downeast Graphics & Printing Inc., Ellsworth, Maine, I soon had my answer. This lighthouse keeper is my fourth cousin two times removed. Though I never had a chance to meet him, as his life ended before mine began, I did want to know more about him. Back on the Internet through a link to Lighthouse Digest, I learned quite a bit. He was actually Captain Joseph M. Gray who spent a total of 40 years of lighthouse service at Crabtree Ledge, Mt. Desert Rock, Great Duck Island, Marshall Point, and Bass Harbor—after his six years of fishing off Grand Banks and before retiring to a small cottage in Tremont. A very nice newspaper article by Henry Buxton published in May 1938 and reprinted by Lighthouse Digest in 2005 about lighthouse keeper Capt. Joseph M. Gray tells a compelling tale and portrays a man I can certainly be proud to have among the branches of my family tree. Again, when fate leads you somewhere, its best to take advantage of the trip. Seems my fascination with Maine’s lighthouses has not only inspired my creativity over the years, it has guided me to some family roots along the way.
|Side view of Bass Harbor Head Light|
A partnership between the U. S. Coast Guard, State of Maine and American Lighthouse Foundation intends to increase awareness of Maine’s maritime heritage and the rich history of its lighthouses and lighthouse keepers by offering visitors the opportunity to go inside many of Maine’s historic beacons on Open Lighthouse Day, which will take place on September 15 this year.
For more information about the 2012 Bass Harbor Quarter, my Bass Harbor QRtee™
t-shirt, Maine’s lighthouse history and events, or the memories of Captain Joseph M. Gray, please check out the following links.