When it comes to Maine’s many historic lighthouses that are visited by tens of thousands of tourists every year, the Prospect Harbor Lighthouse is toward the bottom of the list of visited lighthouses. That’s mainly because, for many years, the lighthouse has been on the grounds of a restricted U.S. Naval installation. But it wasn’t always that way.
Even in the early years, not many tourists found their way to this out-of-the-way, land-based lighthouse, but Prospect Harbor Point was always popular amongst the locals. It was not uncommon, especially in the summer months and on Sunday afternoons, for locals to visit the lighthouse with a picnic lunch; church socials, and even weddings were often held there. Croquet on the lawn was the sport of the day.
Changing of the Watch
In 1885, Ambrose Wasgatt, who had previously been the keeper at Egg Rock Lighthouse since 1875, became the keeper at Prospect Harbor Point Lighthouse, replacing Horatio Allen who had been the keeper since 1872.
Ambrose Wasgatt went on to serve at Prospect Harbor Point Lighthouse for an amazing 33 years. He and his wife Adelma, “Delia,” raised seven children at the lighthouses: five daughters; Emily: Flora, Cora, Marion, and Ada Evelyn; and two sons: Frances and William.
In later years, two of his married daughters, Mrs. Merton Coombs and Mrs. Jesse Noonan, recalled their life at the lighthouse. The sisters recalled what they referred to as an exciting life where there was never a dull moment; “every day brought a new adventure.” One time when they were very small, they were walking along the shore looking for shells when suddenly a man scrambled up over a ledge at the water’s edge. He was soaking wet and covered with blood and bits of seaweed. They ran home to tell their father about the sea creature. It turns out that it was a duck hunter whose boat had overturned.
During World War I the entire family was told to always be on the lookout for German U-Boats that were known to be lurking in the waters off the coast of Maine. There was no radio or radar in those days, so the Coast Guard sent a “wigwag man” to live with them. Wigwag men had special training in the art of communication with the use of signal flags. The fog bell at Prospect Harbor Point was not the typical fog bell like at other light stations. In thick fog, Ambrose Wasgatt would have to walk up and down the beach at the water’s edge and ring a hand held bell for hours on end.
The children had to walk a mile and a half to and from school each day, and they often also walked home and back for lunch. When the road flooded over, which was often, the children were loaded into a horse-drawn surrey, which swayed dangerously as their sure-footed horse picked his way over the flooded road.
Every year an Open House was held at the lighthouse that was followed by a boathouse supper. Long tables were set up in the boat house were loaded with food brought by many of the locals who spent the entire day at the lighthouse. Keeper Wasgatt, who was a Civil War veteran, always invited the local chapter of the GAR and their band, who always put on a concert. This was followed by speeches and a Hymn Sing. The day ended with a big lobster and clam bake.
At the time of his retirement in 1918, Ambrose Wasgatt said that in many ways he would regret the change. He also felt that the Prospect Harbor Point Lighthouse was among the best on the coast. On the day that he moved out of the lighthouse and into his new home nearby, he was surprised by 56 local people who threw him and his family a giant house warming party, complete with food, to celebrate his return to civilian life from government life.
Another Changing of the Watch
When Ambrose Wasgatt retired in 1918, veteran lighthouse keeper William Charles Gott took over as the keeper of Prospect Harbor Point Lighthouse. By the time William Gott arrived at Prospect Harbor Lighthouse, he already had a long distinguished career in the Lighthouse Service. He had served at Petit Manan Lighthouse on an island off the coast of Milbridge, Maine from 1889 to 1893, and at Narraguagus Lighthouse on Pond Island, also off the coast of Milbridge, Maine, from 1893 to 1918 when he arrived at Prospect Harbor Point Lighthouse.
William C. Gott and his wife, Cora F. Gott, were known to be very religious people. Friends and family would often gather at the lighthouse on Sunday afternoons to sing hymns. Elizabeth Hitchcock, an island resident at one of the previous lighthouses where the Gotts had previously been stationed described Cora Gott as a tall, slender, red-haired woman who did not sing, but the tears would roll down her cheek as she listened to others singing.
As a point of interest, William C. Gott was the son of lighthouse keeper Charles A. Gott, who served in the Lighthouse Service for an amazing 37 years. He served at Saddleback Ledge Lighthouse from 1874 to 1881, Deer Island Thorofare Lighthouse on Mark Island from 1881 to 1887, and Dice Head Lighthouse from 1887 to 1911. When Charles A. Gott died at Dice Head Lighthouse in 1911, Adelbert Gott, his son, and William’s brother stayed on and took over the keeper’s job for part of that year.
Another Changing of the Watch
In 1930 when William C. Gott reached the mandatory retirement age of 70, veteran lighthouse keeper Albion T. Faulkingham took over as the keeper of the Prospect Harbor Point Lighthouse.
Albion Faulkingham had been a lighthouse keeper since 1905, having previously served at Whitehead Lighthouse, Libby Island Lighthouse, Moose Peak Lighthouse, and Owls Head Lighthouse.
Things were going along fine until a local newspaper, in its June 3, 1934 edition, announced that the lighthouse would soon become an unattended beacon, and the local community became extremely worried about the fate of their beloved lighthouse.
The newspaper mentioned that veteran lighthouse keeper Albion T. Faulkingham was going to retire as soon as the changes were perfected to fully automate the lighthouse. Although the mandatory retirement age for lighthouse keepers of the U.S. Bureau of Lighthouses was 70 years old, keeper Faulkingham, at age 65, decided to take the offer of early retirement. In referring to Albion Faulkingham’s retirement, the newspaper wrote, “He has been a very popular keeper and will be greatly missed.”
Local newspaper stories indicate that in September of 1933 Albion Faulkingham purchased a nearby home and was making it ready to move into, which finally happened in 1934. After he retired from the Lighthouse Service, a later newspaper article in the Bar Harbor Times said that he had started a fishing charter business.
In making the announcement of automation of Prospect Harbor Point Lighthouse, Superintendent of Lighthouses Charles T. Brush stated that the fog bell at Prospect Harbor Lighthouse would be discontinued and replaced by a bell buoy that would be painted black with white vertical stripes. The characteristic of the light was also being changed to show a flashing red light with white sectors.
The newspaper said, “These changes have come about under the President’s Economy Act. It does away with the expense of a keeper, and also cuts down on the upkeep of the station.” The locals knew this was not good news for “their” lighthouse, especially when other minor light stations in Maine, such as Blue Hill Bay Lighthouse, Winter Harbor Lighthouse, Tenants Harbor Lighthouse, and Indian Island Lighthouse, had met the same fate, and some of them had already been auctioned off to private owners.
Exactly why Prospect Harbor Lighthouse was not auctioned off with the other lighthouses that were being auctioned off at that time might have had something to do with public opinion, especially with some vehement protests, most likely raised by locals. Whatever the case, the Prospect Harbor Point Lighthouse remained in government ownership, and a newspaper story in the May 16, 1934 edition of the Bar Harbor Times reported that the Prospect Harbor Point Lighthouse was now uninhabited for the first time in 60 years. They were referring to the fact, that when shipping in the area declined, the Prospect Harbor Point Lighthouse had been discontinued in 1859 only to be reactivated again in 1870.
Another Changing of the Watch
But those local protests must have convinced government officials that the lighthouse needed a caretaker, not only to maintain the property, but to keep watch on the automated light, which would also necessitate fewer visits by Lighthouse Service personnel. A few weeks later, a newspaper story in the Bar Harbor Times dated, June 6, 1934 stated that Morton and Florence Dixon had moved into the lighthouse as caretakers.
Interestingly, Florence Dixon (Mrs. Morton Dixon) was the daughter of lighthouse keeper Albion T. Faulkingham. She had been previously been married to Ira Colbert Kenney, a local lobsterman, and while living with her father at his previous lighthouse assignment at Moose Peak Lighthouse, she gave birth to her son Albion on a boat coming from Moose Peak Lighthouse on Mistake Island to the mainland. At some point, Florence divorced Ira Colbert Kenney and on April 28, 1934, Florence Faulkingham Kenney married Morton F. Dixon, and by June of that year they were the caretakers of the Prospect Harbor Point Lighthouse. For whatever reason, the Dixons only remained at the Prospect Harbor Point Lighthouse for one year.
Changing of the Watch Again
In 1935, John Workman became the fortunate person to secure the job as the official caretaker of the light station. When he moved in with his wife Daisy and two sons, the government paid him $25.00 per month and charged him $1.00 per month for rent. John Workman and his family must have loved life at the Prospect Harbor Point Lighthouse, because they stayed there for an amazing 18 years, until 1953.
Although he was not an official lighthouse keeper, John Workmen and his family maintained the light station up to the same standards, if not higher, than what was required of the old time lighthouse keepers. By the standards of the day, for all practical purposes, he could easily be considered by many historians as a light keeper. The government must have been pleased with the arrangement, because in 1939 when the U.S. Lighthouse Service was taken over by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Coast Guard continued the lease/caretaker arrangement with John Workman.
In a September, 1991 interview by Glen Dalton of the Ellsworth American newspaper, John Workman’s sons, Allison and Gordon, recalled that everything at the lighthouse was always maintained in tiptop shape by their father and mother. Since the lighthouse had already been automated, all John Workman really had to do was maintain the standby batteries that would operate the light in the tower should there be a power outage. But in that 1991 interview, they were also saddened to see that, with the exception of the boat house and oil house, the rest of the support buildings that their father always took such good care of were no longer standing. The tool shed was gone, the barn was gone, the privy was gone, and even the enclosed walkway from the tower was gone. The only reason the old 1905 oil house was still standing was because of its solid stone and mortar construction.
Gordon Workman’s wife, Carmel, took the initiative to write down a summary of her memories of life at the light station. Her first introduction to Prospect Harbor Lighthouse was in September of 1944 as the bride of Gordon Workman, the second son of John and Daisy Workman. “Gordon was on leave from the U.S. Army Air Forces. Grandfather Ira Workman and Daisy and John Workman lived in the keeper’s quarters.”
She continued, “The black iron sink, the hand pump and the woodstove always shinned as new. The floors shined and the uncarpeted stairs were very handsome and as beautiful as the shore and ocean outside. The home was sparsely furnished with just the necessities of life. The outhouse, with its Sears catalog and linoleum floor, even welcomed you.
“When wash day came on Monday’s Mother Workman would bring up her copper boiler from the cellar and put it on the stove to boil. Her big round tub would be put on its stand with her scrub board and wash day began. The wash would be hung out between the barn and the tool shed to dry.
“The walkway between the keeper’s house and the back of the tool shed ran to the outhouse. The barn held one car, the winter’s wood supply and a hidden bottle of the ‘remedy.’ Grandfather Ira would sneak out to the barn and have a nip every once in a while and take some sugar and water to refill so that John wouldn’t know that he had had his little noonday toddy.
“On Tuesdays Mother Workman would do her baking in the small pantry off the kitchen that also led to the cellar door. In the cellarway on the shelf, food was set to cool and stored. Grandfather Ira’s pipe and tobacco sat on the mantel in back of the large black iron stove along with the oil lamps.”
The basement held two cisterns that collected rainwater for household use, and it was pumped up to the kitchen by a hand pump. The basement and the foundation are from the original lighthouse that once stood there.
Grandpa Ira Workman died on New Year’s Day of 1951. “He had eaten his breakfast and went into the living room to smoke his pipe and listen to the radio. He was filling his pipe and putting the tobacco in when he passed away. He was a kind and gentle man who cared deeply for his family.”
The keeper’s house had only one electric light in the kitchen. The pullout mirror in the bathroom was almost always in the kitchen by the light and the sink so that the men could see to shave. The oil lamps were kept trimmed and mantles kept clean so that they could be used going upstairs at night – along with the chamber pots – and down in the morning. On Wednesdays the ironing was done.
“Daisy knitted pot heads and bait bags for the lobstermen.” She also baked molasses doughnuts for the summer people, and at one time or another she baby sat for many of the children in town; most of the locals referred to her as Aunt Daisy. “On Fridays Mother Workman would make salt cod with egg sauce poured over mashed potatoes. And for the weekend she would make molasses cookies filled with raisins. On Saturdays Mother Workman would make her baked beans and biscuits and on Sundays she would make her famous New England chop suey.” In season, Daisy Workmen would can wild blueberries and cranberries from the bog.
Another Changing of the Watch
But, as with all good things, life at Prospect Harbor Point Lighthouse for the Workmans came to a close in 1953, and they left the lighthouse for retirement.
When the U.S. Navy took over the site and its surrounding property for a satellite operations center, the ownership of the former lighthouse keeper’s house was transferred to the Navy, but the Coast Guard maintained ownership of the actual light tower. Fences were installed around the site, and for the most part, the heavily guarded area became off-limits to the general public. The former light keeper’s house sat empty and pretty much abandoned until 1969 when the Navy totally renovated and modernized the house and offered it for rent for vacation purposes for short term vacation visits to any active or retired military personnel. Using no originality, the Navy then named the former lighthouse keeper’s house “Gull Cottage.”
Over the years, from time to time the Navy has occasionally, in cooperation with a local women’s club, offered Open Houses for the locals. Some tours were allowed for lighthouse groups, but for the most part, lighthouse aficionados and tourists have had to photograph the lighthouse from the rocky beach near the lighthouse at low tide or from the campground across the harbor on Route 186.
Daisy Workman passed away in August of 1963, and John Workman passed away in October of 1972. Both are buried in the Prospect Harbor Cemetery where their spirits undoubtedly continue to watch over the Prospect Harbor Point Lighthouse, a place that they loved so much.
This story appeared in the
Mar/Apr 2017 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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