Digest>Archives> Mar/Apr 2018

Life on Maine’s Mark Island Inspires Book

By Timothy Harrison


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The cover of the book, Mark Island, Songs of a ...

It all started with a 6:00 am phone call on July 29, 1995. That’s when William C. Holden III picked up the receiver to hear the voice of a local property manager named Larry Smith, who asked him if he would like to buy the lighthouse and that island it was on, the place he often admired and dreamed about, but only from a distance. Holden recalled that his heart began to race. And soon, those dreams turned into reality.

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Jenny Holden, daughter of William C. Holden III, ...
Photo by: William C. Holden III

Most appropriately, the deed for the lighthouse was conveyed to William C. Holden III on August 7, 1995, National Lighthouse Day. Holden was not the first private owner of the lighthouse; it became privately owned shortly after the government discontinued it in 1933. Over the years it had a number of owners, until Holden bought it 1995. At the time, Holden said that he thought of himself as a caretaker, not an owner. He spent $650,000 of his caretaking money, as well as his energy, on restoring the lighthouse.

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An interior room view of the Winter Island ...
Photo by: William C. Holden III

But, in the end, Holden was right; he was just one of the caretakers of history. In 2004, he sold his caretaking assignment and the lighthouse, and another caretaker took over. But for nearly a decade, he worked diligently at his caretaker job, and while doing so he kept a daily diary that has now been developed into a book titled Mark Island, Songs of a Dreamer.

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A tranquil summer scene as a sailboat passes by ...
Photo by: Gregory Schneider

Holden is not the first of the owner of the lighthouse and the island to write a book about Winter Harbor Lighthouse on Mark Island. Bernice “Bunny” Richmond, who owned the lighthouse in the 1930s and 40s, authored Winter Harbor in 1943, and Our Island Lighthouse, published in 1947. And another owner, authoring under the pen name of Joan Howard, wrote a children’s book: The Light in the Tower.

Less than a month after Holden, who had quit the financial world years earlier to pursue life’s real adventures, got that 6:00 am phone call, he and two of his three daughters, Betsy and Jenny, along with two sheep, landed on, as he described it, “the island no one can ever land on.” Since the lighthouse had been built in 1856, there have been a number of deaths caused during an attempted landing.

When Holden acquired the island, the only options were to land on the boathouse ways, or time the ocean swells and leap, bow line in hand, onto a ledge when the ocean swell peaked. Obviously, Holden’s most immediate and first challenge was being able to access the island safely and easily. The lighthouse rails had to be replaced and a system devised for a pier, ramp, and float that would withstand elements of the exposed area, projects that took time and tenacity to complete.

One of the first things that Holden discovered when he bought the lighthouse was that the light tower’s lantern panes had long since been blown out, having been replaced by old wooden doors that had been lashed to the iron frames that once held the windows in place. Basically, the lighthouse had been abandoned for the previous ten years. It was now Holden’s job as the new caretaker to save this vital slice of maritime history. Holden moved quickly. Within the first two months of owning the lighthouse, Holden, with the help of others, replaced all the panes in the tower, pointed the tower bricks, whitewashed the tower and house, and re-roofed the keeper’s house and the shop building. The transformation was amazing. But that was just the beginning.

Holden’s book on his nearly decade long living on the island and restoring the lighthouse to pristine condition is by far one of the most fun and interesting lighthouse books I have ever read. There are several reasons for this, all of which were made possible by the daily diary that Holden kept and mixed in through the pages of the book, some in type and others showing the actual written pages. Then Holden intermixed lots of color photos with captions and images of his many paintings that he did of the island, which breaks it all down by the many wonderful scenes that relate to the meaning of life and leisure on the island. If you look closely at the paintings you might even see his dreams as they come to life in your mind.

In the pages of his book, Holden did not forget those who came before him, including the lighthouse keepers who, like him, he says, were also dreamers.

I could tell you more, but that would give away all that this wonderful book has to offer. It is by far one of the most different, entertaining, interesting, and informative lighthouse books that I have ever read. Once you get started, you will not want to put this book down. In a rating one of one to ten stars, with ten stars being the best, I’d give this book a resounding ten.

So pour yourself your favorite beverage, nuzzle up in your most comfy chair, snuggle up in a lighthouse throw, and enjoy some great lighthouse reading. Before long, you will be dreaming of being right there with Holden, every step of the way on his nearly decade long interesting life on Mark Island at Maine’s Winter Harbor Lighthouse.

Mark Island, Songs of a Dreamer by William C. Holden III can be purchased at www.Blurb.com/bookstore or www.Amazon.com.

This story appeared in the Mar/Apr 2018 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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