Tenants Harbor Lighthouse

Built on a tiny island at the mouth of Tenants Harbor, this lighthouse is owned by a famous family of American painters.

Tenants Harbor Lighthouse origin story

Tenant’s Harbor Lighthouse (photo: Brent Petersen)

Since at least 1838, sea farers had been asking for a lighthouse at Tenants Harbor on West Penobscot Bay. The bay was a busy one for fishermen and navigation was dangerous because of the rocky coast and many shoals.

But, these requests were largely ignored for two decades, probably because the Marshall Point Lighthouse and Whitehead Lighthouse were both nearby. But, by the 1850’s granite quarrying became an increasingly important industry. And, since the stone was transported by boat, it was decided that a new light at Tenants Harbor would be a good idea.

In 1855, the government purchased one acre of land on tiny Southern Island at the mouth of Tenants Harbor. The brick lighthouse and wooden keeper’s quarters were built in 1857. A boathouse and boat slip were added later.

Decommission of the lighthouse

In 1934, a smaller light beacon was placed in the bay, making the Tenants Harbor Lighthouse superfluous and it was decommissioned and sold as surplus.

There’s a rumor that during WWII, a German Submarine surfaced near Southern Island and the now-inactive lighthouse. Locals say German cigarettes and newspapers were found on the island.

This may sound like a fanciful tale, but the fact is that during the war, German U-Boats patrolled up and down the east coast of the United States including the bays and inlets of Maine.

The U.S. government, in an attempt to calm citizens’ fears of a German attack and invasion, lied about the sinking of Navy ships in American waters.

The USS Eagle PE-56 patrol boat was sunk by German submarine U-853 on April 23rd, 1945 just off the coast of Cape Elizabeth, Maine. 55 crew members died. The U.S. government said the boat sunk due to a boiler explosion. Only in 2001 was it officially revealed that the German U-Boat had sunk the USS Eagle PE-56.

U-853 also sunk a merchant ship off Point Judith, RI on May 5th, killing 12 people. American warships were ordered to the area and, shortly after midnight on May 6th, destroyed U-853 using Hedgehog bombs and depth charges. All 55 crewmembers of the German sub were killed. The next day, Germany surrendered. Four German submarines operating in the Gulf of Maine surrendered at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery.

Purchase of the lighthouse by Andrew Wyeth

The pyramid shaped fog horn tower is a studio where Jamie Wyeth (and his father before him) paints (photo: Brent Petersen)

After the lighthouse was declared surplus it was auctioned off and bought by a local resident. The property changed hands at least once more before painter Andrew Wyeth purchased it in 1978. Some of his works like “Signal Flags” and “Fog Bell” feature the lighthouse and its various buildings.

Andrew Wyeth died in 2009 and his son Jamie, also a famous painter, has owned the lighthouse and property since the 1990’s. Jamie has also featured the lighthouse in his works like “Lighthouse Dandelions.”

Signal Flags, Andrew Wyeth

Visiting Tenants Harbor Lighthouse

The lighthouse and Southern Island are private property, so you can’t visit there. You can get a distant view of the lighthouse from the shore of Tenants Harbor. But, the best way to see the beacon is from the water.

If you don’t have a boat, Mohegan Boat Line offers a lighthouse cruise where you can get a good look at Tenants Harbor Lighthouse as well as several other nautical markers.

Author: Brent