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 American Lighthouse Foundation, Inc.

P.O. Box 565

Rockland, Maine 04841

Phone: 207-594-4174

 

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The American Lighthouse  Foundation is a  Non-Profit 501(c)(3) Organization dedicated  to the preservation of America's historic lighthouses.

 

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Old Donated Journal Uncovers Lost Maine Lighthouse History

 

 
 

A small hand-written journal that was recently donated to the American Lighthouse Foundation’s Museum of Lighthouse in Wells has revealed an interesting and until now lost part of Maine’s lighthouse history.

 

The hand-written journal, penned by Tom Jordan was titled, “My Old Paper Mission: Furnishing the occupants of lighthouses and to sailors with cheap reading matter.”

Saddleback Lighthouse

Maine’s 1839 Saddleback Lighthouse,

located on a remote island is Isle au Haut

 Bay, as it appeared in the late 1800’s when Tom Jordan sent books and magazines to it

 and other similar offshore lighthouses for

 the keepers and their family members.

 
 

 

Jordan was presumably a family member of the W.S. Jordan & Company, a firm that was hired by the government to furnish supplies to many of Maine’s offshore lighthouses.

 

Jordan’s journal started in the spring of 1879 and his notes, some very brief, while others a little longer, continued through 1883 when the written work became very sparse as though he lost interest in keeping detailed records. The last written words entered in the journal occurred on January 24, 1884 noting, “Received a letter from a letter, Mrs. Stanley, Monhegan.”

 

Apparently, Jordan realizing the isolation and lonesomeness of some Maine’s remote offshore stations such as Boon Island, Mt. Desert Rock, Matinicus, Petit Manan and Saddleback lighthouses, decided to include, on his own accord and at his own expense, newspapers, magazines and books in the boxes of supplies that were shipped out on the lighthouse tenders and to the lightship, which was anchored in the waters off Portland.

 

Tim Harrison, president of the American Lighthouse Foundation, said the unprecedented discovery of this journal opens a new door on saving and preserving Maine’s lighthouse history, saying, “The written journal exposes the isolation first hand that the families of many lighthouse keepers endured. Jordan not only details some of what he sent out and the correspondence he included to the keepers, he also wrote down excerpts of the letters he received back from the keepers.” Harrison said it would be wonderful if some of those old letters had been saved and would surface someday, but admits that is doubtful.

 

At one point Jordan tells of how he and a friend, Hattie Shaw, made some scrapbooks that they sent to such places as Matinicus Rock Lighthouse as well as for the crew of the Lighthouse Service Tender Iris. Several months later he received a wonderful letter back from John Grant, the lighthouse keeper of Matinicus Rock thanking him for all the material and how much the children enjoyed the scrapbook.

 

Many times he would ask the keepers, when finished with the scrapbooks that they sign the book and give it to the lighthouse tender to pass on to other lighthouses.  One scrapbook sent out in April of 1880, circulated to Saddleback, Mt. Desert, Boon Island, Whaleback, Isle of Shoals, Portsmouth Harbor and finally arrived in September of 1883 to keeper George L. Upton of Petit Manan Light near Milbridge, Maine.

 

In September of 1883, he writes of Mr. Wade, a newspaper reporter, who discovered what he was doing and wrote a story about it requesting people to drop off books and magazines to W. S. Jordan and Co. on Commercial Street in Portland to be included in packages that would be going out by October 1st of that year.

 

According to Jordan’s journal, Wade wrote, “The picture books are god-sends to the children. The families of the lighteners rarely get to the mainland. One lightkeeper some time ago, situated in a lonely lighthouse out in the ocean had nine daughters and only once in several years did these girls ever get to the mainland. All their school books and reading were sent to them and they were educated at the light. It is astonishing often to see what an intelligent set of men these isolated hermits are to whose skill and unwearied attention is due the safety of so many lives and so much property.”

 

After Wade’s story appeared in the newspaper, Jordan must have been overwhelmed, as he wrote. “There were many packages, bundles and boxes coming from all directions.” He went on by saying that he sent packages to more lighthouses than he had ever been able to do prior with his own resources.  This may have been the reason that right after this, he only wrote a few notes with the dates and names of the keepers he received responses from and did not record what was written in the letters.

 

Harrison said, “As more people find out what we at the American Lighthouse Foundation are trying to do in saving Maine’s lighthouse history and heritage more material and rare items are being donated. However, the biggest obstacle the organization is encountering is the financial resources to keep documenting and preserving these rare artifacts. Financial contributions are not keeping up with the preservations tasks at hand. We asking for the public’s help with financial support to maintain the fast pace associated with the many projects we have at hand.”

 

To learn more about the nonprofit American Lighthouse Foundation or their Museum of Lighthouse History or make a donation you can contact us at P.O. Box 889, Wells, Maine 04090, Phone number 207-646-0245 or email at: info@lighthousefoundation.org

 

 
     
       
 

 

 

 

 
 

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