Little River Lighthouse launches effort for full-time caretaker, educator

Posted Oct. 19, 2011, at 3:42 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 19, 2011, at 7:51 p.m.
This aerial image, taken in 1972, shows the remoteness of Little River Lighthouse and the 15-acre island which is home to the historic light station offshore from Cutler.
Courtesy photo
This aerial image, taken in 1972, shows the remoteness of Little River Lighthouse and the 15-acre island which is home to the historic light station offshore from Cutler.

View Little River Lighthouse, Cutler, Maine in a larger map

CUTLER, Maine — Volunteer members of the Friends of the Little River Lighthouse are launching an effort to support a full-time caretaker at the 164-year-old lighthouse in Cutler harbor. The lighthouse keeper plans to chronicle life on the remote island site and to offer educational opportunities over the Internet to viewers around the world.

“We want to have a caretaker live on the island year-round, as part of a unique educational program,” Tim Harrison said Wednesday. Harrison, who lives nearby in Whiting, is the chairman of the Friends and founder of the American Lighthouse Association who led the effort over the past two decades to save the historic site.

The new campaign, called Lighthouse Endeavor, aims to link classrooms across the world with webcams and Skype sessions from the lighthouse. Internet has already been installed on the island and renovations are under way to allow for year round tenancy.

Harrison said the full-time keeper will be Bill Kitchen, who has been a volunteer at the lighthouse for the past three years. Kitchen recently became a licensed teacher, and admitted that “the project will be challenging, but the educational possibilities will make it all worthwhile.”

The Friends of Little River Lighthouse organization still needs to raise a minimum of $9,500 in a combination of cash and in-kind donations. And they need to do it quickly, before the winter months set in.

Harrison said the plan is an ambitious undertaking, especially since there currently is no heat in the keeper’s house. “The U.S. Coast Guard ripped out the heating system decades ago,” he said. “A wood pellet stove will need to be purchased and installed.

“No longer do government lighthouse tenders deliver food, fuel or other supplies. The modern day lighthouse keeper will need to have a supply of food on hand, perhaps for long periods of time when it is not possible to safely travel to the mainland,” Harrison said. “This modern-era lighthouse keeper will also require a stipend to pay his bills. There will not be a government paycheck like the lighthouse keepers of yesteryear received.”

Harrison said a keeper in the off-season would help deter vandalism, and the heating of the house would prevent the plaster from cracking and falling off the walls. But Harrison stressed that the primary reason for having an all-season caretaker is education.

“Its primary mission is to be an on-site and distance-learning program that will address a wide range of subjects from technology to ecology and math to preservation, as well as history,” he said.

In order to make the program universally accessible to educators, organizations and the general public, the Lighthouse Endeavor also would provide a multimedia chronicle of the daily life of the modern-day keeper and the life of the island through the seasons. Earlier this month, Axiom Technologies of Machias, a company that specializes in getting wireless broadband Internet services to remote areas, provided Internet access on the island.

Harrison said Machias Savings Bank also donated funds to repair the chimney atop the keeper’s house. This was followed by a generous offer from Dave and Cheryl Corbett of Massachusetts, whose grandfather Willie W. Corbett was the last lighthouse keeper of the U.S. Lighthouse Service and the first Coast Guard lighthouse keeper to serve at Little River Lighthouse, from 1921 to 1944. The Corbetts offered to underwrite the full cost of insulating the water pipes.

Referring to the educational possibilities, Kitchen said, “We now have wireless broadband Internet connectivity that allows us to make daily reports and post photos and videos from the island to our website and other sites such as Facebook, as well as communicate directly with educators, schools, and a broad range of nonprofit organizations from Scouts to church groups.”

The Friends group also hopes to eventually establish webcams at various locations on the island and, since cellphones rarely work there, they will rely on Skype’s voice-over-Internet-Protocol service for calls and video chats.

“This is a fascinating combination of historic challenges that have not changed in 164 years and new technologies that together will deliver education and preservation opportunities never before available,” Harrison said.

To learn more about Little River Lighthouse and the Lighthouse Endeavor at Little River Lighthouse or to make a donation, visit www.LittleRiverLight.org or call 259-3833. A link from the website to the Lighthouse Endeavor also offers daily posts with photos, updates and more. Donations can also be mailed to the Friends of Little River Lighthouse, P.O. Box 671, East Machias 04630.

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