Geology professor reopening Isle au Haut’s only inn

The historic Keeper's House Inn on Isle au Haut has been purchased and will be reopened under new management this summer.
Courtesy the Knowles Company
The historic Keeper's House Inn on Isle au Haut has been purchased and will be reopened under new management this summer.
By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff
Posted Jan. 17, 2013, at 5:30 p.m.

ISLE AU HAUT, Maine — The historic Keeper’s House Inn will reopen in June under the new ownership and management of a professor who did his graduate degree work more than 20 years ago focusing on the geology of this remote island south of Stonington.

Marshall Chapman, a professor of geology at Morehead State University in Morehead, Ky., purchased the landmark property on Dec. 31 from longtime owners Jeffrey and Judith Burke, according to a news release from the Knowles Company, a Northeast Harbor-based real estate firm that handled the sale.

Chapman said Thursday in a phone interview that the path to Isle au Haut was a long, circular one.

Chapman said that while he was an undergraduate student studying religion at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., he played in a band that performed folk and bluegrass music. One of his bandmates was a geology professor who taught the group the Gordon Bok songs “Hills of Isle au Haut” and “Isle au Haut Lullaby.”

Chapman said he was not familiar with Isle au Haut at that point and thought the island was off the coast of France.

He eventually turned to studying geology, and while at the University of Massachusetts, a fellow student suggested he do his field work on the geology at Isle au Haut. During his research, he fell in love with the island and the property.

The light keeper house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. According to the news release from the Knowles Company, the 2-acre oceanfront property consists of a four-bedroom, turn-of-the-century light keeper’s house, a guest house, several cottages, a boathouse and a deep water dock. The town of Isle au Haut owns the granite and brick light tower, which was built in 1907.

The Burkes, former Peace Corps volunteers who moved to Maine from California, purchased the old light station in 1986. They renovated the property and opened it as the Keeper’s House Inn, attracting visitors from around the world who were looking to experience Maine island life as it was 100 years ago.

The Keeper’s House quickly became a popular destination and was featured in newspapers and magazine and on network television news programs. It closed for business when the Burkes retired several years ago and placed the property on the market.

The Burkes will stay on as consultants.

“I walked the coast beside the lighthouse and became friends with Judi and Jeff … it was through my constant contact with the Burkes that I was introduced to their vision of taking their guests back to a bygone age of lesser intrusion from outside distractions like phones, the Internet, etc.,” Chapman said in the news release.

Guests at the inn were surrounded with the tides, the stars and Acadia National Park, which comprises about half of the island, he said.

The self-sufficient property is off the grid with the power supplied by solar panels, a wind turbine and backup generator. Drinking water is drawn from the sea using a reverse osmosis system.

When the keeper’s house came on the market, Chapman became concerned it would be purchased by someone who would replace the historic buildings with a modern mansion equipped with a heliport.

Whereas the Burkes welcomed the tourists and hikers who ventured into their yard each summer to get a closer look at the lighthouse, Chapman feared a new owner might turn these visitors away.

He eventually approached the Burkes and said he was interesting in buying the

property.

“When Marshall approached us last year with his hopes of reopening the inn, it was a

dream come true,” Judi Burke said. Chapman, the Burkes said, understood the property and was the ideal steward to carry on their legacy.

“He’s the perfect person to continue the tradition … Marshall is a natural banjo-plucking

host, full of stories and bubbling cheer, the perfect optimist to breathe new life into the inn

and once again provide an oasis of joy for the modern day pilgrim,” Jeff Burke said.

After 27 years of calling Robinson Point home, the Burkes said what stands out most

are the people they have met and the sense of community the island provides. Although they winter in Prescott, Ariz., the Burkes said they always look forward to returning to the island every summer.

Isle au Haut, which means “high island” in French, is located about six miles from the mainland and is accessible by private boat and daily passenger ferry service from Stonington.

The island is home to a gourmet chocolate shop, a library, a one-room schoolhouse and a small grocery store. Once reopened, the Keeper’s House Inn will be the only one in operation on Isle au Haut and is expected to boost tourism while providing jobs for island residents, the news release said.

Chapman said the inn will be open each summer through Columbus Day. He return to Kentucky on the off season to teach geology.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/01/17/news/hancock/geology-professor-reopening-isle-au-hauts-only-inn/ printed on April 25, 2014