Let There Be Light

Country Home magazine, April 1998

The Keeper’s House, Isle au Haut, Maine

It’s the kind of interior Andrew Wyeth might paint: iron bed, potbellied stove, anda plain window framing a rugged ocean view. But this is the real thing: a lighthouse keeper’s bedroom perched on a rocky Maine island, its walls regularly illuminated by a rosy wash of light from the tower.

Although the scene is a Maine classic, this lighthouse is different. The Isle au Haut Light is one of only about a dozen working lighthouses in the country offering overnight stays. Originally built in 1907 as an aid to navigation, the keeper’s house was bought by innkeepers Jeffrey and Judi Burke in 1986 and converted to a remote, old-fashioned inn.

There are no electric lights or telephones at The Keeper’s House. Judy cooks meals on a cast-iron stove and guests dine by candlelight or kerosene lamp. All rooms are furnished with simple painted furniture and expansive ocean views. Although three baths are outfitted with modern plumbing, showers must be kept short. (Water is a limited commodity here.) Rugged trekking and hearty dinning are the primary activities, because, as Jeff gleefully points out, “There’s not a tourist service anywhere on the island.”

The voyage out to Isle au Haut from the village of Stonington sets the tone for the visit. A 48-foot mail boat, the Miss Lizzie, hauls groceries, fishing gear, and inn guests to the wild, spruce-studded island where a handful of families make their homes.

More than half of Isle au Haut is a designated wilderness – part of famed Acadia National Park – and miles of well-maintained footpaths crisscross the nine-square-mile island.

Jeff’s favorite is the Duck Harbor Mountain Trial, which rises sharply above the treeline for panoramic views of Penobscot Bay. Bicycles and picnic lunches are provided for would-be explorers of the island.

Nearby Mount Desert Island (also part of Acadia National Park) is another must-see, boasting America’s only fjord, a wildflower garden, hiking trails, and Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. On the mainland, shop and dine in Bar Harbor, or spend the day in the village of Stonington. It’s steeped in history and charm.

For more information, contact: The Keeper’s House, P.O. Box 26, Isle au Haut, ME 04645; 207/367-2261.

It may be the spectacular view it affords of Lake Superior. Or perhaps it’s the 102-year history that includes shipwrecks and heroic rescues. Or maybe it’s the cedar-lined sauna tucked into the lighthouse tower. Whatever the draw, Big Bay Point Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a unique retreat.

Chief among the attractions of the 14-room inn is the 60-footsquare light tower that guards this remote lake shore. Visitors can step out onto the catwalk surrounding the light for a dizzying view of the lake from 120 feet above.

Innkeepers Jeff and Linda Gamble are avid preservationists. “Many of the people who come here are lighthouse lovers,” Linda says. “Lighthouses just have a kind of mystique. They’re guardians of waterways; most have great stories of shipwrecks. It’s been said that lighthouses are to America what castles are to Europe.”

The inn welcomes guests year-round. Summer visitors can rent boats, bikes, and fishing gear in Big Bay, or hike in the surrounding wilderness, where 19 waterfalls spill down from the Huron Mountain foothills. In winter, this area is popular with skiers and snowshoers.

For information, contact: Big Bay Point Lighthouse, No. 3 Lighthouse Rd., Big Bay, MI 49808; 906/345-9957.