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One of the nation's last resident lighthouse keepers examines future

There are 779 lighthouses left standing in the U.S. Many are being auctioned off by the U.S. General Services Administration.
One of the nation's last resident lighthouse keepers examines future
Posted at 2:04 PM, Nov 02, 2023

On an exceptionally calm fall morning, Scott Dombrowski walked down an old dock toward a small dinghy. He looked out over the waters of Cape Porpoise, Maine, and commented on how still the water was for this time of year.

"You never see it like this," Dombrowski said as he pulled the ripcord on an old outboard engine attached to the boat he had just untied.

Dombrowski is among some of this nation's last resident lighthouse keepers. The 64-year-old and his wife have called Goat Island Lighthouse home for the better part of 30 years. Built in 1833, the lighthouse and its connecting residents' quarters sit on the edge of a tiny island here which often bears the brunt of brutal ocean storms when they pound the Northeast Coast.

There are 779 lighthouses left standing in the U.S. Many are being auctioned off by the U.S. General Services Administration. Dombrowski, though, is one of this country's last resident lighthouse keepers. Like generations before him, he and his wife raised their family on Goat Island.

"The whole lighthouse community is small. There aren't a lot of people living at lighthouses anymore," said Dombrowski.

Dombrowski can see 12 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean on a good day. Right across the harbor is Walker's Point, the summer retreat for the Bush family, two of whom were president. Goat Island Lighthouse even played a role in U.S. diplomacy in the summer of 2007 when Dombrowski hung an American and a Russian flag from the tower.

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"President Bush brought [Putin] over in the boat and said, 'See, our people do want us to work together,'" he said. 

But this lighthouse, which has guided so many to safety over the years, is now in need of its own kind of saving. A year ago, an underwater cable that runs power to the island broke. Officials believe it will cost around $400,000 dollars to repair the line. Not repairing it leaves Goat Island with no source of electricity.

The lighthouse is owned by the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust. Tom Bradbury, a lifelong Maine resident, serves as the nonprofit's executive director.

"All of these are small pieces that form the life fabric of life in a small town. Once they're gone they're gone," Bradbury said.

The light itself is solar-powered and maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. But with no power on the rest of the island, it's getting harder and harder for anyone to live here full-time. No heat in the lighthouse keeper's home means mold is also becoming an issue.

"It takes a commitment of time and great people to keep something like this going," Bradbury added.

There are fundraising efforts underway to repair the cable.

It's going to take time, though, leaving Scott Dombrowski and the next generation of lighthouse keepers here contemplating their future. His hope is that with some luck, this light will keep guiding mariners to safety for years to come.

"We are the last holdouts . There is a responsibility to keep it going," Dombrowski said.


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