Digest>Archives> May 2003

Women of the Light

Elaine Jones: Keeper of the “Living Lighthouse”

By Jeremy D'Entremont


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Elaine Jones painting the Burnt Island ...

A writer once called Burnt Island Lighthouse in Maine’s Boothbay Harbor “ one of the most beautiful harbor lighthouses on the entire Atlantic Coast.” Elaine Jones, today’s “keeper” of the light station, explains her attraction: “The five-acre island is close to the mainland, yet it is removed from the pace of life on the mainland.”

Elaine Jones was born and raised away from the coast in Auburn, Maine, but early visits to the shore sparked an interest in marine biology. After obtaining a BS in biology from Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, she taught science at the middle school level for six years and high school biology for one year. During summers she worked at research labs, including five years with the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) in Boothbay.

Following an eight-year stint spent raising her three children, Elaine became the education director for the Maine DMR in 1991. When the Maine Lights Program was announced, Elaine thought, “What better place to educate students and teachers than at a lighthouse?” In 1998 the light station was transferred to the Maine DMR.

Since then the buildings have been restored to their circa-1950 look. Elaine’s family has been in the thick of the restoration process. “My husband Jeremy has offered his engineering and mechanical skills,” she explains, “while my children Tamara [19], Gregory [17], and Benjamin [13] know the true meaning of work. They have cut and chipped brush, washed and painted the tower, scraped and repainted clapboards, dismantled a huge pressure-treated deck, removed about twenty cords of wood from the island, and been involved in routine maintenance. My eighty-year-old mother, Irene Patry, starts the seedlings every year, which are planted and maintained by a corps of Master Gardeners.”

With her teaching background, Elaine says it was “a natural” to develop an outdoor learning curriculum at Burnt Island. “The experiential learning that takes place on this island is incredible,” she explains. The Burnt Island Living Lighthouse program now provides visitors an opportunity to learn about Maine’s marine resources and lighthouse history. “The historic buildings serve as a living history museum,” says Elaine, “where instructors, in period clothing, teach the public about our maritime heritage.”

Burnt Island Lighthouse (1821) is Maine’s second oldest standing lighthouse tower. Elaine has spent much time researching the history of the light station with the help of many other people. Many tell her that her enthusiasm is contagious. “I get so excited when a new piece of the puzzle has been found,” she says. Former keepers and their families have been instrumental in the restoration of the station and the development of the education program. “I have found that it is the former keepers and their families who share the passion that I have to bring this project to fruition,” says Elaine.

To Elaine Jones, education is the first order of business. “Our youth must be educated about the importance of these historic monuments,” she says. “I have always been a firm believer in ‘hands-on’ education. This approach allows children to actually step back in time and realize that the oceans used to be the highways and that lighthouses were the road signs. The whole experience is a fun way to enlighten visitors to the importance of this maritime symbol of hope and guidance.”

To participate in the Burnt Island Living Lighthouse Program, contact: Maine Department of Marine Resources, Education Division, P.O. Box 8, West Boothbay Harbor, ME 04575, call (207) 633-9559, or visit this web site: www.maine.gov/dmr/education/burntisle.htm

This story appeared in the May 2003 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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