Being named the new group commander of the Southwest Harbor Coast Guard Station surely has its rewards, but the best reward of all is the choice of domicile. The keeper's house at the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is the residence of choice for the new Group Commander, Robert Burchell.
Robert Burchell has been with the Coast Guard for 18 years. He just completed a tour as the Coast Guard Liaison Officer to the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Maryland. Prior to this, he served as the Deputy Group Commander of Group Moriches, New York. His wife Brooke and their children Sophie (four) and Ethan (two) also live at the light.
Built in 1858, Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse sits on the southern tip of Mount Desert Island warning mariners away from the rockbound coast of Maine. The tower is only 32 feet high, but the light shines from 56 feet above the water below. When given the choice of living in nearby Southwest Harbor or the lighthouse, Commander Burchell said, “How could I pass up the chance to live in a lighthouse? The choice was an easy one.” The station has housed many of the Southwest Harbor group commanders since the lighthouse was automated in 1974.
Commander Burchell and his family moved into the lighthouse on July 19, 2004. They will be living in the keeper's house for three years. In June, some lead abatement was done on the house so it would be suitable for the Burchells' two young children. “Our children should learn some valuable lessons being here. We don't even have cable TV installed yet!” says Commander Burchell.
The lighthouse is one of the biggest tourist draws on the island. “There are many visitors to the house,” reports Commander Burchell. “The parking lot is full most of the day. They are well behaved and usually quiet.” Commander Burchell said that people sometimes come up to the door and try to open it. “Other than that, they leave us alone” he said. “We would like to fix up the outside of the lighthouse. It needs some minor repairs and some paint to make it look better.”
“We have been researching the history of this light station and the former keepers of the lighthouse” said Commander Burchell. “It's interesting to see how the station has changed over the years. My wife and I look at old pictures of the lighthouse and try to guess what year the photo was taken.”
Chief Sam Hill, Officer-in-Charge of Aids to Navigation from Port Clyde to Calais in Maine, lived at the lighthouse before the Burchells moved in. Hill and his family lived there for nearly two years. “We enjoyed our stay at the light, but we have no regrets in moving out,” says Chief Hill.
This story appeared in the
October 2004 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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