Digest>Archives> Jan/Feb 2016

Memories of Life at Seguin Island Lighthouse

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Seguin Island Lighthouse Station as it appeared ...

Over the years, Beverly Ramsey’s parents had repeatedly told her about the two years they spent at Maine’s Seguin Island Lighthouse. Many times they recounted that it was among the happiest two years of their lives.

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Walter Stephens at Seguin Island Lighthouse. ...

However, Beverly Ramsey doesn’t remember those days, because she was only a baby in 1959 when she first arrived at Seguin Island Lighthouse, where her parents Walter F. and Mary A. Stephens lived as a Coast Guard family assigned to the highest lighthouse above water in the State of Maine.

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Mary A. Stephens, wife of Maine’s Seguin Coast ...

It wasn’t long after the young couple arrived at Seguin Island Lighthouse, where Walter Stephens had been assigned as the assistant keeper, that the couple decided in October of 1958 that Mary should go home to Florida to await the birth of their child. After all, being miles out to sea on an island would be no place to give birth.

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The boat house and tramway at Maine’s Seguin ...

After Beverly was born, the U. S. Coast Guard arranged transportation for Walter to go to Florida and pick up his wife and new baby daughter. The couple took a Greyhound Bus from Jacksonville, Florida up to Portland, Maine where they then arranged transportation to the Coast Guard Station at Fort Popham on the Kennebec River.

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Lighthouse keeper Walter F. Stephens holding his ...

Being only a few weeks old at the time, Beverly obviously doesn’t remember her first trip out to the island, but it was obviously an adventurous one. To start with, on the dock at Fort Popham, Beverly’s parents bundled her into a basket and then they had to hoist her across the water on a rigid rope to the Coast Guard vessel that would transport them on the Kennebec River out into the open waters of the mighty Atlantic Ocean to Maine’s Seguin Island Light Station that had been established way back in 1795 when George Washington served as the first president of the United States of America and appointed the first keeper to serve there.

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The lens and the lantern at Maine’s Seguin Island ...

The winter boat ride was blustery and cold, and the water was choppy. As they left the mouth of the Kennebec River, the swells, or rollers as some call them, caused the vessel to go up and down as it rode with them for the 2 ½ mile trip to the island. The rollers are quite common here. In fact, one of the many names that the Native American interpretation of Seguin means is, “place where the sea vomits.” Mary was wearing tennis shoes, Capri pants, and her husband’s leather coat. The captain of the vessel ordered that everyone was to be tied to the boat to prevent them from being tossed about and injured.

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The additional keeper’s house as it appeared in ...

Once on the island, there was still the strenuous struggle to climb the narrow, steep, and slippery 1,100 pathway up the top of the island and to the lighthouse and the snow was falling at a pretty good clip. With baby Beverly in tow, Mary Stephens often had to cling to foot-long icicles that were frozen to the wooden tramway as she pulled herself upward and onward. But soon they were safe and sound in the warmth of the cozy keepers house where Beverly got all the attention and love that a young family could give.

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Seguin Island Lighthouse from a photo taken a few ...

Life was idyllic on the island as they enjoyed the changing weather and seasons, the magnificent views, the many birds and other ocean wildlife, and the many different vessels that passed by the island on a daily basis. Walter fished and Beverly’s parents recounted how her father caught a pan-sized flounder using a string and safety pin.

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David and Beverly Ramsey on a return visit to ...

Although Beverly’s dad kept busy with the typical Coast Guard assigned chores and keeping the 12-foot high 1st order Fresnel lens clean and operational, there was plenty of time for quality family life.

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Beverly (Stephens) Ramsey at one year old and ...

But life for the Stephens took an emotional downfall. Mary had to leave the island and travelled to the town of Bath months before her due date with a second baby. On September 28, 1959 baby Linda Jo was born, but sadly she died two hours after birth and was buried in the Oak Grove Cemetery in Bath, Maine. Nine months later, the Coast Guard transferred Walter Stephens to Boston and the couple forever left lighthouse life behind them.

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Beverly (Stephens) Ramsey at one year old and ...

Forty years later, in 1999, Beverly and her mother returned to Maine to place a granite marker at Linda Jo’s gravesite, and they made a trip out to Seguin Island Lighthouse so Mary could show Beverly where the family once lived as keepers of the light. Beverly fell in love with the island and its historic lighthouse.

In 2011 Beverly convinced her husband David that the two of them should apply for the job of summer caretakers of the island and the lighthouse, a position that they were accepted for by the Friends of Seguin Island, the nonprofit group founded by Anne Webster Wallace, which now owns the island and its lighthouse.

In planning for their duties, Beverly and David spent lots of time preparing for their adventure, relying heavily upon their parents’ experiences so many years before. Unfortunately, Beverly’s father Walter Stephens passed away in October of that year and Beverly wondered if her upcoming quest for the 2012 caretaking duties at Seguin Lighthouse would be joyful or gloomy.

Beverly said she felt her father’s presence everywhere on the island. As she tended the garden, she wondered if it was the same garden that her father once tended, or if her father painted the same wall she did, or if she greeted visitors to the island in the same way he once did. As a caretaker, or modern day keeper, Beverly said it was a special treat for her to be able to stay in the same rooms that her parents lived in when she was a small child on a remote island off the rugged coast of Maine.

Beverly returned to Seguin in 2013 for a week-long stay. And in 2014 she rode the Amtrak Train from North Carolina just so she could stay with four past keepers for a week on the island.

Beverly says, “Seguin pulls at my heart each time that I have to leave. I have yet to find another place like Seguin Island.”

Amazingly, the same chair that Beverly’s father sat in and cuddled her as baby while gently rocking her to sleep back in 1959 at Seguin Island Lighthouse is still on the island. And once again Beverly got to sit in that same chair where her father used to hold her so many years before.

This story appeared in the Jan/Feb 2016 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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