On July 1, 2017, twenty members from three generations of the Milan family assembled at Grindle Hill Cemetery, located on Swan’s Island in Maine, to honor their lighthouse keeper forefather, Orrin Lindsey Milan, by placing a United States Lighthouse Service marker at his gravesite.
Orrin L. Milan was the longest serving keeper at Burnt Coat Harbor Lighthouse where he served for 35 years: from 1897 to 1932. He also served at Mt. Desert Rock Light as an assistant to his father, head keeper Thomas R. Milan, for another five years from 1892 to 1897 before transferring to Burnt Coat Harbor.
The ceremony was hosted by the Friends of Swan’s Island Lighthouse in association with the Swan’s Island Historical Society. John Bryan, Chairman of the Town of Swan’s Island Lighthouse Committee and the Friends group, began by stating that “the Burnt Coat Harbor Light Station is one bright star in a constellation of American navigation aids. The lights and generations of light keepers represent the best aspects of democracy - steadfast public service, available to all without discrimination.”
He further added that, “Our ceremony today commemorates one light keeper. It also reminds us that our light is part of a larger and enduring system.” John then gave a short biographical sketch of Orrin L. Milan that he and recently retired Selectman, Dexter Lee, had compiled.
David Milan from Orono, Maine, a great-grandson of Orrin Lindsey Milan, was called upon next to recount a favorite family story of how Orrin got his middle name. Before serving for 20 years as head keeper on Mount Desert Rock, Orrin’s father, Thomas Milan, was a sea captain. While nearing Mount Desert Rock one day, he fell overboard and was rescued by the ship’s cook, Lindsey. In gratitude for saving his life, when Orrin was born, Thomas gave him Lindsey as a middle name. It did not stop there, as Lindsey has been the middle name given to every male child in the family ever since. Eight of the Milan males who attended the ceremony are following the family tradition by having Lindsey as their middle name.
Following David’s remarks, he and his granddaughter, Keara Milan, placed the United States Lighthouse Service grave marker and accompanying flag. Lighthouse Committee members Fran and Eric Chetwynd next shared some words about the Burnt Coat Harbor Lighthouse restoration project. The “Lightkeeper’s Prayer” was then read followed by the group singing “Legend of the Lighthouse” to close the ceremony.
Earlier in the day, the family had a special tour of the lighthouse and a viewing of the newly installed exhibit, Lights in the Neighborhood, which is displayed downstairs in the restored keeper’s house. The exhibit “brings to ‘light’ photographs, information, stories and poetry about the lighthouses located on some of the small islands not far from Swan’s Island.” The exhibit shows “how the histories of these lighthouses are in many ways similar, yet also have their own unique identities. They are all ‘lights in the neighborhood’, guiding mariners safely along this part of the Maine Coast.” The exhibit runs thru mid-September at the lighthouse and then will transfer to Swan’s Island library for the winter season.
Burnt Coat Harbor Lighthouse has been in the process of restoration for over a decade. A major grant from a fund administered by the National Trust in 2007 started the wheels turning in earnest. A Historic Preservation Plan, prepared by Historic Building Architects in Princeton, New Jersey, was used as the guide. Local contractors were employed whenever possible.
With the work on the keeper’s house complete, visitors are now enjoying its first season as a vacation rental property in the upstairs rooms while the downstairs space will remain utilized for annual exhibitions curated by the Swan’s Island Historical Society’s archivist, Beverly McAloon. Restoration is still ongoing for the tower, bell tower, and oil house as it is a painstaking process requiring a great deal more funding to complete.
As with other historic lighthouses around the country in similar situations, the time, effort, and funds that go into restoration projects have a tremendous impact on preserving the past as well as paving the way for a secure future for the lighthouse. And honoring lighthouse keepers by the placement of service markers also preserves the heritage and memory of those who served there.
This story appeared in the
Sep/Oct 2017 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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