It’s Lights Out for Maine’s Last Resident Lighthouse Keepers

Since an unexpected cable failure left Goat Island without electricity, its undaunted keepers are looking for ways to take the power back.

the Lewia family on Goat Island
The Lewia family, on Goat Island.
By Adrienne Perron
Photographed by Tara Rice
From our June 2023 Island Issue

It should have been a normal day for the lighthouse keepers on Goat Island. The weather was clear, they’d been keeping up with maintenance, and there were no signs of trouble in the keepers’ quarters or the lighthouse in the days prior. But when Nick Lewia woke up on November 3 last year to boat his eight-year-old son to school, the island was without power. It’s not uncommon for things to stop working on Goat Island — that’s the nature of lighthouse keeping — but Nick assumed a grid issue. When he realized electricity was flowing normally on the mainland, he knew there was a bigger problem. 

Goat Island Light, its keepers’ station, and a handful of outbuildings are the only structures on the three-and-a-half-acre island, about a mile off Cape Porpoise. For 38 years, they’d been linked by a 5,000-foot underwater cable to the mainland grid. The cable had a lifespan of only about 30 years; still, it had failed without warning. The automated light and foghorn remained functional, since the Coast Guard put them on solar power in 2008, but the cable was the source of all other electricity. 

Nick and Amy Lewia, who are in their late 30s, and their son, Brandon, have been living on Goat Island intermittently since last summer. They’re more property caretakers than old-school wickies — mowing the lawn, keeping up the historic buildings — as are long-term keepers Scott and Karen Dombrowski. In their 60s, the Dombrowskis have been inviting friends, like Nick and Amy, to learn the ropes and tend to the place while they winter in Florida — and perhaps be on deck when they eventually retire. This summer marks the Dombrowskis’ 30th year as keepers. Members of the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust, they began living on the island with their five- and seven-year-old sons in 1993, when the trust acquired it from the Coast Guard. Since then, they’ve made Goat Island Light a fixture of Kennebunkport life. They’ve hosted scouting troops and college classes, acted as stewards for 2,000 summer visitors, and participated in 25 maritime rescues. The light, as far as the Dombrowskis know, is the only one with a lighthouse-keeping family left in Maine. “We’re part of living history,” Scott says.

And they’re still living in a historical fashion: the estimated cost to replace the cable is $500,000, which the trust is attempting to fundraise. Despite the high cost, replacing the cable seems to be the best option. The trust had considered installing a generator and more solar power, but the logistics of transporting and storing fuel and the cost of replacing roofs for a solar installation are major barriers. So, more than six months later, the power on Goat Island is still off — and lighthouse-keeping ingenuity alone isn’t enough to fix it.

The Lewias, the Dombrowskis, and the rest of the keeper apprentices are brainstorming fundraising ideas — they have to, to hear Scott tell it. “Without power and the tools necessary to maintain the island,” he says, “it will diminish the community service we’ve built over the last 30 years.” They plan to approach Maine businesses for donations and offer individual cable sponsorships: a foot of cable for around $70. So far, one donor has pledged $100,000. But not having power won’t stop the Dombrowskis and Lewias from living on the island this summer — and they’re still welcoming visitors. “We have lanterns, candles . . . it’ll be like glorified camping,” Nick says. “Our plan is to be out there no matter what.”

April 2024, Down East Magazine

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