For the past half-century, the sight of a glowing star atop the tower on Mt. Battie has been a symbol of hope and community togetherness for residents and visitors to Camden each winter. First appearing each year in a burst of white light on Thanksgiving evening, the star shines down on Camden from the mountaintop and heralds the start of the holiday season.

What may be less widely known about the star is the history of the iconic beacon, and the group of individuals who, over the decades, have dedicated themselves to erecting and lighting the star each winter, and maintaining it for the remainder of the year. Through the hours devoted by these volunteers, along with the cooperation of Camden Hills State Park and local businesses, the star continues to make holiday memories for generation after generation on the Midcoast.

The tradition of the star began in the mid-1960s, when Bill Brawn, then owner of French & Brawn Market Place and a member of the Camden Lions Club, decided to place a Christmas star on the Mechanic Street side of the store, according to information provided by the Lions.

Camden Town Historian Barbara Dyer previously said the first star was 12 feet high, had a wooden frame and glowed with 100 25-watt bulbs. However, since the star was only visible to those passing south on Route 1, it was suggested by downtown merchants to display it from the stone tower on Mt. Battie.

"The star was first seen Sunday evening and caused some consternation from citizens who phoned the police and fire department about the strange glow in the sky. Some thought it was a fire on the mountain or a flying saucer," reads an article in the Dec. 8, 1966, edition of The Camden Herald.

Shortly after that, the Camden Lions Club's Raymond Drinkwater built a much larger star, made of steel, with more lights. A third star was built in the 1990s, which is also metal and holds 92, 15-watt bulbs, according to Dyer.

For decades, Bob Oxton drove to the top of the mountain each night of the holiday season to start the generator that powers the star. A few years ago, that duty was transferred to Tom Jackson and Randy Stearns.

As the sun began to set Nov. 27, Stearns drove to the summit of Mt. Battie in his truck to prepare the star for lighting. Carrying a gas can, Stearns, the proverbial torchbearer, fueled up the generator that powers the star and set it running. Taking a moment to appreciate the changing colors that pass through the mountain trees and swirl above the ocean and Camden Harbor, he described the sense of community and teamwork that the star represents.

"The star is really for the community, and seeing the excitement that it brings to kids — and adults — each year, makes it worth it for me. We have a great group who set up the star each year and maintain it in the off-season. I just feel fortunate to be a part of it," said Stearns, who shares the lighting and maintenance of the star with a group of eight men.

After allowing the red generator (one of two the group provides) to run for a few minutes, Stearns flipped a switch and the star sprang to life: a perfect shape of 100 glowing lights set before the purple of the evening sky and the orange of the setting sun. One could imagine pedestrians on the streets of downtown Camden, hundreds of feet below, looking up, seeing the star and smiling.

The star will stay glowing each night until approximately 4 a.m., at which time the generator runs out of fuel. These elements of the process, the generator and the gasoline, represent one aspect of how the star truly is an example of a community coming together.

Last month, when thousands on the Midcoast lost power for several days, one of the generators that now run the star was brought to a resident in dire need of electricity. The gasoline on which the generator runs is donated by Camden's Village Variety, and the lightbulbs are donated by Rankins Hardware. Adventure Advertising has created promotional buttons bearing the image of the star on the tower, and Bob Cochran of Timbercliff Tree Service brought his bucket truck up the mountain to help mount the star.

"We also have a good working relationship with Camden Hills State Park," said Stearns. The park grants a special activity permit each year that allows the star to be placed on the tower, and the Camden Lions Club continues to make contributions to maintaining the Mt. Battie tower.

Much of the work that goes into maintaining this holiday tradition can be seen in pictures on the Facebook page "Friends of the Mt. Battie Tower," and there are currently commemorative 50th anniversary ornaments depicting the tower within a star of silver and gold for sale at Camden businesses such as Margot Moore and Starbird.

Camden Hills State Park is located at 280 Belfast Road, and information on trails and the winter schedule can be found by calling 236-3109.