Isle au Haut lighthouse sold, to re-open as inn

Jan 23, 2013

The historic Robinson Point lightkeeper’s house has been sold and the new owner plans to re-open the landmark island property as an inn.

Marshall Chapman, a college professor and longtime island summer resident, purchased the Keeper's House property Dec. 31 from longtime owners Jeffrey and Judith Burke.

The Knowles Company, a Northeast Harbor-based real estate firm, handled the sale. Knowles broker Jamie O’Keefe was the listing agent and the brokerage team of Harriet Whittington and Tricia Blythe represented the buyer.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 2-acre oceanfront property consists of a four-bedroom, turn-of-the-century lightkeeper’s house, a guest house, several cottages, a boathouse and a deep water dock. The town of Isle au Haut maintains ownership of the granite and brick light tower, which was built in 1907 to guide fisherman to safety during fierce winter storms.

The Burkes, former Peace Corps volunteers who moved to Maine after spending time in California, purchased the old light station in 1986. They renovated the property and opened it as the Keeper’s House Inn, attracting visitors from around the world who were looking to step back in time and experience Maine island life as it was 100 years ago.

The Keeper’s House quickly became a popular destination and was featured in newspapers and magazine and on network television news programs. It closed for business when the Burkes retired several years ago and placed the property on the market.

Chapman, an associate professor of geology in Kentucky in the off-season, plans to re-open the inn for business this summer, with the Burkes staying on as consultants.

The professor, whose hobbies include driving steam locomotives, sailing a 1903 Friendship sloop and restoring Model A Ford cars, said the Keeper’s House appealed to him because he has long had a fascination with restoring and sharing things from the past. Chapman fell in love with the property years ago as a student studying the geology of Isle au Haut.

“I walked the coast beside the lighthouse and became friends with Judi and Jeff … it was through my constant contact with the Burkes that I was introduced to their vision of taking their guests back to a bygone age of lesser intrusion from outside distractions like phones, the internet, etc.,” Chapman said.

Instead, he said, guests at the unique inn were surrounded with the natural beauty of the tides, the stars and Acadia National Park, which comprises about half of the island. The self-sufficient property is off the grid with the power supplied by solar panels, a wind turbine and backup generator. Drinking water is drawn from the sea using a sophisticated reverse osmosis system.

When the Keeper’s House came on the market, Chapman became concerned it would be purchased by someone who would replace the historic buildings with a modern mansion equipped with a heliport. Whereas the Burkes welcomed the tourists and hikers who ventured into their yard each summer to get a closer look at the picturesque lighthouse, there were fears a new owner may turn these visitors away.

Chapman eventually approached the Burkes and said he was interesting in buying the property himself.

“When Marshall approached us last year with his hopes of re-opening the inn, it was a dream come true,” Judi Burke said. Chapman, the Burkes said, understood the magic of the property and was the ideal steward to carry on their legacy.

“He’s the perfect person to continue the tradition… Marshall is a natural banjo-plucking host, full of stories and bubbling cheer, the perfect optimist to breath new life into the inn and once again provide an oasis of joy for the modern day pilgrim,” Jeff Burke said.

After 27 years of calling Robinson Point home, the Burkes said what stands out most are the wonderful people they have encountered and the sense of community the island provides. Although they winter in Prescott, Ariz., the Burkes said they always look forward to returning to the magical island every summer.

Isle au Haut, which means High Island in French, is located about six miles from the mainland and is accessible by private boat and daily passenger ferry service from Stonington. About half of the island is part of Acadia National Park, protecting the island’s beauty for future generations. The island is home to a gourmet chocolate shop, a library, a classic one-room school house and a small grocery store. There are currently no hotels or inns in operation on the island. Once re-opened, the Keeper’s House will be the only inn in operation on Isle au Haut and is expected to boast tourism while providing jobs for island residents.

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