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Lighthouse keepers of Goat Island preserve rich history in Cape Porpoise Harbor and in Maine

Scott and Karen Dombrowski have spent 27 seasons preserving the buildings and lighthouse on Goat Island in Cape Porpoise Harbor.

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — It may seem romantic to live on an island off the coast of Maine and tend a working lighthouse, the stuff of great novels, or a Hollywood blockbuster but in reality it's a lot of hard work. 

"It's like living on a small farm," says Scott Dombrowski through a smile. He and his wife Karen have been living on the island, tending the buildings, and welcoming visitors to Goat Island Lighthouse for 27 seasons. The couple - who for many years were volunteers but are now paid a small stipend by the Kennebunkport Conservation Land Trust that owns the island - say the three-acre isle is constantly offering more chores to be done. 

Credit: NCM
Karen and Scott Dombrowski have been caretakers of Goat Island in Cape Porpoise Harbor for 27 years.

Build in 1833, the original Goat Island Lighthouse served, as it still does today, to guide mariners as they navigated the chain of stony islands that make up an archipelago in Cape Porpoise Harbor near Kennebunkport. The station which guards the harbor was upgraded in 1859 to the current brick tower and keeper's quarters were added in 1860. 

The U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for the aid to navigation and automated the light station in 1990. In 2008, solar panels were installed and still run the light that blinks white every six seconds from dawn til dusk, shining as far as 12 miles offshore.

In 1993, the property was transferred from the Coast Guard, who posted signs all over the island for people to stay off, to the Kennebunkport Conservation Land Trust, which welcomes more than 1,500 kayakers, paddlers, and boaters every summer. The land trust also allows tours of the lighthouse and the 125-foot long walkway that connects to the living quarters. 

Most visitors will be welcomed by Scott or Karen's smiling face. They spend most of the spring until December on the island and have for decades. They even raised their two sons there until the boys got old enough that they wanted to be on the mainland to play sports and not have the inconvenience of island living. Still, the family returned in the summer months.  

A couple of years ago, the island underwent a restoration and all the buildings were brought back to their former glory of the 1950's. The Dombrowskis have been a part of the restoration, using photos to prove what the station looked like seven decades ago and restoring the keepers home by peeling away three-layers of ceilings and carpeted floors to reveal original fir floors. The blizzard of '78 destroyed the walkway and the bell tower but both have been rebuilt. 

Credit: contributed
Karen Dombrowski 1996

Every morning Scott climbs the spiral staircase to the top of the light station and peers over the bay, searching the horizon, making sure nothing is amiss. Over the years, the Dombrowskis have been involved in dozens of rescues as boats fail to navigate the ledges in the bay. And even though almost every vessel on the water is now aided with a GPS, Scott reminds me that they are fool-proof. They can break, or fall out of boats and he says many lobstermen and mariners still use the lighthouse to guide them home. 

Credit: contributed
Goat Island Lighthouse circa the 1940s

For the Dombrowskis, as much as they are civilian keepers of the lighthouse, they are also keepers of the rich history of coastal living in Maine. 

"The history is phenomenal. It's been like putting together a puzzle putting together little bits of information realizing we're part of it," says Scott. The Dombrowskis use the walkway as a walking museum, lined with artifacts and photos of past keepers of the Goat Island. 

But the best part of living on an island off the coast of Maine, the Dombrowskis say, has been sharing it with others.  

"It's very special. It has offered us a very unique lifestyle and something that we’ll always cherish throughout our lives."  

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