Digest>Archives> Jan/Feb 2013

Rowing the Cow Ashore

By Eugene Swan


You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
Two Bush Island Lighthouse, Penobscot Bay, near ...

Towering seas, daring rescues, week-long storms that cut the keeper and his family off from the mainland - these are the ingredients of many a lighthouse tale.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
Forty-six year old Two Bush Island lighthouse ...

But Thornton Batty, growing up in a lighthouse family, remembers other things: his cat, Mittens, his collie dog, his pet seal, Cecil, who loved doughnuts, and the family cow that he rowed ashore in his 14 foot skiff.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
This is all that remains of the Two Bush Island ...

I sat in a comfortable overstuffed chair in Thornton’s garage in Spruce Head, Maine pestering him with questions about his life as a child and young man at Maine’s Two Bush Island Lighthouse. The garage was crammed with small machines that Thornton repairs, now that he is retired from the cement plant, and on which he continued to work as we talked.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
Two Bush Island Lighthouse in Penobscot Bay, ...

Apparently, Thornton has never been one to sit still - man or boy.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
The fog bell from Two Bush Island Lighthouse is ...
Photo by: Dave Gamage

“When the Mann family left Two Bush,” he said, “my father, Fred Batty, took over. I was about ten, with two sisters, and three brothers. We transferred from Boon - the roughest hole where sometime it was too stormy to row the eleven miles into York Harbor and we had nothing to eat.

“One night on Boon, during a gale when we were having supper, we though we heard a knock at the door, but before we could get up to see, a granite block smashed through into the hall and the water poured in.

“We had to turn up a table across the hole to keep the storm out before we could go on eating.”

Two Bush is well-named. It is a wild and wind-swept small island marking the entrance to the Two Bush Channel into Penobscot Bay. The two bushes on it account for 100% of its shrubbery and I asked Thornton what he and his brothers and sisters found to do out there. The question surprised him.

“We had all kinds of games we made up,” he said. “And I had my pal, my Collie dog, and the cat named Mittens, because she had white front paws. And there was a flock of about 25 chickens. But the best thing was Cecil, my pet seal. I spent most of my time along the shore or in my 14-foot skiff. I was out hauling lobster traps when this young seal, grayish and about 30 inches long, came alongside. I held him under until he was winded and then took him in. He ate just about anything. He ate more doughnuts than I did.”

The house on Two Bush was a handsome two-family home with hardwood floors and two coal furnaces. The buoy tender brought coal in burlap bags. Everyone hauled it up to the house.

“We collected water in the cistern,” Thornton said. “If there was a dry spell, water was brought out by the buoy tender and pumped ashore when the weather was right.”

“Living on Two Bush was beautiful,” he said. During the school year, the Batty children were boarded out at first, but before long, Thornton’s mother was able to buy a house just a few rods from where he lives now, and the children moved ashore when school was keeping.

“But we always returned to Two Bush during vacations,” Thornton said. “One of my pastimes was to make model boats and setting them afloat with a bottle tied to them and a message in the bottle. I could have filled a car with those little boats. Once I got a letter all the way from Nova Scotia.”

The Two Bush barn, the bell tower, the boat house, and the residence were all later destroyed with the lighthouses no longer manned. The barn had also served as a “ship”, and it housed the cow.

“The cow was my job,” Thornton said. “You could have fed three cows there (on Two Bush), there was so much grass. When it was time to breed her, I’d wait for low tide when my 14 foot boat was grounded out, and lead her into the boat and tie her to the seat with her halter. The only place on the shore where I could get her into the skiff was at the north end of the island. There was no way she would agree to walk down the ramp at the boathouse. She stood up the whole trip ashore while I rowed. It must have been quite a sight to see, this cow in a skiff crossing the Mussel Ridge Channel. And fortunately the cow seemed not to object but appeared to rather contently enjoy the ride perhaps in anticipation of the purpose for the trip.

Three generations of Battys have served with the Coast Guard. Thornton’s wife’s family is also Coast Guard oriented and they would like to see a fourth member in the service.

In the early stages of the steps to automate Two Bush light, the fog bell was sent ashore. It was Thornton Batty’s son, who was in the Coast Guard, who saved the bell from “going West”. It now rings out from the steeple of the Spruce Head Community Church, within sight and sound of Thornton Batty and the members of his family.

This story appeared in the Jan/Feb 2013 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.

All contents copyright © 1995-2024 by Lighthouse Digest®, Inc. No story, photograph, or any other item on this website may be reprinted or reproduced without the express permission of Lighthouse Digest. For contact information, click here.

to Lighthouse Digest

USLHS Marker Fund

Lighthouse History
Research Institute

Shop Online

Subscribe   Contact Us   About Us   Copyright Foghorn Publishing, 1994- 2024   Lighthouse Facts     Lighthouse History