Digest>Archives> Jan/Feb 2008

The Lady Who Built Lighthouses

By Julie Keene


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Katrina with one of the replicas of Maine's West ...

The other day I met a woman. It’s interesting how you can live in such a small town all of your life and never know some of the people around you. I never would have met her if it wasn’t for a relative of mine who was helping to look after her. The woman I am speaking of is 87 year old Katrina Ramsdell Guptill. I was very humbled in her presence and reminded once again how much the times have changed … compared to years ago. The following story is Katrina’s story in her own words.

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Katrina with one of the replicas she made of ...

“You know it’s very hard to remember everything when you have lived almost a hundred years. I was born Nov. 29, 1920 in Haycocks Harbor, Trescott, Maine. My mother gave birth to all five of us at home, Roland, Myself, Glen, Merlin and Lorraine.

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This family photo was taken in 1932. Katrina is ...


I began school when I was 4 years old because my mother did not want my older brother, Roland, to have to walk to school alone. Roland was a year and a half older than me. The school we attended was the Moose River School it was located 2 1/10 miles from our house and we had to walk that distance everyday both to and from school. The snow or rain never stopped us. I carried one of the neighbor children, Clarence Jones, to and from school everyday on my back for years.

He was so little that he got tired so I carried him. Then I started to develop a backache and my mother made me stop carrying him. After that I held his hand and walked with him.

I liked high school and use to teach a lot of the younger children. I would sit outside and they would gather around me. I could always draw, so when we had a holiday I would decorate the chalkboard with different colored chalk. One time,

I did Santa Claus and all his reindeer as a border. My that was some pretty.

Of course after a while they had to erase it …I wish I had a picture of it.

Growing Up:

As I got older we spent our time helping around the farm. We never went to the movies or anything like that we just spent our time at home. We had large gardens and grew almost all of our own food. In the fall we use to harvest our potatoes and put them in salt sacks. The potatoes were what really sustained us. The sacks were piled up in the cellar. They lasted the whole year. We probably grew a couple of thousand pounds. We also grew turnips, carrots, onions, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, beets and lots of other stuff. The whole time I was growing up we had to milk cows. We each had our own cow to milk. We put all the milk in a big bucket and lowered it down in the well to keep it cool and then after it settled the cream would come to the top. We skimmed the cream off and saved it until we had enough to make butter. We turned and turned that churn it seemed like the butter would never come. Then we washed the butter and put it into a butter press. It made the most beautiful butter! My mother sold some of the butter to help us out. We drank a lot of buttermilk and used it to cook with too. I think back to milking those cows. We milked before we went to school — what I must have smelled like! But probably all the other children smelled just as I did.

We used Kerosene lamps for light we didn’t have any electricity or a phone.

We made all of our own clothes and we made quilts.

After I got older I worked for a while in the sardine factory packing fish. When I was around 20 I married Max Guptill. We lived with my parents. My husband, Max just integrated into the family.

We eventually built a house next door to my parents.

My father and my husband were lobster fishermen. They didn’t make big money in those days. They usually only got 20 cents a pound. I told my husband that I thought I could get more money for their lobsters than what they were getting. So I took their lobsters and went out on the road. I drove through Dennysville, Pembroke, and Robbinston knocking on peoples’ doors. I got 50 cents a pound and I never returned home with any unsold lobsters.

Building the lighthouses:

I always like to build things. I built the house that I live in. Over the years I built three sets of cupboards myself out of necessity. I learned as I built. It was more or less trial and error. Then I built myself a workshop.

My son, Robbie was living away. He called me one time and asked me if I could make him a lighthouse. He wanted one that looked like West Quoddy Head. He had a pool and he wanted to put it beside it. That was the first one I ever built. It didn’t have a house attached to it. But then other people saw that first one and they wanted one too.

So I started to take orders. As I built them I got better. The hardest part was putting the stripes on the West Quoddy Head replicas. My daughter, Anna, use to come from her home in Florida, and help me go around the ring to make it perfect. I built 33 lighthouses all together. I even did some of the Spark Plug (Lubec Channel Light) in Lubec. Some people put their lighthouses out on their lawns and others keep them inside so they don’t get weathered. I don’t make the lighthouses anymore I’m just not able.”

I sat across from Katrina and listened to her tell me about her life and gazed at the many pictures that she brought out to show me... pictures of her family, some living some gone and pictures of her beautiful lighthouses. Her whole life was spread between those pages of her photo albums. She smiled at me and her eyes sparkled. I couldn’t help but think

“She’s quite a lady!”

This story appeared in the Jan/Feb 2008 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.

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