The Peaks Island Historical Society on Peaks Island in Maine has honored five lighthouse keepers buried at the island’s Pond Grove Cemetery with the placement of U.S. Lighthouse Service Memorial Plaques at their gravesites.
The keepers honored were Robert Thayer Sterling, John T. Sterling, James W. Sterling, William A. Lane, and James T. Jones. With the exception of Robert Thayer Sterling, all of the men honored had relatively short careers in the Lighthouse Service and are not widely known.
John T. Sterling served at Halfway Rock Lighthouse from 1871 to 1883. James W. Sterling served at Halfway Rock from 1885 to 1887 and then at Cape Elizabeth Light from 1887 to 1888. William A. Lane served at Spring Point Ledge Light from 1897 to 1901 and James T. Jones served at Halfway Rock Light from 1871 to 1872.
Additionally, the three Sterlings were closely related. James W. Sterling was a second cousin to Robert Thayer Sterling and James’ uncle was John T. Sterling. Between them all, the Sterling family served for 48 years as keepers in the U.S. Lighthouse Service.
Born on Peaks Island in 1874, the son of a shipmaster, Robert Thayer Sterling started his career as a newspaper reporter covering the Portland waterfront where his interest in becoming a lighthouse keeper was peaked. He felt that the job of being a lighthouse keeper would provide him with a good source of writing material. When he was hired, he was offered a position at Matinicus Rock Lighthouse, which he turned down because he felt it was too remote for a decent family life. He was then offered a position at Halfway Rock Light, which he also turned down. He finally, but reluctantly, accepted a position at Ram Island Ledge Lighthouse in 1913. Although his wife could not live with him at Ram Island Ledge Light, it was close to his home, which would allow him more family time.
In 1915, Robert Sterling was able to get a transfer to a family station on Great Duck Island and later to Seguin Island Light. Then, in 1918 he was assigned to Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse where he remained for ten years. Following that, he was finally able to secure the job as assistant keeper at Maine’s prestigious Portland Head Lighthouse where he had already become close friends with distinguished head keeper Frank Hilt. He remained there for almost two decades until his retirement from service in 1946.
As well as writing many newspaper articles about lighthouses, in 1935 Sterling wrote the best-selling book, Lighthouses of the Maine Coast and the Men Who Kept Them, which helped give the public a better insight into the lives of the keepers and others who kept the lights operating on the coast of Maine.
This story appeared in the
Nov/Dec 2020 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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