The Peaks Island Historical Society hosted a ceremony July 25 to honor five lighthouse keepers that all have ties to the island. The celebration was partly in recognizing Maine’s bicentennial year. Kim MacIsaac, left, relatives of the five honored keepers, and Herb Adams, Maine historian and former state representative, right. Catherine Bart photo

PORTLAND — The Peaks Island Historical Society honored five lighthouse keepers buried at the island’s Pond Grove Cemetery, including the final civilian keeper of Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth.

The ceremony, held July 25, revealed new grave markers for each of the five men: Capt. Robert Thayer Sterling, Capt. John T. Sterling, Capt. James W. Sterling, James B. Jones, and William A. Lane. All but Lane are known to have been born on Peaks Island.

A memorial for Capt. Robert Thayer Sterling, Portland Head Light’s final civilian keeper, and the marking that the Peaks Island Historical society placed in honor of his work in the United States Lighthouse Service. Catherine Bart/Sentry

As a way to celebrate Maine’s bicentennial, Herb Adams, Maine historian and professor at Southern Maine Community College, said he had suggested to the Peaks Island Historical Society last fall that a ceremony be held for Robert Thayer Sterling, who served as the final civilian keeper of Portland Head Light, when he left the position in 1946.

In 1935, Robert Thayer Sterling published “Lighthouses of the Maine Coast and the Men Who Keep Them,” where he interviewed keepers, who worked in solitude, only heading to shore once every few days for supplies, Adams said.

“It took a hardy kind of person to endure it and Capt. Sterling captured their stories just at the end of the classic lighthouse era, and he himself was part of the era,” Adams said.

To Adams’s surprise, he said, The Peaks Island Historical Society, upon doing research of Robert Thayer Sterling, found that five of Maine’s lighthouse keepers, three possessing the Sterling name, had lived and were buried on Peaks Island. Robert Thayer Sterling was the fifth generation of lighthouse keepers.

Kim MacIsaac of the Peaks Island Historical Society said that she found it amusing that so many lighthouse keepers were connected to the island.

“Herb is the one who put me onto this,” she said. “I started research and I kept finding one name after another with Peaks Island connections, and there may be more.”

Information provided by Adams and the Peaks Historical Society said that John T. Sterling was the first keeper of Halfway Rock Lighthouse in Casco Bay, at which he served from 1871 until 1883. He was of the third generation of Sterlings to serve as a lighthouse keeper.

The third Sterling honored on July 25, James W. Sterling, was of the fourth generation of Sterling keepers and was keeper of what is now known as Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth. He served at the location from 1887 until 1888.

In total, there were five generations of Sterling lighthouse keepers, Adams said.

“All together, it’s almost 200 years of service,” he said. “So we can safely say that Sterlings are to lighthouses what salt is to the sea.”

Anne Sterling, a descendant of the Sterling family, unveiled Robert Thayer Sterling’s new memorial marker.

William Lane, one of the other keepers honored at the ceremony, was the first keeper of the Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse in South Portland, Adams said.

During the ceremony, MacIsaac said that little is known about Lane and his connections with Peaks Island. She asked that anyone with information or stories about Lane or any of the other keepers to reach out to the historical society.

The United States Lighthouse Service markers were placed on the memorials and grave sites of five lighthouse keepers who were buried on Peaks Island. Catherine Bart photo

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