“I don’t think that it would hurt anyone to live on an island…you get away from the hustle and bustle. You are not trying to keep up with the rest of the world, which is going too fast.”
— Dalton Reed, son of lighthouse keeper Nathan “Ad” Reed
The last cemetery we visited on Mount Desert Island was on the western side, Hillrest Cemetery.
That morning, we took a boat ride out to Little Cranberry Island and saw plenty of sea life along the way. Since it wasn’t far away, we also visited Bass Harbor Light and climbed on some more rocks.
You can’t go up into the lighthouse but you can get right up next to the western side. I noticed nearby there was a gravestone on the way to the parking lot. Wasn’t expecting that!
I looked Alford “Tom” Williams, Jr. up on Find a Grave and this stone is said to be a cenotaph. His obituary noted that he served in the U.S. Coast Guard for 30 years before retiring. He was a lieutenant of the Southwest Harbor Fire Department and active in the Southwest Harbor-Tremont Ambulance Service.
My guess is that as a member of the Coast Guard, which managed this lighthouse, Tom was charged with helping care for it. That made me wonder what it was like to have spent so many years tending to such a rugged landmark.
Up the road from Bass Harbor Light is the Tremont area, near Southwest Harbor. This side of the island is much less touristy and offers a great deal of natural scenery that was lovely to take in as we drove along.
I found very little information about Hillrest Cemetery. According to Find a Grave, there are about 570 marked burials but only 40 percent are photographed. A new chain-link fence was put around it in 2011. From what I could see, it is well tended and in good shape. The cemetery sign, oddly, is located in the back instead of the front.
As is my custom, I take a number of pictures and research the people later. It was with much delight that I learned that I’d photographed the graves of a local lighthouse keeper and his wife.
Born on in 1857 in West Tremont, Maine, Nathan Adam “Ad” Reed was a young boy when he secured his first job aboard ship and by 19, he was officially a captain. Well known around the area, Ad commanded the schooners Abraham Richardson, Montezuma, Union, Lavinia Bell, and the C.B. Clark.
At 18, Ad met and married 17-year-old Emma Almira Mitchell. Within a year the couple had their first child and would eventually have 15 more.
While Ad loved his work, he didn’t like being away from his family. At the age of 45, he was thrilled to get the post of second assistant keeper for Maine’s Great Duck Island Lighthouse. He served in that capacity from 1902 to 1909, and then as first assistant keeper from 1909 to late 1911.
Located south of Mount Desert Island and the Cranberry Islands, Great Duck Island Lighthouse wasn’t built until 1890. Great Duck Island is estimated to support 20 percent of Maine’s seabird population. The island earned its name in the 1700s from a pond that attracted numerous ducks.
Because of Ad’s large family and four other children already living on the island, Ad insisted that the State of Maine provide for a formal education for the children. It took a while to get approval but eventually, an old storage building was remodeled and turned into a schoolhouse.
School teachers boarded with the families during their stints on the island. At one point, Rena Reed, the sixth of the Reed children, became the school’s teacher after earning her teaching certificate at Eastern Maine Normal School in Castine.
According to Ad’s son, Dalton, life at the lighthouse was often a challenge but the family always had plenty of food. Capt. Reed purchased 12 to 14 barrels of flour every fall, which was usually enough to get them through the winter months. Dalton said meat was a rarity, but they ate plenty of fresh fish and lobster. None of the children ever saw a doctor, and Emma Reed had her own remedies for every ailment.
In December 1911, Ad was promoted to head keeper at the Nash Island Lighthouse off the coast of South Addison, Maine. Although it was a much smaller light station than Great Duck Island and he had no assistants, Ad and his family were ready for the challenge. Sadly, three months later Ad became ill and had to leave Nash Island. He died in April 1912 at the age of 55 of Bright’s Disease (a kidney disorder).
A recent article in Lighthouse Digest offers a wonderfully detailed story about the lives of the Reeds while on Great Duck Island. You can read it here and see several photos of the Reed family.
After Great Duck Island Lighthouse was automated in 1986, the Coast Guard destroyed all but one of the keeper’s houses, as well as most of the outbuildings. In 1998, the 12 acres encompassing Great Duck Island Lighthouse became the property of Bar Harbor’s College of the Atlantic (COA) under the Maine Lights Program.
Emma Reed died 20 years after Ad. I could not find her in the U.S. Census records but she may have lived with one of her many children. She is buried beside Capt. Reed.
One of Ad and Emma’s daughters is buried at Hillrest. Lucy Leona Reed was born in 1892 and lived on Great Duck Island with her family. In 1913, she married streetcar conductor Benjamin Gott. They had two children together. In 1919, Lucy died at the age of 26 of unknown causes in Arlington, Mass.
Lucy’s epitaph reads:
One precious to our hearts has gone
The voice we loved is stilled
The place made vacant in our home
Can never more be filled.
The Lopaus family has 22 markers at Hillrest Cemetery. One obelisk stands for Capt. Andrew Lopaus, his wife, Rachel Milliken Lopaus and a son, Samuel Lopaus. Samuel was a sea captain like his father. He was lost at sea in 1865 at the age of 24. I could find nothing about the circumstances surrounding his death.
Of Andrew and Rachel’s six children, two other sons would carry on the maritime tradition. Born two years after Samuel, Alonzo Lopaus married Nancy Young in 1869. They had five children, three of whom lived to adulthood. Alonzo died at sea in 1887.
Brother Roscoe Lopaus was a lighthouse keeper, working on seven different islands in Maine and Massachusetts during his career. His first post was from 1881 to 1883 at Nash Island Light, where Capt. Nathan Reed finished the last three months of his career in 1911. Both Alonzo and Roscoe are buried at Hillrest.
I found these two unusual markers for another father and son as I was preparing to leave.
A native of Scotland, Tom Harkins came to America when he was 10 and later married Rhoda Dickens in 1906 in Maine. He worked as a stone carver until his death in 1950. Son Andrew Jackson “Jack” Harkins carried on the tradition until his own death in 2000.
Finally, I found a sweet tribute to the cemetery’s caretaker, Alton Murphy. He is listed on another stone with other family members but this one was just for him. As it turns out, he was the son of Emmerata Lopaus Murphy. She was a daughter of Capt. Andrew and Rachel Lopaus, and sister of Samuel, Alonzo and Roscoe Lopaus.
Born in 1870, Alton never married and held various professions over the years, from sailor to fisherman to laborer. I don’t know how long he cared for Hillrest Cemetery but it was long enough for someone to want to commemorate his service with a marker.
Next time, I’ll wrap up our Maine adventure with a visit to Ellsworth’s Old Burying Grounds.