Matinicus Rock is an isolated, barren 32-acre granite island about five miles southeast of Matinicus Island, 25 miles from Rockland, and the nearest port. This location experiences some of the most violent Atlantic weather, is fogbound approximately 20 percent of the year and is continuously scoured by waves. The lighthouse, located on the south side of the Rock, is probably the most isolated station along the Maine coast halfway between Monhegan Island and Mt. Desert Island and 22 miles south of the entrance to Penobscot Bay.
The prominent location on approach to the Bay prompted President John Quincy Adams to authorize construction of two lighthouses on Matinicus Rock in 1827. Twin wooden towers initially were built 40 feet apart, each at the end of a stone dwelling. In 1846 a new granite Keeper's house was constructed; two years later new granite towers were added, 60yards apart.
A 2,000-pound fog bell was added in 1855 and replaced in 1869 by one of the first steam-driven fog whistles.
Both towers were rebuilt in 1857 and a third-order Fresnel lens installed in each. The north light was discontinued in 1883, but the single light proved unsatisfactory and in 1888 the second light was reinstated. In 1924 Matinicus Rock became a single light station (north light again discontinued) by government order, as did all twin-light stations. Following a violent storm in 1950, the station's outbuildings and old keeper's house were removed; the light was automated in 1983 and the Fresnel lens removed. The two towers keeper's house and an 1890 oil house now remain.
Although there are many tales of heroism by the keepers of Matinicus Rock Light, the best known is that of 17-year-old Abbie Burgess. Her story is arguably foremost among lighthouse legends; she is credited with saving her three sisters and mother during a violent storm in January 1856. Her father became keeper at The Rock in 1853 and brought with him an invalid wife and five children.
The oldest girl, 14-year-old Abbie, learned to tend the lamps and by age 17 was regularly looking after the lights while her father went lobster fishing to augment his income. In January 1856, her father left for the mainland for provisions; a violent storm soon developed. Abbie took her family into the base of the lighthouse for safety as the storm swept away the keeper's house. While rough seas kept her father away for a month, Abbie tended the lights and cared for her family. She later married Issac Grant, the son of the light keeper who replaced her father, and was appointed assistant keeper at Matinicus Rock.
Abbie, her husband and four children were transferred to the Whitehead Light station in 1875 where they served for 15 years. In 1892 Abbie Grant died at the age of 53; at the foot of her grave in Forest Hill Cemetery (off Route 73 between South Thomaston and St. George) is a small replica of lighthouse, placed there years afer her death by historian Edward Rowe Snow. The grave sites were restored by the American Lighthouse Foundation.
Matinicus Rock is now home to a nesting colony of Atlantic Puffins, as well as terns and other sea birds. The lighthouse must be viewed by boat or air.