President Thomas Jefferson ordered construction of this lighthouse in 1807. Located on a small island near Tenants Harbor, this light marks the western entrance to the Muscle Ridge Channel. The original lighthouse and keeper's dwelling were stone structures. Because this area is covered in fog approximately 20 percent of the year, a fog signal was installed in 1839. The signal was continuously operated by a striking mechanism of timbers, chains and weights, which was wound then driven by the rise and fall of the tide.
The "perpetual fog bell" was well received by mariners but, by 1842, storm damage to the compels mechanism meant the keeper was again responsible for sounding the fog bell. A steam-driven whistle was installed in the 1860s.
In 1852, a new, 41-foot lighthouse and new wooden keeper's house replaced the initial structures; a third-order Fresnel lens was installed in 1857. Whitehead was the first Maine light station to have a one-room schoolhouse and teacher, with more than 30 children, some from nearby islands, in attendance. The teacher boarded with the keeper's family.
Tales associated with this light include that of two shipwrecked sailors who froze to death on Whitehead in 1805; their graves remain on the island. Another involves the first lighthouse keeper, Ellis Dolph, who initiated a side business by selling the whale oil intended for the light. As the orders for oil steadily increased, officials became suspicious; investigation revealed that storekeepers in nearby Thomaston had been buying entire barrels of oil from the keeper. Dolph's duties were summarily terminated.
Whitehead Island is perhaps most well known for one of its assistant Keepers. In 1875 Issac Grant became keeper of the light; his assistant, and wife, was Abbie Burgess Grant, heroine of Matinicus Rock. Their son took over as keeper in 1890; the station would later become a "stag" light instead of a family station. The station is now privately owned.