In a rare night with no guests at the Inn at Cuckolds Lighthouse on Wednesday, July 12, guests at a special event were treated to an insider’s view of the results of a restoration more than a decade in the making.
About 50 people purchased $50 tickets to visit the granite ledge that marks the southern entrance to Boothbay Harbor. They enjoyed cocktails and appetizers while touring the inn, a reconstruction of the home once lived in by the keepers of the lighthouse and foghorn off Southport.
Some guests climbed the ladder of the century-old light tower, which the U.S. Coast Guard still maintains, and which fishing and recreational vessels depend on to navigate into the harbor.
“I can’t believe I did that. I’m afraid of heights,” attendee Maya Liteplo said as she descended from the lighthouse tower. “But I had to. When am I going to be here again?”
Mark and Dianne Gimbel grew up on the Boothbay peninsula, but prior to the event had never stepped foot in the Cuckolds Lighthouse. “This is a great opportunity,” Dianne said.
The Boothbay Harbor Country Club sponsored the event, “An Evening at Cuckolds Lighthouse,” to support the ongoing preservation of the site, said Michelle Amero, event organizer and director of public and member relations for the club.
Paul Coulombe, the owner of the country club, is also the president of the Cuckolds Fog Signal and Light Station Council. The council formed to prevent the Coast Guard from demolishing the lighthouse and erecting a single light-topped fiberglass pole in its place.
In 2006, the council became the deeded owner of the site – it was the first lighthouse to be transferred from government to private hands under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act.
The law was created to transfer lighthouses deemed excess property to nonprofits for the purpose of preservation and public access. Transforming the site into a self-sustaining entity, capable of generating the income to cover its future maintenance, was one of the requirements in assuming ownership, Amero said.
The Inn at Cuckolds Lighthouse, which opened in 2014, is a reconstruction of the lighthouse keeper’s former home and the primary source of income for the ongoing preservation of the site, said innkeeper Heather Zinkiewicz, who lives and works on the small island with her husband, Mark Zinkiewicz.
Two lighthouse keepers formerly lived on the island with their families, alternating 12-hour shifts to man the lighthouse, which was built in 1907, and fog horn, built in 1894, according to Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors magazine.
In 1974, the Cuckolds Fog Horn and Light Station became automated. Unable to maintain the keeper’s house, the Coast Guard tore it down in 1977. The council rebuilt the house.
There are now two luxury suites available at the Inn at Cuckolds Lighthouse, which cost $600 per night on weekdays and $725 on weekends, Heather Zinkiewicz said. Guests flock to the inn from all over the country, and nights with no guests, such as July 12, are rare occasions.
“Our guests are lighthouse people,” Heather Zinkiewicz said. “Most have always dreamed of staying a night at a lighthouse.” The Inn at Cuckolds Lighthouse is one of only a handful of lighthouses in the country that offer overnight accommodations, and few others offer the same level of luxury, she said.
There is a lot of work involved, but living on the lighthouse ledge “is absolutely spectacular,” Heather Zinkiewicz said as she pointed to the waves crashing onto the rocks. The storms that roll onto the mainland have more intensity on the exposed Cuckolds, she said, with the inn and lighthouse just 59 feet above water at high tide.
The Cuckolds do not typically host weddings, Mark Zinkiewicz said, but last year Mark and Heather were married on the ledge at the base of the light tower facing Boothbay Harbor. “We were the first innkeepers to marry out here,” he said.
Offering public access to the lighthouse has always been and still is the plan, Heather Zinkiewicz said.
“The problem is the logistics,” she said. There has been talk of partnering with a local organization to provide tours of the lighthouse in a manner that would not interrupt the operations of the inn, she said.
Traveling the half-nautical mile from the Southport landing to the Cuckolds is extremely weather-and tide-dependent, Heather Zinkiewicz said. There is concern about organizing large tours and having to cancel due to inclement weather.
However, working to increase public access to the site is an ongoing goal, she said, and the inn hopes to host more events like “An Evening at Cuckolds Lighthouse.”
Carole Hamm, of East Boothbay, travels extensively for work, but made special arrangements to attend the July 12 event. Hamm flew into Maine on Wednesday, despite needing to travel out of state again on Thursday. She got snarled in traffic on I-295, and narrowly made the last shuttle boat transporting guests to the Cuckolds Lighthouse.
“This is breathtaking,” Hamm said as she looked out on the Atlantic Ocean from the lighthouse tower. “I’m so excited to be here.” Like most event attendees, it was Hamm’s first time on the island.
Buzz Makarewicz and Mark Osborn, owners of the Topside Inn in Boothbay Harbor, also jumped at the chance to attend the event. “This is a great opportunity to see this place,” Osborn said. “It is absolutely beautiful.”
The event was a first step toward providing greater public access to the island, and more events will be planned in the future, Amero said.
Due to the work of the council, the view of the lighthouse that has marked the entrance to Boothbay Harbor for a century will remain in perpetuity, she said.