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Welcome to America's Far East : Maine Lighthouse, Fishing Town First to Greet the Sun

Charles Hillinger's America

March 01, 1987|CHARLES HILLINGER | Times Staff Writer

WEST QUODDY HEAD LIGHTHOUSE, Me. — Mary Anne Rouse, 16, and her brother, Willie, 7, climbed the steep icy road in front of their house and headed for school as the sun rose over the Atlantic.

They were the first people in the country to welcome the birth of a new day. This is where America's day begins--the easternmost point in the Continental United States.

Mary Anne and Willie's father, Bos'n Mate 1st Malcolm (Mac) Rouse, 35, operates the Coast Guard Lighthouse at West Quoddy Head. Their mother, Carol, 34, is a second-grade teacher.

The Rouse family, which has lived in the lighthouse for one year, are members of an endangered species. At one time there were 1,560 lighthouse keepers in the United States; today there are only 21. The rest of the lighthouses are automated, including those on the West Coast, the Great Lakes, Alaska and the Gulf Coast. Only the East Coast has lighthouses with keepers. Of Maine's 67 lighthouses, nine are staffed.

A Groaning Foghorn

Fog is a common occurrence at West Quoddy Head on the Bay of Fundy. When visibility is limited, the foghorn groans loudly, followed by a 2-second pause, another groan, a 2-second pause, groan, a 24-second pause, again a groan and the cycle is repeated.

"Surprisingly you get accustomed to the foghorn," Carol Rouse said. "Funny thing, if the foghorn is blasting during the night and it suddenly stops, we automatically wake up with the silence. We had a 20-day, nonstop stretch last May when the foghorn didn't let up once."

The 64-foot lighthouse tower, which is topped with an 1851 Fresnel lens made in France, looks like a barbershop pole with eight red stripes and seven white ones.

"That's because there were 15 states when the original lighthouse was built here in 1808. The tower and the keeper's house were rebuilt in 1853," Mac Rouse said.

"First question people always ask is: 'Why is this place called West Quoddy Head Lighthouse when it's the easternmost place in the 50 states?' " he said, noting that East Quoddy Head Lighthouse is four miles northeast on Campobello Island in New Brunswick, Canada.

West Quoddy Head is one of five fingers of land projecting into the Atlantic that make up Lubec, Me., population 2,000, the easternmost town in the United States.

By tradition, the quaint frame houses in Lubec, most of them 50 to 150 years old, face the sea. The backbone of the community is its fishing fleet and two sardine canneries.

Housing prices are low because of the town's remoteness, lack of employment and the miserable, long winters.

Across the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial Bridge lies Campobello Island, F.D.R.'s beloved retreat. It was there that the 32nd President met his wife, Eleanor, where his son, Franklin Jr., was born, and where he summered from 1883 until August, 1921, when he came down with polio while vacationing there.

A few years after the President's death, Los Angeles industrialist Armand Hammer purchased the 10 1/2-acre Roosevelt estate on the island from Elliott Roosevelt, another of F.D.R.'s sons. The property included the 34-room, three-story home Sara Delano Roosevelt presented to Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt as a wedding gift in 1905.

Hammer then turned the property over to the Canadian and U.S. governments to be used as an international park. President Lyndon B. Johnson and Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson signed an agreement to establish the Roosevelt Campobello International Park in 1964. Today the park consists of 2,700 acres on the southern end of the island, which is 9 1/2 miles long and three miles wide.

Joint Financing, Operation

Park superintendent Henry Stevens said Canada and the United States each contribute $400,000 annually to operate the park. It is administered by a joint commission represented by three Canadians and three Americans, said Stevens, 52, who is also executive secretary of the commission.

Members are appointed by the President of the United States and the prime minister of Canada. Current members are former Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie, Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr., Sen. William S. Cohen, (R-Me.), New Brunswick Lt. Gov. Hedard J. Robichaud, New Brunswick Board of Trade Minister Robert Tweedie and writer David H. Walker of Canada.

Last year nearly 150,000 people visited the park, 85% from the United States, during the 20 weeks it was open from May 15 through Oct 15. The Roosevelts' summer home is open to the public and contains original Roosevelt furnishings and family memorabilia. Many international conferences are held in the park.

President Roosevelt visited Campobello three times during his presidency, the first time for a holiday following the historic first 100 days of his Administration. Eleanor Roosevelt participated in the dedication of the F.D.R. Memorial Bridge leading to the United States in August 1962, a few weeks before her death.

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