Island State Historic Site
P.O. Box 161
S. Harpswell, ME 04079
Operation Dates: June 15 - Labor Day
About 3 miles off the coast of
WELCOME to Eagle
Island State Historic Site
Nestled a few miles off the coast of Maine, Eagle Island State
Historic Site receives about 6,000 visitors each season who tour the
summer home of North Pole Explorer Admiral Robert Peary. Purchased in
1881 for $200, the island provides a perfect perch for Peary's summer
home that overlooks Casco Bay and surrounding islands.
Panoramic views of ocean scenery, squawking seagulls, and fragrant
flowers offer guests a unique opportunity to live a day in the life of
the famous 1900s explorer.
The island is void of any mechanical
devices and from the moment visitors arrive, one gets the sense that
Admiral Peary and his wife, Josephine could be sitting atop the
library's roof watching people explore corners of their island
getaway. Josephine cultivated beautiful gardens that featured
foxgloves among other colorful flowers. Bureau of Parks and Lands
staff tend those same gardens today.
While in the area, make it a point to also visit the Peary-McMillan
Arctic Museum At Bowdoin College in Brunswick. Admrial Peary was a
graduate of Bowdoin.
The island is equipped with a pier which makes visitation possible
throughout the summer for picnickers, nature enthusiasts, and history
buffs. The Peary family home is open for touring. A hiking trail also
provides an opportunity to explore the island. Contact the Bureau of
Parks and Lands for information concerning boats for hire that provide
transportation to the island.
In Peary's eyes, the rocky bluff was the prow of a great ship
heading northeasterly, and he placed his house as the pilot house of
the ship would have been located.
The original house rests directly on
the bare ledge and comprises the front part of the present building
with the big front porch and two small back porches. Hundreds of
guests wander through the rooms, retracing Peary's quest for the North
Until 1911, the physical characteristics of the island and life on
it changed very little. The caretaker gathered and cut wood from
driftwood and fallen trees during the winters, to supply the
fireplace, cook stoves, and heating stoves used in early spring and
late fall. The family came as early as they could and stayed,
sometimes, into late October.
North Pole Peary Discovers the North Pole
On September 6, 1909, on a lovely autumn day, two motor boats were
seen coming from South Harpswell toward Eagle Island. The first tied
up to the mooring and a man rushed up to the house waving a telegram
that was from the Associate Press stating Peary had reached the North
Apparently, Mrs. Peary was not excited because she had received
too many false alarms. When a second telegram arrived, this time from
Admiral Peary himself, Mrs. Peary believed the incredible news.
Peary Returns to Eagle Island
After his triumph on April 6, 1909, it took Peary until 1911 to
show the world by incontrovertible evidence that he was the first and
only one to reach the North Pole. Congress, to express the thanks of
the nation, authorized on March 11, 1911, that Civil Engineer Robert
E. Peary U.S.N. be placed on the retired list of the Navy with the
rank of Rear Admiral.
Now Admiral Peary could relax and enjoy himself by fixing up Eagle
Island as he dreamed about for so many years. Masons, carpenters,
plumbers and others worked to raise the house onto concrete piers,
build a new ell for a larger dining room and raise the roof with
dormer windows to make five bedrooms upstairs.
Today, thanks to Maine motorists who purchase conservation loon
license plates, desperately-needed repairs to the roof and surrounding
infrastructure are complete.
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