James Burke, a native of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, began his career as a lighthouse keeper at remote Boon Island off the southern Maine coast. After a few years as an assistant keeper at Boon Island (1886 to 1890), Burke became the principal keeper at Burnt Island Light Station in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Four years later his next station would be closer to home — White Island or Isles of Shoals Light Station, the southernmost of the Isles of Shoals island group off the New Hampshire seacoast. Burke was credited with many rescues during his 18 years at White Island.
Burke’s final station, starting in 1912, was not far up the coast — the Cape Neddick “Nubble” Lighthouse in York, Maine. The Burkes kept a cow and chickens on the island known as the Nubble. During World War I, the Burkes were joined on the Nubble by military personnel who kept watch for enemy submarines.
After he retired in 1919, Burke opened a small fish and bait shop near York Beach. The store also sold ice cream, cold soda, and — surprisingly — real estate.
The former store still stands, now on private property. As we reported here in January, owner Herb Carpenter is commemorating James Burke and his store with a new historical marker. The marker was recently installed next to the old store.
Jeremy D’Entremont is the author of more than 20 books and hundreds of articles on lighthouses and maritime history. He is the president and historian for the American Lighthouse Foundation and founder of Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses, and he has lectured and narrated cruises throughout the Northeast and in other regions. He is also the producer and host of the U.S. Lighthouse Society podcast, “Light Hearted.” He can be emailed at Jeremy@uslhs.org