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July 25, 2018

Isle au Haut's Keeper's House Inn on the market for $1.975 million

Courtesy / The Knowles Co.
Courtesy / The Knowles Co.
The Keeper's House Inn, seen here behind the Isle au Haut Lighthouse, is on the market for $1.975 million.

The Keeper's House Inn, six miles off the mainland on Isle au Haut, went on the market July 9 for $1.975 million.

The 2,500-square-foot structure, on two acres with 700 feet ocean frontage, dates back to 1907, when it was built as the keeper's house for the Isle au Haut Lighthouse. The property is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Located at 99 Lighthouse Road, the property includes a four-bedroom keeper's house, two-bedroom guest house, two sleeping cabins, boathouse and deepwater dock. The keeper's house has views of the ocean and the lighthouse. The property is being offered either as an inn or summer residence.

"It's pretty unique," said listing broker Jamie O'Keefe, who is with the Knowles Co. in Northeast Harbor.

The seller is Marshall Chapman, an associate professor of geology at Morehouse State University in Morehead, Ky., who is also a longtime summer resident of Isle au Haut.

"He knows this will probably take a little time to sell because it's so unique, so he decided now is the time to put it on the market," O'Keefe said.

Marketing? With amazing photos

Courtesy / The Knowles Co.
Courtesy / The Knowles Co.
The Isle au Haut Lighthouse can be seen through the windows of the Keeper’s House Inn’s dining room.

The potential buyer pool, he said, could include someone who either wants to use the property as a unique summer home or who likes the idea of running an inn on a remote island. It might be someone who has ties to Maine or Isle au Haut, or somebody from Boston, New York City or some other big city who wants to get away from the rat race.

"What this has going for it is that it's so quiet and beautiful," he said. "It's one of the most beautiful properties in Maine, I think. It's sort of breathtaking — the rock-bound coast, the views, the feeling of seclusion. It's almost like stepping back into time."

The house is simple, architecturally, with features like a hand-carved staircase and big windows. It's in turnkey condition.

O'Keefe said the No. 1 way to market a property like this is with photographs.

"When people start shopping, they look online, and you have to have amazing photos," he said. "We have a drone video, which is really incredible." The property is also being marketed through print advertising and social media. Speaking with Mainebiz just a week after the listing went live, he said a couple of inquiries had already come in. That included somebody from out-of-state looking to retire to Maine and maybe have an inn.

The light itself was automated in the 1930s and remains in use. The light is owned and maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard and the town of Isle au Haut owns the lighthouse.

The keeper's house is freestanding but near the lighthouse.

Well-oiled operation

Courtesy / The Knowles Co.
Courtesy / The Knowles Co.
The Keeper’s House Inn links to the Isle au Haut Lighthouse via a boardwalk.

Speaking by phone from Isle au Haut, Chapman said the house was home to the first keeper's family of nine children and the second keeper's family of 10. It functioned as a keeper's house until around World War II, when it sold into private hands. It was later owned by the Greenlaw family, until 1986, when Jeff and Judith Burke purchased it and renovated it into an inn. The Burkes sold it to Chapman in 2012. The inn's first season under Chapman was 2013.

"It was in great shape when I bought it," Chapman said. "Jeff and Judy kept it up quite well. I kept the inn the same way the Burkes had it. We're off the grid, we make our own water, we make our own power with solar panels and a diesel generator and batteries in the basement." Fresh water comes from the ocean through a reverse osmosis system.

One might think there are challenges to running an island business, but Chapman said his operation is well-oiled, including getting supplies as needed to cater to dietary needs. Employees include two chefs, a caretaker, housekeeper and waiter. One chef is also general manager.

Guests come from all over the U.S. and as far as England, Sweden and Australia. Many find out about the inn online, either as they search for remote or lighthouse lodgings or for lodgings specifically on Isle au Haut.

Chapman discovered Isle au Haut in 1987, when he was a graduate student in geology at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

"I was looking for a project for a quick master's thesis," he said. "They stuck me on Isle au Haut."

Volcanic attraction

Courtesy / The Knowles Co.
Courtesy / The Knowles Co.
A woodshed near the inn was converted into a cabin, where the inn’s owner, Marshall Chapman, lives during the summer.

He studied the island's geology each May and June for the next five years. Then he finished his Ph.D. and became a summer resident there, buying a home in the village.

"The rocks got me out here, but it was the people who kept me coming back," he said. "I fell in love with the place. And I got to know Jeff and Judy at the same time. Sometimes I would come up on the late boat and not have a chance to get food. They would feed me at the inn."

An intriguing aspect of the island, and what brought Chapman to Isle au Haut, is that it is capped by volcanic ash from a super volcano that erupted 424 million years ago.

"The ash was welded tight and sintered together, so it's as hard as concrete," he explained. "Another professor, at the University of Massachusetts, is discovering the same thing on Great Cranberry Island. When we first were measuring the ash, I thought we were doing it incorrectly because we were getting such huge thicknesses. Isle au Haut has become fairly well known geologically."

Today, his year-round home is in Morehead, Ky.

"But as soon as I get grades submitted in May, I'm racing back here to open up the inn," he said.

He bought the inn for $1.5 million "as a retirement-ish job," he said. "I was thinking of getting out of academics." Interest rates were low in 2012. "It was the perfect to time to get a loan from the bank."

But now he's decided to stay in academics.

"I'll maintain my summer residence on the island, but I'm getting turned back more into academics, especially because of my super volcano studies in Maine," he said. "We have geologists come from around the world to look at Isle au Haut. And I have students working on projects here."

In the meantime, the town's Lighthouse Committee is undertaking a significant restoration of the lighthouse.

Phase 1 includes strengthening the foot bridge to the tower; replacing steel girders and headers that support the tower's upper decks; and replicating missing historic features. Phase 2 will include exterior restoration and hanging a working replica of a 42-inch fog bell that once hung on the water side.

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