St. Croix Island, Maine
The wind howled through the cracks as snow blew in, chilling the group of French settlers huddled together in their primitive buildings. Winter had come early to the tiny island named L’Isle Sainte Croix by its discoverer Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Monts when he landed in June of 1604. Hoping to establish a French settlement in the new world, he and the king’s geographer, Samuel de Champlain, had outfitted two ships with provisions for the 77 men that traveled with them across the ocean.
What they didn’t count on, however, was the poorly irrigated sandy soil on the island which didn’t sustain the crops they planted. As the water surrounding the island froze, the settlers were forced to live on melted snow water and salt meat.
Yet in even such dire conditions, the two Roman Catholic priests and the Protestant minister who accompanied the group conducted a Christmas service, committed to keep the French tradition.
Move forward 250 years to 1859 when the first lighthouse was built on St. Croix Island. The island sitting at the entrance to the mouth of the St. Croix River between the United States and Canada was the ideal place for a lighthouse. For a hundred years, American light keepers tended the light on the deserted island, the French settlement long since passed from existence. Light keepers like Elson Small and his wife Connie celebrated Christmas where the French had so many years before.