Rear Adm. Robert Peary bought Eagle Island in 1881 and made it his summer residence following his retirement from exploration in 1911. Peary died in Washington, D.C., in 1920, and his family continued to live in the house until the property was donated to the people of Maine in 1967.

The island, at its highest, can reach 40 feet above sea level and is rocky with a thin layer of soil on top. Most of the island, like so many in Casco Bay, is covered with conifers and brush, and there are cleared trails providing guests with access to most of the island.

The northern end of the island, where visitors enter, has a Y-shaped clearing where the buildings are located, and there’s a small beach and wooden pier, too. There are three major structures on the island — the Peary house, a caretaker’s cabin and the visitor’s center. The pier was built in 1969 and the visitor’s center opened in 2012. The original gardens planted by Peary’s wife, Josephine, are maintained by park rangers.

The main house is a wood framed structure that was built in several stages beginning with the first house being completed on July 4, 1904, according to Wayne Miller of the Friends of Peary’s Eagle Island group. That house was a small rectangular building with a single living room on the first floor and three bedrooms on the second floor. A small kitchen and dining area was built in 1906, and following his retirement from the Navy, Peary was able to build the house he dreamed about for many years, Miller said.

“Having spent a good deal of his life on board ships, his intention was for the house to feel like a ship,” Miller said.

The retaining wall at the northern end represents the prow of the ship, and the compass porch, with windows on three sides, is the pilot house. The East and West bastions represent flying bridges to the port and starboard, and the house is long and narrow like a ship; and it has open decks on the outside and closed decks on the inside.

“The windows in the basement are oval portholes, and standing on the compass porch with water views on three sides, it’s easy to imagine sailing in a large ship,” Miller said. “And within a few degrees, the house sits on the same latitude Peary followed on the 1909 expedition.”

Following Peary’s death in 1920, his family made only modest changes before donating it to the state of Maine in 1967. The state built the pier and undertook restoration of the property, which had suffered deterioration due to weather.

Visitors wear booties covering their shoes during tours of the house to protect the floors and much of the furniture is off limits because of its age and fragility.