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The Lighthouse Letter 2011

Society Helps Provide Documentation and Materials to Save One of America’s Most Endangered Lighthouses

The Lighthouse Preservation Society (LPS) was awarded a grant in 2011 to document one of America’s most endangered beacons - the Straitsmouth Island Lighthouse in Rockport, Massachusetts – and broke new ground for lighthouse preservation by using, for the first time, some of the most sophisticated 3-D architectural technology available. Documenting the site’s several structures with architectural three-dimensional laser scans, a crew from Meridian Associates, who donated their services, spent an entire day photographing the island lighthouse station, using this new technology. Built in 1835, the station has been the subject of a number of conversations between LPS and the island’s owners, the Massachusetts Audubon Society, as to how to rescue the state’s best example of a gothic revival keeper’s house. In the 1990’s, LPS had also overseen a team of students from the Boston Architectural College, who documented the endangered Straitsmouth Island Light Station with standard photography and measured drawings. At one point, LPS had even reached a tentative agreement with the Audubon Society and the Massachusetts state legislature (which was willing to provide the funds) to have the derelict keeper’s house removed from the island for preservation purposes. But a number of Rockport residents objected, and the deal fell through. Up until 2011, the Straitsmouth Island Light Station has continued to steadily decline. A report we had from the Audubon Society at the beginning of the year was that the keeper’s house roof was close to collapsing. That report spurred us to apply to a new grant contest, sponsored by Meridian Associates in Beverly, Massachusetts, about that time. They were offering their state-of-the art 3-D architectural laser scans to the one historic organization in Essex County, Massachusetts, who had the most endangered historic building. LPS nominated the Straitsmouth Island Light on behalf of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, and won. Then, as we began to make plans to have the buildings documented in the autumn, we discovered that the Audubon Society had decided to undertake some basic repairs to the buildings to protect them from the upcoming winter weather. We were greatly encouraged by this news, which finally demonstrated the Audubon Society’s commitment to doing something to save these historic structures.

And then it happened. LPS was contacted by a major international chemical corporation about donating a new and improved kind of treated lumber that they had been developing. This new wood product, which will last much longer than anything else on the market today, is projected to greatly extend the life of wooden structures, and should prove to be a major breakthrough for historic preservation. The chemical corporation was looking for a “poster child” project that would demonstrate the durability of their new chemically-treated lumber, and thought that a weather-beaten lighthouse would be a great example for them to showcase their new product. When they asked for our recommendation for a project, we thought of several deserving projects, but none more critical than the Straitsmouth Island Light Station. LPS then put together a joint meeting in Boston of representatives from the chemical company (which will go unnamed until they unveil their product) and the Massachusetts Audubon Society. An initial agreement was reached to provide all the exterior lumber for the keeper’s house restoration. The Audubon Society will provide the labor, which will begin in the coming months. Therefore, LPS is thrilled to announce the coming restoration and rescue of the Straitsmouth Island Lighthouse in 2012! It is hoped that a second phase interior restoration will then follow at a later date. We are very grateful to all the parties that have worked together to help make this exciting project happen.


New Doors for Newburyport Range Light

We knew the two front doors to the Newburyport Rear Range Light were old. They consisted of a main door made of wood and glass and a storm door also made of wood, with a screen. However, it became clear they needed to be replaced when one of the wait staff, who serves dinners at the top of the lighthouse, kicked the main door, which was always sticking, and put their foot right through the rotted lower portion of the door. It was definitely time to have the doors replaced. Although both doors were old, they were not original to the building, so we had a choice as to whether to replace them with something similar, or something completely different. We chose to keep the old look, with the center windows for both doors, and have them custom made from mahogany and outfitted with solid brass hardware. We also decided to create a new hatch door in the lens room for the same reason – it, too, was starting to fall apart. All three doors were replaced this past year, at a cost of nearly $5,000, and we’re happy to say they work and look great!