On Saturday morning, May 21, 2005, under overcast skies, three small boatloads of people and supplies rode across choppy seas to Seguin Island at the mouth of Maine's Kennebec River. The day unofficially marked the start of another busy season for the Friends of Seguin Island, stewards of one of the state's most historic lighthouses.
Among the people arriving that day were Harry and Lawrene Denkers and their daughter Rachael. The Denkers family spent the summer of 1996 at Seguin as the caretakers, and they fell in love with the island's history and spectacular natural environment. Every year since 1996, they've journeyed from their home in Ontario, Canada, to help get the keeper's house up and running in time for the arrival of each summer's new caretakers. The 2005 caretakers, who arrived at the end of May, are Jack and Tobi Graham of Pennsylvania, who are donating their time
on the island.
There was another very important passenger who arrived at Seguin with Friends of Seguin Island President Anne Webster, and volunteers Troy Wallace and Barbara Paiement. Jim Woodward, one of the nation's leading “lampists,” or lighthouse lens experts, had flown in from Cleveland to have a close look at Seguin's Fresnel lens, which is the only operating first order lens in its original location north of Virginia. The lens' focal plane is 180 feet above the water, making it Maine's highest light. “Woody” has been working to preserve, repair, and reconstruct Fresnel lenses for over 40 years, with over 100 lens projects under his belt.
The lens needed immediate attention because four brackets that had been installed at the top were holding it rigidly to the lantern structure. According to Jim Woodward, “the brackets had induced both tensile and compressive forces into the lens that caused damage to four of the main elements in the dioptric section of the lens.” In other words, any expansion or contraction in the tower caused by temperature variations and high winds was being absorbed by the lens, causing some damage over the years.
Besides removing the brackets and bolts to reduce stress in the lens, Woodward also collected photographs, data, and critical measurements. He will generate a detailed lens assessment and work plan that will be used to complete a full restoration of the apparatus. The assessment will also include recommendations for ongoing care and maintenance.
Seguin's lens, manufactured by Henry-Lepaute in Paris, was installed when the present lighthouse was built in 1857. The lens, which is about nine feet high, has been recently valued at $8 million. Of course, its value as a historic artifact is incalculable. In the late 1990s, the lens was slated to be removed from the tower to make way for a modern solar-powered optic, but an agreement was reached to allow the Coast Guard to leave the lens in place. Seguin Island and its buildings were transferred to the Friends of Seguin Island under the Maine Lights Program in 1998, but the lens and related equipment are still cared for by the Coast Guard's aids to navigation team out of South Portland, Maine.
There are a variety of opportunities available to visit Seguin Island and its lighthouse. For more information, you can visit the Friends of Seguin Island website at www.seguinisland.org or give them a call at (207) 443-4808. For more on Jim Woodward, “The Lighthouse Consultant,” visit his website at www.lighthouseconsultant.com.
This story appeared in the
July 2005 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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