By Ron Foster, Past President and Charter Member of NELL
Who would have thought that a few dozen Harbour Lights collectors would grow into an organization more than 250 members strong with a mission to help preserve and promote our lighthouses, maritime treasures and their history. But that is exactly what happened starting in 1998 following the Harbour Lights Collectors Reunion in Providence, RI.
At the reunion a pad and pen were put on a table by Barbara & Henry Hupp, along with a request for all those interested in forming a New England Harbour Lights Collectors Club to sign up. Soon after the reunion the first organizational meeting of those who signed up was held and the club was formed.
Known at first as NEHLCC, the club held its very first event at the Avery Point Campus of the University of Connecticut, in Groton, CT where Elinor DeWire, educator, author and historian, presented a slideshow about lighthouses and the need to save them. Members brought in some of their collections of lighthouses, Harbour Lights and Danbury Mint, to discuss details and quality. The event also included a tour on the Sunbeam Fleet out of Waterford, CT visiting 13 different lighthouses along the coast in Long Island Sound. The following day there was a boat trip out to New London Ledge lighthouse. As a result of this event enrollment increased.
It wasn’t long before the size and diversity of the membership was cause to change the name to New England Lighthouse Lovers (NELL), after all everyone who joined was a lover of lighthouses (even if they didn’t collect Harbour Lights). A NELL logo and bylaws were adopted. Merchandise with the logo was sold to raise funds to donate to non-profit groups who cared for lighthouses in New England. NELL’s first donation was a $100 check to the University of Connecticut in Groton, CT earmarked for Avery Point Lighthouse. This was followed by the $1500 purchase of a large plexiglass cover to protect the fresnel lens on display in the Stonington Lighthouse Museum. The museum was in jeopardy of losing the lens if it did not find protection for it. These were the first of many donations made by NELL throughout New England to non-profit organizations working to save lighthouses and maritime artifacts for future generations to enjoy.
In 2001 NELL became a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation which gave it non-profit status and broadened our ability to help lighthouses in a much bigger way. The events became bigger and better with three to four lighthousing events planned each year. Lighthouses, Hot Chocolate and YOU!!, which takes place each January and involves visiting and climbing several lighthouses and enjoying hot chocolate and cookies at the last location became an annual event and the monies raised during the event are donated to the participating lighthouse organizations.
2003 was the year NELL sponsored its biggest event ever on Block Island. Benefit on the Block was scheduled to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the move of Southeast lighthouse away from the eroding bluffs. The planning and coordination of this event was a year-long endeavor accomplished, in large part, by Carolyn & Frank Carbone, charter members of NELL, who have a home on Block Island. Many NELL members participated in one way or another, setting up tents, manning the grill serving hot dogs & hamburgers, running auction items out to the lucky bidders during the live auction, selling event merchandise, or helping with the Harbour Lights signing table where Bill Younger & Harry Hine signed the very special Southeast Light on the move, a Harbour Lights piece done in large part due to the Carbones’ correspondence with Harbour Lights. It was a very successful event from which NELL was able to donate over $40,000 to Southeast Lighthouse for the ongoing restoration.
To date NELL has donated more than $100,000 to various lighthouse non-profits throughout New England, but that is not all.
NELL also provides H.O.P.E. to lighthouses. Hands On Preservation Efforts (H.O.P.E.) have been performed by NELL members on New London Ledge Lighthouse in the way of sanding and painting the entire lantern room top to bottom inside and out; on Pemaquid Point Lighthouse where members rebuilt the interior of the entryway and painted the exterior of the stone tower; on Long Point & Wood End lighthouses on Cape Cod in the way of painting the entire exteriors of both lighthouse towers top to bottom.
The best part of belonging to NELL is the camaraderie and sense of doing something worthwhile to preserve our lighthouses for future generations to enjoy. NELL is unique in that it does not care for just one lighthouse. Rather it exists to help all lighthouses throughout New England and the membership has loads of fun doing just that.
This story appeared in the
Jan/Feb 2008 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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