One can only wonder what lighthouse keeper William Follett and his wife Atta would think today at what future generations have allowed to happen to the lighthouses that they once took extreme pride in caring for.
Our guess is that the Folletts would be proud to know that Hog Island Shoal Lighthouse in Rhode Island and Montauk Lighthouse in NY, where they once served, are in good hands and being well taken care of. But, most likely they would fail to understand why a place like Montauk has been given such good care, when New York’s Cedar Island Lighthouse, where they spent the happiest years of their lighthouse life was allowed to fall into such a state of ruin.
Follett came to Cedar Island Lighthouse in 1917 and lived here until the station was discontinued in 1934 and he was transferred to Long Beach Bar Lighthouse in Gardiners Bay by Greenport, NY.
Although both the Long Beach Bar and Cedar Island Lighthouses had a chance to be well kept historical monuments to honor the legacy of America’s lighthouse keeping, such was not the case. Both lighthouses were hit by fires started by vandals.
When it was decommissioned the Cedar Island Lighthouse was sold into private ownership and well taken care of until it was purchased by the government of Suffolk County in 1967. The government did not do a good job of protecting the lighthouse and in 1974 vandals set fire to the lighthouse destroying its roof, the oak paneled walls and cracked many of bricks. The County government had failed to purchase insurance for the lighthouse and did not have any money to restore it. Thankfully the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum raised some money to repair the roof and shore up the structure to prevent other damage. But that was years ago. Since then the Long Island Chapter of the U.S. Lighthouse Society did restore the oil house and they hope to eventually restore the entire light station to its former glory.
Long Beach Bar Lighthouse was not so lucky. It was discontinued in 1948 and sat empty and abandoned; left to the whim of vandals and the elements. Finally in 1955 the government sold it to the Orient Point Marine Historical Association. Then came July 4th, 1963 and you guessed it, the Long Beach Bar Lighthouse was destroyed by what was called a mysterious fire. In 1990 thanks to the efforts the late Merle Wiggin (1930-2008) a replica of the lighthouse was installed on the original site. However, even in modern times, the replica lighthouse has had its share of problems, especially when different non profits feuded over ownership and care of the lighthouse.
If they were alive today, the Follett’s might be in awe of the fact that so many people are interested in lighthouse history and preservation. But, most likely, they would also be saddened by what happened to some of the lighthouses that they once took pride in caring for, while keeping the waterways safe for the good of all humanity.
This story appeared in the
March 2009 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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