Rhode Island's Sakonnet Point Lighthouse will soon undergo a massive restoration project that will start as soon as the warm weather months arrive; it is expected to take two seasons to complete.
The restoration is the result of $170,000 raised by the Friends of Sakonnet Lighthouse and an $843,000 grant from the State of Rhode Island's Department of Transportation.
In calm seas, over a dozen contractors, representing various firms, visited the spark plug style lighthouse to access the scope and logistics of bidding on the project. Just getting supplies to the lighthouse will be no easy task, something of which the lighthouse keepers of yesteryear and the previous owner of the lighthouse were only too aware.
Upon arriving at the lighthouse, one early keeper, who fought for his life in rough seas to reach the structure that sits on a rocky outcropping surrounded by water, took one look around and promptly quit. The small confined living quarters were also a detriment too many other people assigned to the station; many left after being there only a short time.
When Hurricane Carol struck the area in 1954, the lighthouse suffered heavy damage and the Coast Guard abandoned the station and announced they were going to blow it up to get rid of it. The local community created such an uproar that the Coast Guard officials backed off.
In 1961 the lighthouse was sold into private ownership and was spruced up, but never restored. On May 12, 1985 the owner of the lighthouse, Carl Haffenreffer, donated it to the Friends of Sakonnet Lighthouse and he helped the group to raise over $100,000 to sand blast and paint the tower. The Friends group also removed over two feet of bird guano from the structure. However, the work done that year was not without its setbacks. A fierce storm on July 28, 1985 marooned several of the contractor's work crew at the lighthouse and smashed their boat on the rocks.
After another series of setbacks, the Friends group was finally able to have the lighthouse relighted in 1997 as an aid to navigation.
The old structure, built in 1884, is in bad shape and restoration is now considered urgent. The grant application stated that the lighthouse is "a shell of cast-iron plated bolted together around a masonry core."
John M. Wathne, a structural engineer, has documented the deterioration of the lighthouse over the past several years and said in his report, "Without serious structural intervention, the lighthouse will not survive a large wave event striking the tower, which is sure to happen given the lighthouse's exposed position."
Rust is now affecting the structural integrity of the lighthouse and recent movement has been noted in the tower. Metal stairs, ladders, stanchions and railings also need work, as well as the walkways and windows. The brick lining and wood floors will all need replacing.
This story appeared in the
Jan/Feb 2010 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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