Since the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society got the Long Island, New York beacon relit almost a quarter century ago, the group has been striving to return the original Fresnel lens to the site. Now that dream is being realized.
Work has begun a 1,500 square-foot building on the island to house the lens that had been used as an exhibit at a Philadelphia museum for many years. Construction began in July and is scheduled to be completed by Memorial Day 2011, the 25th anniversary of the relighting of the beacon by the preservation society.
“We’re well on our way” to raising the $500,000 needed for the project and the group has pledges of donated labor from contractors, said society president Thomas Roberts III.
Roberts said the modern boathouse was relocated so that the new building could be erected over the existing concrete foundation on which 1800 powerhouse sat. “We’re not building on the slab; we’re actually spanning it because it’s historic and it wouldn’t hold the weight of this building,” Roberts said. The power plant was demolished in the early 1940s.
The National Park Service is paying for restoration of the lens and has awarded a $358,448 contract to Mactec Engineering and Consulting of Kennesaw, Georgia for that work, which will be done at a building at Fire Island National Seashore near the lighthouse.
“There’s quite a bit of restoration needed for the lens,” Roberts said. “It really suffered through its years of being displayed at the Franklin Institute because of heat damage.” The new building at Fire Island will be climate-controlled.
“It’s going to be very interesting having a display of that nature for the public,” he said.
When the first lighthouse built on Fire Island in 1826 proved too short to be effective, Congress authorized a replacement. The beacon atop the 168-foot tower was illuminated Nov. 1, 1858. The first-order lens was installed that year and removed in 1933 for display at the Franklin Institute, where it remained until 2000 when it was moved to a warehouse in Philadelphia.
The lens came back to Long Island in 2007 and was placed in storage. The 9,000 pound, 16-foot-tall lens arrived in 900 pieces packed in 21 crates. The huge glass prism and brass lens can cast a beam of light 19 miles out to sea.
The park service had proposed placing the lens at a National Seashore visitor center in Patchogue on Long Island proper, but preservationists resisted that plan, saying the lens belonged near the Fire Island Lighthouse. The park service eventually agreed.
To learn more about Fire Island Lighthouse, go to www.LighthouseDigest.com and type in Fire Island in the search box. Also, Harbour Lights has two collectible replicas of the lighthouse available at www.LighthouseDepot.com or by calling them at 1-800-758-1444.
This story appeared in the
October 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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