Monday, September 27, 2010

Faulkner's Island Lighthouse (CT) 2010 Open House


Steven McGuire of the Faulkner's Light Brigade captured some great images at the recent open house (Sept. 11-12) at Faulkner's Island Lighthouse in Guilford, Connecticut. Click here for more photos.

Faulkner's Island Lighthouse (1802) is Connecticut's second oldest lighthouse and the only active light station on an island in the state. Faulkner's Light Brigade has been an exemplary steward since the early 1990s. For more information, click here and here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Photo from Maine Open Lighthouse Day, Sept. 18, 2010

My friend William Marshall took this photo of me speaking at the Maine Open Lighthouse Day event at Portland Head Light this past Saturday.

Behind me, left to right: Mayor Tom Coward of South Portland, Maine; Rear Admiral Daniel A. Neptun, commander of the First Coast Guard District; Captain James B. McPherson, commanding officer of Coast Guard Sector Northern New England.

It was an honor to be part of this event and to be in such distinguished company. It was a great day for lighthouses. Thanks to William for the pic!

My upcoming lecture schedule

I'll be giving the following lectures in the next few weeks:

Thursday, October 14, at 7 p.m. - Leach Library in Londonderry, NH:  "New England's Haunted Lighthouses"

Wednesday, October 20, at 6:30 p.m - Tewksbury Public Library in Tewksbury, Mass.:  "New England's Haunted Lighthouses"

Monday, October 25, at 7 p.m. - Wilmington Public Library in Wilmington, Mass.:  "New England's Haunted Lighthouses"

Wednesday, October 27, at 7 p.m. - North Hampton Public Library in North Hampton, NH:  "New England's Haunted Lighthouses"

Tuesday, November 9 - Hull Lifesaving Museum, Hull, Mass.: "Great Shipwrecks of the Maine Coast"

Monday, September 20, 2010

Nick Korstad buys Borden Flats Lighthouse in Fall River, MA

Nick Korstad of Portland, Oregon, is now the owner of Borden Flats Lighthouse in Fall River, Massachusetts. With his parents, Craig and Cindy Korstad, Nick operates an online business, U.S. Light House Establishment.

Borden Flats Light, a cast-iron caisson lighthouse built in 1881 near the mouth of the Taunton River, was offered in 2006 to any suitable nonprofit organization or community under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act (NHLPA).

There were no applicants, so the property was auctioned to the general public under the guidelines of the NHLPA. It was originally sold to Michael Gabriel in 2008, and Mr. Gabriel announced plans to operate a microbrewery to produce beer inside the lighthouse. According to the GSA, Mr. Gabriel defaulted on the sale. The lighthouse was once again put up for auction earlier this year.

“I want to restore it back to what is was originally and I want to make it accessible to the public,” Korstad told a writer for the Fall River Herald News. “Beyond that, we don’t have firm plans.”

Based on my correspondence with Nick, he seems to be sincerely dedicated to the preservation of the lighthouse and to the idea of public accessibility.  I'm hopeful that this historic property is in very good hands.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Maine Open Lighthouse Day speech

The following is the speech I made at the Maine Open Lighthouse Day event at Portland Head Light yesterday.

I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the second Maine Open Lighthouse Day. Twenty-one years ago, on August 7, 1989, I stood in the audience right here during a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the federal Lighthouse Service. F. Ross Holland, one of our country’s greatest lighthouse historians, gave the keynote address that day. I’d like to quote part of his remarks from that event.

“Americans love lighthouses. Artists and photographers find them picturesque. The dreamer finds them romantic. The boaters find them comforting. The navigator finds them helpful. The shore walker finds them peaceful. The historic preservationist feels they make a statement about a period of time. The historian is fascinated with the human and technological story they embody. And the idealist is drawn to them because they symbolize man’s humanity to man. Americans truly like and respect their historic structures, but it seems to me there’s a special place in their hearts they reserve for lighthouses.”

It’s hard to improve on Mr. Holland’s statement. There’s no doubt that lighthouses have very wide appeal. But with so many good causes vying for our attention these days, it seems that we sometimes need to remind people of the importance of historic preservation in general, and in particular the importance of preserving lighthouses as symbols of our maritime history. As it says on the website of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, “When historic buildings are torn down or allowed to deteriorate, a part of our past disappears forever. When that happens, we lose history that helps us know who we are.”

Public access is a central component of the effort to preserve our historic lighthouses. By opening lighthouses so that people can experience them first hand, we hope to foster a deeper appreciation for these historic treasures.

Opening lighthouses to the public is not a new idea – it’s a part of the proud tradition of the Lighthouse Service and the U.S. Coast Guard. Back in the days of the civilian Lighthouse Service, it was considered part of a keeper’s duty to show visitors around their light station.

Here at Portland Head Light, Joshua Freeman served as keeper from 1820 to 1840. Captain Freeman was noted for his jovial hospitality. By today’s standards, he may have gone a little too far.

He kept a supply of rum and other spirits in a cupboard, and he’d sell drinks for three cents a glass to visitors who came to fish near the lighthouse. The top-shelf liquor was reportedly reserved for the local minister.

An 1825 newspaper article described the pleasures of a visit to Portland Head:

“I know of no excursion as pleasant as a jaunt to the Light House. There our friend Freeman is always at home, and ready to serve you. There you can angle in safety and comfort while old ocean is rolling majestically at your feet, and when wearied and fatigued with this amusement, you will find a pleasant relaxation in tumbling the huge rocks from the brinks of the steep and rocky precipices. . . . I know of no equal to a ride or sail to the Light House and earnestly recommend it to all poor devils who, like myself, are afflicted with the dyspepsia, gout, or any of the diseases to which human flesh is heir.”

Captain Freeman’s namesake, Joshua Freeman Strout, later served as keeper here from 1869 to 1904. He often played host to the great poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who lived in Portland. Portland Head was always a tourist attraction, and a favorite pastime of visitors was watching the crashing surf during storms.

A tremendous storm swept the Maine coast in November 1871. The Eastern Argus reported that many people came to Portland Head to view the spectacular surf, and Keeper Joshua Strout “kindly furnished every reasonable facility for the accommodation of the sight seekers.” The sound of the waves striking the shore was described as “a roar like the voice of many Niagaras.”

Later, in the Coast Guard era, which began at Portland Head just after World War II, a constant stream of tourists was still a way of life at the light station Under the station’s first Coast Guard keeper, William Lockhart, the station was open to the public Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., except when the fog signal was sounding.

Lockhart said that visitors were mainly interested in enjoying the views. Most were thrilled with the scenery, but one woman from the Midwest expressed disappointment when she saw the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. “I thought it was bigger,” she said.

Visitors occasionally took advantage of the hospitality of the keepers. Wes Gamage, a Coast Guard keeper here at Portland Head in the early 1960s, was always sure to keep the doors and first-floor windows locked so tourists couldn’t wander in. Once, Gamage’s wife was taking a bath upstairs when several camera-toting tourists suddenly burst right into the bathroom. It turned out they had forgotten to lock one of the doors.

Some keepers capitalized on the popularity of their lighthouses. William M. Brooks of Kittery, Maine, was keeper at the Cape Neddick “Nubble” Light in York in the early 1900s. Brooks picked up extra cash by ferrying sightseers to the island. He also kept a supply of fishing gear and bait available for visiting fishermen. The ferry service allowed as many as 200 to 300 people to roam the island on a busy weekend day. Ten cents was charged for round-trip ferry service to the island, and an additional five cents was charged for a tour of the station, led by his wife. The lighthouse authorities finally decided enough was enough, and Brooks “resigned” from lighthouse keeping in 1912.

At many family light stations, the keepers’ children often served as tour guides. At isolated Boon Island, about 8 miles off the southern Maine coast, 14-year-old Annie Bell Hobbs, a keeper’s daughter, wrote in 1879 about entertaining visitors at the lighthouse:

“In the summer we have quite a number of visitors, who board at the beaches during the season. They come to see the lighthouse and all it contains; and we are very glad to show them all, though it is quite tiresome to go up into the light a number of times during the day, since it is one hundred and twenty-three feet from the rock on which it stands to the light.”

At Cuttyhunk Light in Massachusetts, little Seamond Ponsart, daughter of Keeper Octave Ponsart, gave lighthouse tours for many visitors in the early 1940s. She later wrote:

“As any lighthouse kid knows, a lucrative source of income was taking summer tourists up to the top of the tower and giving them the spiel about how high the lighthouse was, the number of steps, how far the light was seen, how to run the lighthouse, and so on. The keepers were not allowed to take tips, but not so for the kids.  I had this routine down pat by the time I was five and my piggy bank account swelled considerably.”

With the automation of our nation’s lighthouses in the last century, we’ve entered a new era.  Keepers and their families no longer polish the lens, mow the grass, or whitewash the towers. And of course, keepers and their families are no longer at home to show tourists around or to answer their questions. All of those tasks are now the domain of the preservationists, historians, and volunteers.

Across the nation, thousands of people have stepped into the role of 21st century lighthouse keepers. From the staff and volunteers here at Portland Head Light, through the chapters of the American Lighthouse Foundation, to the countless preservation groups along all the coasts of the United States, the call to save our lighthouses has been heard and answered.

That’s not to say the task is easy – it’s far from that. For those of us in the field of lighthouse preservation, every day presents new obstacles, challenges, and frustrations. Some of the more inaccessible offshore lighthouses will likely fall to ruin in the coming years, victims of modern technology and an uneasy economy.  All we can do is our best, but some days it seems like that’s not enough.

I urge all of you who care about lighthouses to do something. Donate a few dollars, donate some of your time. Come up with an idea to raise money for lighthouse preservation. Lots of individual efforts can add up to something really big.

I’d like to close with some lines from my favorite lighthouse poem, “The Lighthouse Keeper Wonders” by Edgar Guest. In the poem, Guest’s fictional lighthouse keeper is facing retirement when his lighthouse is automated. This is the last stanza of the poem.

It's strange for a lighthouse man like me
after forty years on shore to be.
And I wonder now - will the grass stay green?
Will the brass stay bright and the windows clean?
And will ever that automatic thing
plant marigolds in early spring?

I don’t think the questions Edgar Guest asked in his poem have been answered yet. It’s up to each one of us to keep the brass bright, the grass green, and the windows clean. And while we’re at it, why not plant some marigolds?

Thank you. Enjoy the day!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Ghost Hunters TV Show investigates Rose Island Lighthouse

This just in from David McCurdy, executive director of the Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation in Newport, Rhode Island:
In May 2010, the world famous television show Ghost Hunters spent two days investigating the Rose Island Lighthouse.  The team brought along Hollywood producers and high quality filming equipment to what was an exciting couple of days for our little island.  I do not want to spoil the show but I can tell you that what they found was really cool.

The show will be on the Syfy Channel on September 22 at 9 pm.  
According to the Syfy Channel, at Rose Island the crew found "some of their most incredible evidence to date." This should be a very interesting show!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Dr. Jeffrey Florman of Windham, Maine, wins auction of Ram Island Ledge Light

Ram Island Ledge Light, offshore from Cape Elizabeth, Maine, was sold at auction Tuesday for $190,000, ending an online bidding war that made it one of the priciest lighthouses to be put on the market in the Northeast.

Click here for the whole story.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Another mystery bidder keeper Ram Island Ledge auction going

A new bidder has entered the competition to buy Ram Island Ledge Light, raising the price to $190,000 and extending the online auction at least one more day.

Click here for details.

Spotlight on Maryland's Lighthouses this Fall

This news comes from outside the New England area, but I thought I should pass it along. The Maryland Office of Tourism is encouraging residents and visitors alike to explore the Chesapeake Bay and the local towns that line its shores. Lighthouses are iconic symbols of Maryland’s maritime culture.

"The lighthouses that still stand – some completely restored with period d├ęcor and exhibits – are unique artifacts of a different era," says Margot Amelia, executive director of the Maryland Office of Tourism. "They have a certain mystique to travelers. Some you can visit in person. Others you can view from the water when you take a charter-boat lighthouse tour."

Click here for more information on Maryland lighthouses you can visit.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Plum Beach Lighthouse repainting

This just in from the Friends of Plum Beach Lighthouse in Rhode Island:
Last month, workers from Abcore Restoration of Narragansett, Rhode Island, arrived at Plum Beach Lighthouse and started preparation work for repainting the lighthouse.  They first had to build a safe work platform around the lighthouse base, then went about the task of removing the rusted areas of the basement level.  The north side of the lighthouse has taken the brunt of the decay since its 2003 renovation, and the paint had all but disappeared.  The south side of the structure is still in good shape, all the paint has been removed and the metal sealed with a special epoxy to insure it against new rusting.

Coast Guard volunteers lend a helping hand on Camden's Curtis Island

Curtis Island Light Station, located at the head of Camden Harbor, is one of the crown jewels of Midcoast Maine, but like all historic sites located in close proximity to the sea, it requires constant maintenance to keep it looking its best.

You can read the rest of this story by clicking here.

Ram Island Ledge Lighthouse auction extended

The closing date for the government's auction of Ram Island Ledge Lighthouse is now September 13 (Monday). At this moment, the high bid is $180,000.

According to news reports, Portland real estate developer Arthur Girard and Dr. Jeffrey Florman, a neurosurgeon from Windham, Maine, flipped a coin Friday to determine which one of them would drop out of the bidding.

Florman won the flip and put in a bid for $180,000.

You can follow the auction on this page.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Ram Island Ledge Lighthouse auction ends today

The government's auction of Ram Island Ledge Lighthouse, a 90-foot granite tower built off Cape Elizabeth, Maine, in 1905, ends today. The high bid at this moment is $85,000. Let's hope the high bidder has the best interests of the lighthouse at heart.

Click here for the auction page.

American Lighthouse Foundation Executive Director Bob Trapani aboard a Coast Guard vessel leaving Ram Island Ledge Light in February 2008.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

New paint for the Nubble

Cape Neddick Lighthouse in York, Maine, affectionately known to lovers of lighthouses and the Maine coast as the Nubble Light, has just gotten a shiny new coat of paint thanks to the York Parks & Recreation Department. The painter in charge of the work was Gordon Lindquist.

Thanks to Mike Sullivan and Mike Lewis of the York Parks & Recreation Department, I got a ride out to the Nubble last Monday along with Bob Trapani and Ann Trapani of the American Lighthouse Foundation. Here  are some photos from that visit.