Janet Reingold has to laugh when she talks about the photo of the construction worker wearing red earmuffs while he grouts the granite blocks on the Cuckolds Fog Signal and Light Station. The earmuffs aren’t just to keep his ears warm. They are to protect them from the station’s air horn, which lets out a long, loud blast every 17.5 seconds when fog or haze settles in.Rising from one of two granite ledges known as the Cuckolds, the historic fog signal and light station — the first transferred under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000 — have stood sentry over the approaches to Boothbay Harbor, Maine, in some fashion for 119 years. Now Reingold, husband Philip Yasinski, a band of volunteers and some paid contractors are rebuilding and restoring it — the boathouse and keepers’ quarters, which were torn down in 1977, the light and fog-signal towers, two breakwaters, a slipway and utilities.
Undertaking major construction on an island nearly a half-mile offshore poses some challenges. Reingold, who lives on Southport Island and can see the lighthouse from a cove near her house, remembers the first barge full of construction supplies delivered to the island. It was offloaded below the high-water mark.
“We had to move every stick of lumber up the rock so it would be safe and not float away,” says Reingold, founder and president of Reingold Inc. and a prime mover in the light’s 2006 acquisition as surplus property from the Government Services Administration. “We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into.”
The Coast Guard maintains the light and fog signal for navigation. The Cuckolds Fog Signal and Light Station Council, a community-based volunteer organization, is restoring and rebuilding the station and will maintain it once construction is complete. Had someone not come to the station’s rescue, the light tower would have been replaced with a fiberglass pole with a light on top. “This is part of our heritage, our history,” Reingold says.
Located off Southport Island’s Cape Newagen five miles from Boothbay Harbor, the station has guided mariners past the treacherous Cuckolds outcroppings through fog, rain, snow and dark of night since 1892, when the fog signal building was built. In 1907, crews erected an octagonal tower on the roof of that building and installed a flashing 600-candlepower oil vapor lamp 59 feet above the water.
There’s nothing easy about acquiring a lighthouse from the government, raising $1.4 million to rebuild it, and barging volunteers and tons of construction materials to the island. Yet the return on investment of time, money and sweat has been enormous, says Reingold, whose firm specializes in mobilizing community support for “do-good” projects. “We’ve met a lot of new friends,” she says. “We’re a band of people who are doing something larger than ourselves. We’re not lighthouse nuts. We’re building community and creating a spirit.”
Reingold and a few volunteers who caught her vision early on worked for two years on the 542-page application to acquire the 7-acre, two-island property and four more years to raise the $1.4 million to restore and rebuild it. “We took this on just as the economy was tanking,” she says, so the going was slow at first. But by last year, the council had raised $200,000, enough to start on the boathouse. As soon as construction began, support for the project gained momentum. Large donations of money and in-kind services and materials steadily increased, and volunteers started signing up to work. “It was astonishing,” Reingold says.
This summer, work on the two-story duplex keepers’ quarters got under way. “We’ve had a crew of eight to 10 people out there every day since spring,” she says. Interior work on the keepers’ quarters will finish up next year for an anticipated opening late in summer 2012, she says.
“We are desperately looking for the right lightkeepers,” she says. “It will be such a great job for the right people.”
“Right” means they must be crackerjack mariners, handy in things mechanical and carpentry-related, and “great concierges,” she says. “This is a hospitality business.”
The keepers’ quarters will have three suites — one for the keepers and the other two for guests — a fully equipped country kitchen, two bathrooms and public spaces for work/study, exhibits, receptions, seminars and food service. Reingold expects the lighthouse to support itself by hosting weddings and other events. In their reincarnation, Maine’s Cuckolds could belie their name and host retreats.
“It is spiritual to be out there,” Reingold says. “It is absolutely drop-dead gorgeous.”
Information about Cuckolds Fog Signal and Light Station is available at www.cuckoldslight.org.
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This article originally appeard in the December 2011 issue.