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After 40 years, lighthouse shines again - Soundings Online

After 40 years, lighthouse shines again

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Volunteer effort spearheads five-year restoration that revives New England beacon as an aid to navigation

Volunteer effort spearheads five-year restoration that revives New England beacon as an aid to navigation

Avery Point Lighthouse, on the University of Connecticut’s AveryPoint campus in Groton, Conn., was lit for the first time in nearly four decades following a five-year, $500,000 restoration.

“Saving the Avery Point Lighthouse was important in the aspect that a significant piece of maritime history has been saved for future generations to savor,” says Jim Streeter, 62, of Groton. Streeter is co-chairperson of the Avery Point Lighthouse Society, which organized and raised money for the restoration.

More than 1,000 people turned out for a relighting ceremony held Oct. 15 on the property. A number of people — including local and state politicians and university administrators — made speeches, and the lighthouse was opened to the public. Three people helped push the plunger to re-light the light.

“The Avery Point Lighthouse is again an active aid to navigation,” Streeter says. “It will again appear on navigation charts and be lighted in the Notice to Mariners.” The light shines green every three seconds, he says.

By 1997 Avery Point Lighthouse had become dilapidated, Streeter says, and plans were to tear it down. That year Streeter rounded up 15 local residents and founded the Avery Point Lighthouse Society. The group helped raise money to restore the 55-foot octagon-shaped beacon.

“The inspiration was to save, restore and relight a Groton landmark, which was also a significant historical maritime structure,” Streeter says.

Avery Point Lighthouse was built in 1943 by the Coast Guard and operated as a private aid to navigation beginning in 1944. The bearing walls were constructed with three different-sized blocks made of brown-colored cement and sand. The inside was designed with two levels including the upper-level lantern room and a walkaround outer deck.

The Coast Guard left the site in 1967 after the agency’s training station there was relocated to New York. The lighthouse was removed from service and became the property of the University of Connecticut.

Over the next three decades little was done to maintain the lighthouse, Streeter says. University officials in 1997 declared the tower a safety hazard.

“It was necessary to restore the lighthouse from top to bottom,” Streeter says. “After the society was formed, we were successful in having the lighthouse placed on the National Register of Historic Places, which meant we would have to follow federal historical preservation and restoration regulations.”

The society raised money for the restoration through fund-raising events, sales of Avery Point Lighthouse-related merchandise, donations, miscellaneous contributions and by selling more than 3,100 bricks that were dedicated and laid in the new walkway to the lighthouse. The society was also able to secure funding from federal and state governments.

“AveryPoint is unique in that it was the only lighthouse ever built by the Coast Guard not only as an aid to navigation, but as a memorial to the legacy of lighthouse keepers everywhere,” says society co-chair Ron Foster.