Block Island beacon to be restored

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Work on the island’s North Light gets a boost from a large grant, 2008 relighting ceremony anticipated

Work on the island’s North Light gets a boost from a large grant, 2008 relighting ceremony anticipated

A group dedicated to restoring and maintaining Block Island’s North Light recently received a significant financial boost.

Late last year the Block Island North Light Association received a $100,000 grant from the Rhode Island State Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission. The grant was one of four $100,000 grants handed out last year, the highest amount awarded by the commission.

“Obviously, we are very grateful to have received such a generous grant,” says North Light association vice chairperson Rob Gilpin. “As we’ve been moving along with this restoration project it’s clear that we don’t have all the money we need to make it happen. This grant will certainly help.”

“It seemed as though they had made a lot of progress in terms of design and planning, and we saw this as a way for us to participate in their future progress,” says Sarah Zurier, preservation commission — special projects coordinator. “North Light is an important resource on Block Island, and the extra money will help make a substantial rehab of the property happen.”

Over the years a number of lighthouses have stood marking the entrances to Block Island and Long Island Sounds, also warning boaters of SandyPoint. The lighthouse at SandyPoint today, the fourth, first went into service in September 1868, according to information on New England Lighthouses — A Virtual Guide (http://lighthouse.cc ). The building was constructed of granite and the tower was made of iron. A fourth-order Fresnel lens was placed at the top of the tower that was visible up to 13-1/2 miles. The light was automated in 1956.

In 1973 the lighthouse was deactivated and was, along with 28 surrounding acres, acquired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a wildlife refuge, the Web site says. The flashing light was moved to a skeleton tower nearby.

The lighthouse fell into disrepair and was vandalized a number of times.

The Fish and Wildlife Service sold the lighthouse and 2 acres to the Block Island town of Shoreham for $1, the site says. Since then, restoration efforts have seen the lighthouse relit in 1989, and the first floor of the building opened as a museum in 1993. On display in the museum is the Fresnel lens formerly used in the lighthouse.

More work needs to be done, Gilpin says. The iron tower and exteriors of the building still need restoring. Gilpin estimates the remainder of the work will cost about $850,000. In 2002 the association received a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the more than 300 association members have raised about $60,000, although Gilpin hopes that figure grows to about $100,000 in the next few months. The association also received a $5,000 donation from a couple from Essex, Conn., and $2,000 from the Vernon D. and Florence E. Roosa Family Foundation of Hartford, Conn.

In 2003 the light was again removed from the lighthouse to another temporary skeleton tower in anticipation of restoration of the lighthouse tower.

“We’re nearing the final steps,” Gilpin says. “We need to get permission from the DOT to send the project to bid, which we hope to do this summer. We’re also hoping to return the Fourth Order Fresnel lens to the lighthouse tower and to make the light a private aid to navigation. If things go smoothly, we hope to have the restoration work complete by the end of this year, and have a relighting ceremony in spring 2008.

“Everything seems to be coming together now,” Gilpin adds. “We’re all pretty excited.”

Donations can be sent to the Block Island North Light Association, P.O. Box 1662, Block Island, R.I., 02807.