The lantern sat atop the Cedar Island Light Station in East Hampton for 145 years—until one overcast day last week when a crane, in minutes, lifted it away.
Nearly 4.5 tons, rusty and boarded up, the lantern was removed on Thursday, October 31, as the first phase of a planned restoration of the old lighthouse, which is situated on the tip of a sandy, windswept peninsula (formerly an island, hence the name) that today is part of Cedar Point County Park.
Built in 1868 and decommissioned in 1934, the Boston-granite beacon is on the National Register of Historic Places and draws its historical significance, in part, from its role in guiding whalers to and from Sag Harbor, according to Bob Allen, the great-grandson of William Henry Follett, the last Cedar Island lighthouse keeper and a member of the Long Island Chapter of the United States Lighthouse Society, which aims to assist in the restoration and preservation of lighthouses.
Today, the lighthouse is completely shuttered—even its windows are cemented over, save for a few holes. It stands in stony solitude, buffeted by salt and wind, a testament to the maritime tradition of yore, but at the same time reminiscent of an abandoned jail or haunted house, especially under the gray clouds that floated overhead on Halloween morning. Its roof is missing some pieces. A large banner on its facade urges, “Help us restore this lighthouse.” The inside, hidden from view, is just scaffolding, Mr. Allen said.
The current structure, which was heavily burnt in a 1974 fire, is actually the second Cedar Island lighthouse, replacing the original, which was built of wood in 1838, a little to the east, Mr. Allen, the historian of the light, said.
But the lighthouse society is now working to restore the Cedar Island beacon, inside and out.
The goal, according to Michael Leahy, a member of the society and the chairperson of the lighthouse’s restoration committee, is to restore it for use by the public as a bed-and-breakfast.
“The public could have access and stay overnight and see what it was like to be a 19th-century lighthouse keeper,” Mr. Leahy said.
The entire undertaking is estimated to cost approximately $2 million, he said, adding that the society is continuously raising funds and in need of funds.
The lantern is a first step.
Last Thursday, Mr. Leahy and Mr. Allen, along with a crew from Chesterfield Associates and Bob Coco Construction Corp.—both of which donated their services—traveled by boat from Long Wharf in Sag Harbor to Cedar Point. They took down the lantern and then returned to the wharf, with the old lantern on a barge. From there, it was lifted onto a trailer and driven to the Sag Harbor Yacht Yard, which donated space for the restoration.
“It was such a magical moment for me to see it come off,” Mr. Leahy said. “I was standing there holding my breath.”
A special paint used in marine applications will be applied to the lantern for protection in years to come, Mr. Leahy said. He added that he hopes the lantern’s restoration will build momentum for fundraising. “It’s a lot of work and effort,” he said.
As for whether it will shine once again, answers were mixed.
“We don’t really intend to put the light back in there for the moment,” Mr. Leahy said, noting that a nearby skeleton tower that is topped with a light will continue to serve that purpose. The tower, which is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard, supplanted the lighthouse’s light following decommission.
Mr. Allen, who leads walking tours of the lighthouse—reachable by more than a mile’s walk on the beach—said that a main goal is to have the light shine once again in the lighthouse, and not on the pole, where it turns on at dusk and goes off at dawn.
A time frame for the work depends on funds, Mr. Leahy said, though both he and Mr. Allen said they anticipate returning the restored lantern to its home sometime next year, possibly in the spring.
Mr. Allen and Mr. Leahy both agreed that the refurbishment of the lantern is just a start.
Mr. Allen called it a baby step. “You’ve got to do it in steps,” he said. “You have to take one step before you learn how to crawl and then to walk.” The stairs and exterior will likely be next up, he said.
Slowly but surely, the plan is to preserve a piece of history.
Mr. Allen said the ships guided by the Cedar Island Light Station often traveled as far as Japan. “Yesterday, at Long Wharf, you could just visualize a whaling boat going out to Japan and coming back a few years later. They were like goodwill ambassadors.”