Maritime society new owner of NL landmark

Coast Guard Academy Third Class Cadet Colleen Patton plays the bagpipes Wednesday at the start of the ceremony for the lighthouse deed transfer.
Coast Guard Academy Third Class Cadet Colleen Patton plays the bagpipes Wednesday at the start of the ceremony for the lighthouse deed transfer. Dana Jensen/The Day Buy Photo

New London - From atop the 89-foot-tall New London Harbor Light on Pequot Avenue, six other lighthouses, like unlit tapers, can be seen in the waters below.

There's Avery Point Lighthouse in Groton; Ledge Light at the mouth of the Thames River; Latimer Reef Light in Fishers Island Sound; Race Rock Lighthouse; Gardiners Island Light; and the Montauk Point Light on Long Island.

"It is unique,'' said George Sprecace, who along with Benjamin Martin, began the process 10 years ago to get the U.S. government to transfer ownership of the lighthouse to the New London Maritime Society.

On Wednesday, the years of paperwork, persistence and patience paid off in a formal "deed conveyance" ceremony at the base of the lighthouse.

Last October, the U.S. General Services Administration announced it was giving the lighthouse to the maritime society. The National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000 gave the government the authority to transfer surplus federal property for parks. The Coast Guard will maintain the beacon inside the lighthouse.

Glenn C. Rotondo, acting regional administrator for the GSA, said the agency has turned over 40 government-owned lighthouses during the past nine years to private and historic organizations.

"You are now the stewards who will maintain the light, and make it available to all citizens of New London and others who come to visit,'' Rotondo said.

In 1760, a 64-foot stone tower with a wooden lantern was built on the spot, funded with proceeds from New London lottery tickets, according Sprecace. It was the first lighthouse in Long Island Sound, the oldest in Connecticut and the fourth oldest in North America.

The white brownstone tower that stands on the west side of the Thames River was built in 1801 with a cast iron lantern. It has operated continuously, except during the War of 1812.

For Martin and Sprecace, both members of the maritime society, the day was a long time coming but worth the wait.

"It's a real feeling of accomplishment,'' Martin said.

He and Sprecace worked diligently to prove to the GSA that the maritime society would be an appropriate owner. But there were years when the plan appeared stalled.

"It went fallow. The way you leave a field fallow on a farm,'' Martin said. "We hit a point where we thought it was best to leave it alone.''

But the idea was never forgotten.

On Wednesday about 30 people gathered for the ceremony and nearly all walked up the 120 steps to the top of the structure.

"There are wonderful views,'' said Martin. "It makes the host city look even greater."

"It's unique,'' agreed Sprecace, whose son is Deputy Mayor Adam Sprecace. "You think you are used to the tremendous views here on the ground and then you get another aspect, in four different directions. It's breathtaking."

Susan Tamulevich, director of the Custom House Museum, which is part of the maritime society, said the plan is to open the lighthouse to limited tours in the spring for a fee. Schoolchildren have been helping to clean up the property, she said, and fundraisers will be held to raise money to maintain the structure.

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