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New London — About 60 volunteers from the local carpenters union will convene at New London Harbor Light off Pequot Avenue this morning to erect donated scaffolding around the 213-year-old beacon so other volunteers can clean, repoint and paint the oldest and tallest lighthouse on Long Island Sound.
"They jumped on it because they all love the lighthouse," said Lisa Gorman, secretary of Connecticut Carpenters, Local 24, about recruiting members to give up their weekend for the landmark 89-foot-tall brownstone-and-brick tower.
The New London Maritime Society has owned the lighthouse since 2010. It began fundraising for the restoration project last year, raising $150,000, some of it in honor of past society President Ben Martin. Some funds have been used for construction of new retaining walls washed out by Superstorm Sandy near the base of the lighthouse, constructed in 1801 by local builder Abisha Woodword.
"It is our duty to maintain the lighthouse, except for the light, which continues with the Coast Guard," said George Sprecace, society president, as he watched volunteer contractors from Loring & Son Masonry use an oversized, telescopic forklift to move heavy loads of scaffolding Friday morning from Pequot Avenue to open space near the lighthouse. The scaffolding was donated by Brand Energy and Infrastructure Services.
Gorman said she read an online post about the maritime society looking for help restoring the lighthouse and, in particular, looking for help with scaffolding.
"We can do that. We can help," she recalls thinking.
Gorman spoke to Chris Bachant, the business representative at Local 24, and he began recruiting other laborers.
"This is just a wonderful volunteer project," said Gorman. "Everyone loves the lighthouse."
Members of Painters Local 1122 will donate their time and talent to paint New London Harbor Light once the scaffolding is erected, the tower cleaned and repointed.
This first phase of the project is expected to take six to eight weeks, during which time the lighthouse will be closed to visitors.
The society is also working to raise an additional $38,000 to build a masonry walkway on the ledge around the lighthouse and to replaster the lookout landing inside the beacon. Located just beneath the lantern area, the lookout landing walls are showing the most severe cracking in the structure.
Sprecace, a longtime advocate of the society and New England's lighthouses, is devoted to keeping the lights open to the public and maintained.
"They should not be in private hands. You wouldn't put Yellowstone or Yosemite (national parks) in private hands," he said
The maritime society took ownership of New London Ledge Light from the federal government in 2010 through the Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. Last year, the society was also deeded Race Rock Light, a two-story Gothic Revival granite lighthouse at the eastern end of Long Island Sound.
"They are our jewels," said Sprecace, adding that lighthouses in the United States are what castles and cathedrals are in Europe.
Other sponsors of the Harbor Lighthouse Restoration project are The Chester Kitchings Family Foundation, Frank Loomis Palmer Fund, Veolia Water/New London Water Authority, surveyor Jim Bernardo, Hefel Masonry LLC, Captain Scott's Lobster Dock, Ocean Beach Park, The Big House B&B, Cristifori Foundation, CTrides, John Mock, Dave Fallon, Fishers Island Ferry, Cross Sound Ferry, Dominion Foundation, Manafort Bros. Inc., A.W. Marina, Poor Morgan screenprinting of Stonington, Shore Line East, state Department of Economic and Community Development, state Department of Tourism, and the Eshenfelder family.