A more welcoming lighthouse

It’s about time.

After four years and four revisions of its plans, the Stonington Historical Society last week finally was granted unanimous approval by Stonington Borough’s Planning and Zoning Commission to build a 500-square-foot addition to the historic lighthouse museum.

The addition will provide the society with a bit more space to display priceless artifacts reflective of the town’s history. More important, however, it will allow handicapped access to the facility for the first time since it opened in 1926. It also is worth noting that this comes 27 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was adopted to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities.

This small addition to the rear of the lighthouse will provide a handicapped accessible ticket counter and bathroom, as well as open up a wheelchair-accessible walkway to the museum.

Before last week’s vote, historical society president Michael Schefers implored the commission, “Please do what is responsible and right for people with disabilities.”

The commission did. Even so, many of the 75 people who squeezed into the meeting in Borough Hall remained unabashedly unsympathetic to the challenges of those with disabilities. They maintained their embarrassingly selfish opposition to this modest proposal, complaining about the possibility of added traffic and more members of the public traversing the beautiful museum lawn despite the society’s agreement not to expand the number of special events it hosts.

One neighbor called for the museum to maintain its existing front entrance so visitors would have the same experience as did the lighthouse keepers of old.

This might be a quaint thought if not for the fact that between 1840 and 1909 – the period during which the building housed light keepers – most people with physical disabilities were shunned or institutionalized. In fact, in the 1860s, many U.S. cities passed so-called “ugly laws” banning those who were maimed or had physical deformities from public spaces. Chicago had such a law in place until 1974.

There is nothing charming about such a mindset, despite its historical accuracy.

We congratulate the borough’s Planning and Zoning Commission for recognizing the need for handicapped accessibility at the museum and in many village establishments. The commission specifically adjusted its regulations to allow for this – a move in fact supported by many of the neighbors who opposed the museum’s construction proposals.

We also admire the historical society for its perseverance. It continued to push for permission to construct a museum addition and repeatedly responded to neighbors’ concerns about its plans.

The society also stayed classy by thanking the community for granting it permission to expand and become handicapped accessible. It invited all Stonington residents to enjoy the museum for free May 20.

Unfortunately, those in wheelchairs will have to wait until renovations are completed to get a peek inside this important historical landmark.

 Editor's note: This version corrects the year of the opening of the museum.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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