Ledge Light tours continue despite lack of power

New London Ledge Light Foundation volunteers wave as they open the front doors to New London Ledge Light as a tour aboard the Project Oceanography research vessel Enviro Lab II approaches the lighthouse on Aug. 6, 2015.  A problem with a cable that brings electricity to the lighthouse from the mainland has left most of the structure in the dark.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
New London Ledge Light Foundation volunteers wave as they open the front doors to New London Ledge Light as a tour aboard the Project Oceanography research vessel Enviro Lab II approaches the lighthouse on Aug. 6, 2015. A problem with a cable that brings electricity to the lighthouse from the mainland has left most of the structure in the dark. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Groton — New London Ledge Light has gone dark. Most of it, anyway.

The century-old lighthouse at the mouth of the Thames River lost power sometime in April, forcing its keepers to use generators to continue restoration work and tours.

The light atop the lighthouse, along with a foghorn on a lower level, are solar-powered and not affected by the power loss.

But the lack of electricity elsewhere in the structure has members of the nonprofit Ledge Light Foundation scrambling for a long-term solution.

Power is supplied to the lighthouse through a mile-long cable that originates at the rocky shores of Avery Point in Groton.

It appears that, along with repairs that need to be made to wiring and a junction box at the lighthouse, there is a problem somewhere along the cable. Groton Utilities has sent out crews multiple times in an attempt to diagnose the problem but have not been able to pinpoint the location of a fault or faults in the line, Ledge Light President Todd Gipstein said.

The cost of the repairs to the cable are likely out of immediate reach for the small nonprofit, whose volunteers have been performing preservation and maintenance work with grant money matched through revenues from summer lighthouse tours.

Profits from tours — the only ones where visitors get to visit the building's interior — offered by the foundation in conjunction with Project Oceanology are down this year because of increased competition.

“This is going to be a difficult operation barring some benefactor coming in,” Gipstein said. “It’s a major issue for what we’re doing out there this year.”

Gipstein said one idea being explored is taking the lighthouse off the grid and abandoning the power cable in favor of an entirely solar-powered system. Preliminary estimates for such a move would be in the $15,000 to $20,000 range.

Gipstein said the group of volunteers that runs the tours and performs work at the lighthouse so far is making do.

Tours are going on as scheduled. There is enough outside light for visitors to view the various exhibits inside the lighthouse while the generator provides power to an air conditioner and a television to run an orientation film about the lighthouse, along with lights in the basement. Visitors during their tour inevitably will hear the story of Ernie, a former lighthouse keeper who jumped to his death from the top of the lighthouse and now supposedly haunts the place. 

The lack of power, however, has led the foundation to abandon the use of space heaters in the basement that helped prevent mold and eliminate slippery conditions.

Formed in 1987, the Ledge Light Foundation took over for the keepers with the U.S. Coast Guard and enlisted various groups of volunteers, many from the military, to perform work at the lighthouse. The deed of the lighthouse was transferred from the U.S. Coast Guard to the New London Maritime Society in 2014. The Ledge Light Foundation now leases the lighthouse from the maritime society.

The foundation has to date replaced 30 of the 42 windows in the lighthouse, which has helped to better seal off the inside from damaging leaks caused by a constant battering of wind and waves. The foundation has probably spent $50,000 on windows, Gipstein said. He expects the generator will be able to power the tools needed for installing the remaining 11 replacement windows, which currently are being fabricated.

The new windows will help come winter, when Gipstein said the cumbersome process of hauling a generator out to the lighthouse by boat and connecting various power cords will be out of the question.

The foundation has run space heaters in the building throughout the winter over the years in an effort to help curb any deterioration of the interior and exhibits. It’s unlikely power will be restored by winter.

“It’s entirely likely this season we will find out how big an issue it is when we open the doors next spring,” Gipstein said.

For more information on lighthouse tours or the history of Ledge Light, visit www.ledgelighthouse.org.

g.smith@theday.com

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