New London Harbor Light visitors enjoy view from the top

New London - A clear day greeted visitors to the Harbor Light off Pequot Avenue Sunday during a day of free tours at the lighthouse hosted by the New London Maritime Society.

Members of the society said they had to add extra time to accommodate an overflow of reservations. Tours were originally scheduled to run 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., but the first tour actually took place at 9:30 a.m. and the last tour was scheduled to end by 4 p.m.

The tours marked the first opening of the lighthouse to the public since repairs on the roughly 210-year-old landmark began in May, with the building emerging from scaffolding last month.

"It was a massive job," said society volunteer Rich Murphy of the repairs.

New London resident Don Venditto commented from the top room of the structure that, despite growing up in the city, he had never scaled the Harbor Light's 119-step winding staircase.

Groton couple Mark and Karlee Slaper eagerly talked over each other as they prepared to descend to the rocky shore after spending nearly half an hour up top in the sun-warmed room containing the lighthouse's beacon.

"Oh, I loved it, are you kidding?" said Karlee.

"I've been wanting to come up here," her husband said.

Others came from farther away. One society volunteer said she had seen a group on vacation in the area from Utah. A group from Hartford came after hearing about the event on television.

Volunteer Carolyn Leuze spent hours in the lantern room pointing out details of the panoramic view of Long Island Sound. She was quick to direct visitors' attention to the Ledge Light, the society's third lighthouse it has acquired for renovation.

Adding to the ideal day was a dotting of sailboats on the water.

"It is breathtaking," Leuze sighed.

The society began its campaign to renovate the lighthouse in June 2013, according to New London Maritime Society - Custom House Maritime Museum Executive Director Susan Tamulevich.

"It seemed really like it was going to be a tough slog," she said.

She said donations of time and resources from community members and trade organizations made the process of renovating surprisingly swift.

Loring & Son Masonry, Connecticut Carpenters Local 24, Painters Local 1122, and Brand Energy and Infrastructure Services were among the local unions and businesses to volunteer in the renovations. Community members also donated roughly $150,000.

Leuze said she was touched when, at a barbecue the society held to thank volunteers for their work, the volunteers thanked members of the society for letting them work on the lighthouse.

The society also received a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to aid in repairs to parts damaged by Hurricane Sandy and a state grant for analyzing lighthouse materials in anticipation of other repairs.

Tamulevich said the tours Sunday fit neatly into the society's larger mission of exposing local residents to the shoreline in hopes that community members will become active in preserving the area's coastal resources.

The day of tours at Harbor Light marked the waning of the lighthouse tourism season. Boat tours of are lighthouses wind down at the end of the month and will start again next summer.

t.townsend@theday.com

Twitter: @ConnecticuTess

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