Old Lighthouse Museum project to begin in Stonington

Stonington — The Stonington Historical Society has announced that it will begin the first phase of its $2.75 million renovation and expansion of the Old Lighthouse Museum later this month.

A groundbreaking, which is open to the public, has been scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 26, at 11 a.m.

Josh Adams, the historical society’s director of development and communications, said Tuesday that the project will be divided into two phases.

Phase 1, which will begin this month, involves work inside the museum, such as installing an HVAC system to create a climate-controlled environment to better preserve artifacts, repair structural damage caused by insects and water, refinish floors, install new electrical wiring and repaint exterior masonry work.

Currently, historical society volunteers are packing and removing artifacts for storage at an off-site location during the work.

The cost of Phase 1 is $1.3 million and the work is expected to be completed next spring, at which time the museum will reopen to the public.

At that time, visitors will see two new exhibits, one on the work of famed local photographer Rollie McKenna, who died in 2003. Her work ranged from portraits of literary giants such as Dylan Thomas, T.S. Eliot and Robert Frost, to snapshots of everyday life in the borough and its residents. 

The other exhibit features Venture Smith (1729-1805) who worked his way out of slavery on farms in Stonington and became a successful entrepreneuer in colonial southeastern Connecticut. The society has received a grant for the latter exhibit.

Phase 2, which will consist of a 500-square-foot addition to the rear of the museum to house a handicapped-accessible bathroom and ticketing area, will begin after Phase 1 is complete. Adams said the society is continuing to raise money to fund Phase 2.

In a statement announcing the groundbreaking, historical society board President Michael Schefers said the “renewal of the lighthouse will help guarantee this important piece of local history will have a future.”

“It’s time to undertake the rebuilding of the lighthouse to ensure it enjoys a long life,” he said.

The lighthouse was built in 1840 and purchased in 1925 by the Stonington Historical Society for use as a museum. It was the first lighthouse in America to be converted to a museum and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It attracts 6,000 visitors a year.

Oudens Ello Architecture of Boston designed the project. The construction firm is the Consigli company, which has offices across the Northeast including in Hartford and Boston. Consigli has worked on numerous high-profile landmark restorations, including the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, the Maine State House and the Smithsonian Institution’s Renwick Gallery.

In 2017, after four years and four revisions, and despite repeated opposition from some neighbors, the borough Planning and Zoning Commission approved the addition, which was scaled back from earlier designs. Some residents criticized the size of and rationale for the addition, landscaping, additional traffic and the society's holding of special events, such as weddings, on the scenic waterfront property adjacent to Stonington Point.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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