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    Monday, December 11, 2023

    NL Maritime Society sets goal for preservation of Race Rock Lighthouse

    Race Rock lighthouse off Fishers Island, NY Thursday, March 21, 2013. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Race Rock Light on July 30, 2020. The lighthouse is situated on Race Rock Reef, a dangerous set of rocks on Long Island Sound southwest of Fishers Island, N.Y., and the site of many shipwrecks. It is owned and maintained by the New London Maritime Society as part of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act program. Race Rock Light was built 1871-78 and designed by Francis Hopkinson Smith (1838–1915). It is an excellent example of 19th century engineering and design. The massive masonry foundations on the reef took seven years to complete, but the stone structure, keeper's quarters and tower were built in only nine months once the foundation was secure. The lighthouse has a fourth-order Fresnel lens in a tower standing 67 feet above the waterline. The United States Coast Guard automated the light in 1978. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    New London — The New London Maritime Society has kicked off a fundraising campaign to help rehabilitate and preserve Race Rock Lighthouse, one of three lighthouses under the stewardship of the New London-based nonprofit.

    The society is hoping to raise more than $2 million to cover repairs and upgrades to the lighthouse over the next several years.

    The fundraising officially got started on July 26 with the premiere of “The History of Race Rock Light,” a 45-minute video directed by Pierce Rafferty and Marisela La Grave. The movie, an illustrated talk, chronicles the story of how the lighthouse was constructed, completed in 1878 atop a submerged ledge located in the swift moving waters of Long Island Sound known as The Race.

    New London Maritime Society Executive Director Susan Tamulevich said the construction of the lighthouse was an engineering feat and the video makes clear why Race Rock is considered a “rock star” among lighthouses. The video is now available to stream online at bit.ly/racerockfilm.

    The lighthouse is located on the southwestern end of Fishers Island in New York, an area that historically had been a maritime hazard and where several vessels were lost in the years preceding the construction of the lighthouse.

    Race Rock is a 2½-story Gothic Revival-style granite structure with a 67-foot tower. The lighthouse was designed by Francis Hopkinson Smith and built over seven years by Captain T.A. Scott of New London. The maritime society obtained the lighthouse in 2013 from the federal government through the National Lighthouse Preservation Act.

    And while the society has made some initial repairs after the purchase, such as removal of lead paint and bird droppings, Tamulevich said more extensive work is needed. New York-based Walter Sedovic Architects was hired to perform an assessment and create restoration plan for the lighthouse. The same firm created restoration plans for two lighthouses on Block Island.

    “Its massive drum base, granite quarters and timber framing are remarkably in very good condition...,” the report concludes. But the building also has suffered from years of exposure to the elements and is in need of repairs to perimeter railings, drum decking, stormwater drainage systems, failing cast iron components and deteriorated masonry, the report states.

    The final cost estimate for the work is $2.284 million.

    One of the first priorities, Tamulevich said, is to prepare the lighthouse to be a construction site and provide a safe place for equipment to be brought in. The architects suggest construction of a floating dock to offload construction materials. Projects will include sealing the building to prevent water from seeping in through masonry joints, replacing gutters and flashing systems, weatherproofing the lantern and lantern tower and either restoring an electric power cable to Race Rock from Fisher’s Island or increasing a solar array to help the interior warm in the winter.

    “We’re so fortunate to have it and it deserves to be preserved,” Tamulevich said. “Our first priority is making it safe to work out there.”

    The maritime society has provided a limited number of tours to Race Rock since 2017 and two more trips planned this summer. Both already are sold out.

    The fundraising drive comes in conjunction with the maritime society’s Lighthouse Summer, which is an effort to gain some visibility and public access to the society’s lighthouses, which include Ledge Light and Harbor Light. The society is offering $5 tours for New London schoolchildren and their families, thanks to a grant from water utility company Veolia and the New London Water Authority.

    For more information and to donate, visit nlmaritimesociety.org.


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