Two of the Island’s century-old lighthouses are undergoing significant restoration.
The East Chop Lighthouse in Oak Bluffs now shines with a fresh coat of white paint after having been refurbished inside and out at a cost of $140,000. The Edgartown Light is only weeks away from being completed at a cost of $250,000.
The restoration is a milestone and benefit for both Island towns, according to Matthew Stackpole, executive director of Martha’s Vineyard Museum.
Once the work is completed on the East Chop and Edgartown lighthouses, Mr. Stackpole said there will be a public opening to celebrate the work.
“Think how exciting this will be,” he said. “The Edgartown Lighthouse will have a staircase, we can share those amazing views of the Edgartown harbor, the sea. There is a 360-degree view. The same thing already exists for the East Chop Light, but they’ll both be beautiful, with new glass. Goodness gracious, it will really be nice.”
The museum oversees the care and use of these two lighthouses and the Gay Head Lighthouse. These aging structures represent a key part of the maritime history for their host towns.
Up until a year ago, the museum lacked cash for the Edgartown and Oak Bluffs projects and faced a financial headache of trying to raise funds for the work.
The solution came through funds from the Community Preservation Act, administered by the two towns and their voters.
Preservation act funding, created by the state legislature seven years ago, provides a way for the state to help towns to protect open space, engage in historic preservation and fund affordable housing. Participating towns get state matching funds.
“Luckily for us, the Community Preservation Act came into being and we were able to get the okay and support from Oak Bluffs and Edgartown preservation act committees,” Mr. Stackpole said.
Restoring the two lighthouses has a history that goes back years to the 1980s, when the Coast Guard stopped funding their maintenance.
The effort to restore the needy lighthouses became a tough chore.
“We take that role seriously and four years ago, we sought and received $25,000 in private donations to have a professional evaluation assessment made for all three lighthouses,” Mr. Stackpole said.
The engineering work, a prescription for saving the structures, was done by Gary Gredell, of Newark, Del. Familiar with projects of this scope, he had worked on the restoration of 46 lighthouses from Maine to Maryland. The work was commissioned prior to museum officials even knowing where the funds might come from to do the work.
“How wonderful it is for us and the Island that these CPA funds were available and we were able to implement the restoration,” Mr. Stackpole said. “This clearly was not an overnight success.”
Craig Dripps is the chairman of the restoration committee within the museum. He is a math teacher at the regional high school and volunteers at the museum as a director, seeking to oversee all measures to preserve the lighthouses.
“Late last winter it became apparent that CPA funds could be applied,” Mr. Dripps said. “The projects involved historic preservation. We applied to the Oak Bluffs and Edgartown CPA commissions. We already had the engineer report written and we knew what needed to be fixed.”
Since the blueprint for restoration was already written, it was relatively easy gaining support, he said. Voters in both town meetings strongly supported the projects.
Mr. Gredell was secured to oversee the work and the firm Campbell Construction Group of Beverly was hired to do the renovations.
Mr. Dripps said having the same contractor do the work on the two lighthouses simultaneously brings a significant cost savings. Both lighthouses were built of cast iron in the 1890s and face similar issues.
Gary Williams, a historical restoration specialist with Campbell Construction Group, said his company has restored a number of lighthouses in New England, along with other historic buildings.
He said they found the Edgartown lighthouse in a particularly bad state. Bolts that held the lantern structure at the top together were in a terrible state. Dozens of rusty bolts dating back more than 100 years were replaced with stainless steel.
On Tuesday, Mr. Williams and his colleague Clem Fraize, were putting up a lightning rod and preparing for exterior painting.
Work on the East Chop Lighthouse began August 20.
“It is pretty much completed,” Mr. Dripps said, but there is still electrical and steel railing work to be done. New windows, being fabricated at the same time as the windows for the Edgartown Light, will be installed.
Photographers and artists who have long been frustrated by wiring coming out of the side of the East Chop Lighthouse will soon be pleased. The wiring will be buried underground.
The Edgartown Light restoration, the most costly, is the most dramatic. Harmful peeling paint in the interior of the lighthouse has been sandblasted and hauled away. A new marine epoxy paint has been applied to the 80 cast-iron panels that make up the structure. The public will soon be invited to step inside and climb to the top and look out the lantern room.
Though the two lighthouses share the same construction, the interiors are different. The East Chop Lighthouse has a brick interior and a spiral staircase. The Edgartown Lighthouse does not have brick inside.
When the lighthouse was transported from Ipswich to Edgartown in 1939, the brick was removed to lighten the load.
Prior to the recent renovation work, only the beacon shone at night, and the windows below were covered by plywood and painted to look real. The interior was always dark and damp.
Following the renovation, it is now safe to go inside. Also, new windows will lighten the interior room. In a few days, workmen will install a new spiral staircase where before there was an unsafe steel ladder to the top. The new staircase, which will cost more than $80,000, is a major part of the renovation.
Following the East Chop and Edgartown projects, Mr. Stackpole said, the museum will shift its attention to finding a way to restore the Gay Head Lighthouse, which is expected to cost $500,000. “Lighthouse restoration is part of our long-range plan and our capital campaign,” Mr. Stackpole said.