Creating a Fire Island Lighthouse replica

Bob Keller, at left, Lighthouse Club president, and

Bob Keller, at left, Lighthouse Club president, and member Al Bittner in front of a replica of the Fire Island Lighthouse. (2012) (Credit: Handout)

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Robert Fraser has long felt a connection with lighthouses, particularly the one on Fire Island.

"I lived on Lighthouse Road in Babylon, and my daughter Bonnie lived on Lighthouse Place in Kismet over by the lighthouse," he said. Also, he and his wife, Helen, were members of the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society.

After he retired in 1991, the Frasers — he's a former Suffolk County police officer and county traffic engineer; she was a secretary and crossing guard years ago — moved to Lake Havasu City, Ariz., best known as the home of the 1830s London Bridge that spanned the River Thames in London until it was sold and dismantled in 1967 and erected in the desert in 1971.

Six years ago, Fraser learned of the Lake Havasu Lighthouse Club, formed in 2000 to build replicas of famous lighthouses around the country along the 400-mile shoreline of the lake.

Though the club had already erected eight replica beacons, including some from the Northeast, none was from Long Island.

Fraser decided Lake Havasu needed a copy of his favorite lighthouse, so he and Helen donated $4,000 to the club to cover the cost of a 23-foot-tall replica of the 168-foot Fire Island Lighthouse.

After six years of planning and more than a year of on-and-off construction, the solar-powered model was installed and lit two months ago to guide boaters on the lake. The distinctive black stripes were painted on three weeks ago to complete the club's 21st replica. It will be formally dedicated next Sunday as part of an annual weeklong festival called London Bridge Days.

"It was fantastic when it was lighted for the first time," said Fraser, 83. "It will be very useful at night as a navigation aid. The shoreline of Lake Havasu is very jagged, with a lot of little coves."

Bob Keller, head of the lighthouse club, said the Frasers' donation covered construction materials and some ongoing maintenance. The labor was supplied by Fraser and about two dozen club members, many of them, like Fraser, also members of the Marine Corps League. Fraser, an Air Force veteran of the Korean War, was a member of the Marine Corps Reserves.

 

Created for boaters' safety

The lighthouse club is an offshoot of an annual charity golf tournament that Keller and some friends had been running.

"After four years we decided to target the proceeds, and we were all boaters, so we decided to target putting navigation lights on the lake because there were none and we couldn't get any of the governing bodies that have any jurisdiction to do anything about it," Keller said. "So we decided to do something about it ourselves."

At the time, Keller was building a generic lighthouse replica for a marina on the lake created when the Colorado River was dammed in 1938. "So we got the idea to put the navigation lights on top of lighthouses, and it became 'the Lighthouse Club.' "

After the marina's lighthouse went up in 2000, the subsequent ones erected — starting in 2002 with Maine's West Quoddy — were all replicas of real beacons.

The lighthouses take shape as wooden frames that are covered with Styrofoam, wire and then stucco. "A lot of my volunteers are retirees," said Keller, 74, a former college instructor, real estate agent, newspaper publisher and author who still works part-time selling solar-power installations. So work proceeds at its own, sometimes slow, pace and ceases entirely when temperatures exceed 110 degrees.

The largest of the replicas is a 30-foot-tall version of North Carolina's Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the country's tallest at 209 feet. Others are 18 to 24 feet.

 

Popular destination

The junior Fire Island Lighthouse has one of the most prominent locations — at the entrance to Thompson Bay, right by Lake Havasu City.

The lighthouses have become their own tourist draw. "They are an attraction to connoisseurs of lighthouses," said Doug Traub, president of the Lake Havasu Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Keller noted that a survey of visitors several years ago showed that 29.8 percent either came to town to visit the lighthouses or visited them after arriving. "We're gaining on London Bridge" as a tourist attraction, he said.

Thomas F. Roberts III of West Islip, the founding president of the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society, said he was tickled to learn of the tribute.

"Any kind of free publicity is great," he said. "It helps educate maritime buffs that this light[house] does exist and it's a very famous light[house]."

A plaque will be installed near the replica, giving the history of the lighthouse and recognizing the Frasers for their donation.

And Fraser has plans for another permanent connection to his lighthouse.

"I'm going to have my ashes put there when I die as a little memorial," he said. "It's better than a cemetery, right?"

 

Beacons of safety

Since 2000, the Lake Havasu Lighthouse Club has erected 20 replica beacons around the Arizona lake, including the newest, the Fire Island Lighthouse, to be dedicated next Sunday. For more information, go to lh-lighthouseclub.org

 

The others and their dates of construction:

Lake Havasu Marina Lighthouse, 2000 (original lighthouse; not replica of another lighthouse)

West Quoddy, Maine, 2002

Cape Hatteras, N.C., 2002

Robert R. Manning, Empire, Mich., 2003

Main Buffalo, N.Y., 2003

Split Rock, Minnesota, 2004

Currituck Beach, N.C., 2004

Vermilion, Ohio, 2005

Table Bluff, Calif., 2006

East Quoddy, New Brunswick, Canada, 2006

Alpena, Mich., 2006

Sandy Hook, N.J., 2007

Mount Desert Rock, Maine, 2007

Barnegat, N.J., 2008

Berwick, La., 2008

White Shoals, Mich., 2008

Umpqua River, Ore., 2009

Algoma, Wis., 2009

Portland Head, Maine, 2010

Wind Point, Wis., 2010

Fire Island, N.Y., 2012

 

Under construction:

Chicago Harbor Light, Ill.

Pigeon Point, Calif.

Gray's Harbor, Wash.

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