Nonprofit society gets Race Rock Lighthouse

The General Services Administration will give the deed

The General Services Administration will give the deed for the Race Rock Lighthouse -- lit in 1879 to mark treacherous waters southwest of Fishers Island -- to a New London, Conn., historical group.. (July 17, 2010) (Credit: Beth Whitehouse)

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The federal government is turning over the historic and remote Race Rock Lighthouse to a new keeper.

The General Services Administration tomorrow will give the deed for the lighthouse -- lit in 1879 to mark treacherous waters southwest of Fishers Island -- to a New London, Conn., historical group.

The New London Maritime Society previously was given a nearby lighthouse, the New London Harbor Light, by federal officials in 2010.


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The Coast Guard will continue to maintain the lighting apparatus in the tower.

"It's very exciting," said Susan Tamulevich, director of the society and its Custom House Maritime Museum. "We've had many offers of help. We're ready to forge ahead."

The society is planning restoration and educational efforts, and ultimately hopes to provide public tours. That last goal is difficult because the lighthouse is at the edge of The Race, a channel with swift currents that bedeviled the contractor who built the lighthouse by sweeping away foundation boulders. It took renowned engineer Francis Hopkinson Smith from 1871 to 1878 to construct the foundation and 21/2-story Gothic Revival style granite masonry keeper's dwelling with a 31/2-story tower to house the lantern.

"Race Rock is a difficult place to get to," Tamulevich said, even more so because one of the two legs of a breakwater that formed a protective cove to allow access has been destroyed by storms.

In the short term, the public access will be virtual, through exhibits, as allowed by National Park Service guidelines. The society has been working with the Ferguson Museum on Fishers Island for an exhibit on the lighthouse that will be on display for a year before moving to the society's museum in New London.

The organization is raising money to repaint the New London Harbor Light and local construction unions have offered to help with that project. They also may be able to help restore the missing arm of the breakwater at Race Rock, she said. That might expedite starting tours from Fishers Island.

"The building and the foundation are really solid," Tamulevich said, and the Coast Guard recently installed a new roof. But the concrete apron around the lighthouse has cracked and the iron fencing around the apron is rusting. Inside, plaster and paint have deteriorated. And when the lighthouse was automated by the Coast Guard in 1978, all of the utilities and plumbing were removed.

She said her group has not estimated the cost of the repairs yet.

The transfer comes under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, which has previously allowed other local beacons, including Execution Rocks and Stepping Stones, to be transferred to nonprofit groups or local governments.

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