An antique lens recently was brought back into use on...

An antique lens recently was brought back into use on Montauk Point Lighthouse as part of a pilot program with the U.S. Coast Guard. Credit: Montauk Historical Society

A lens manufactured in France in 1902 is shining high atop Montauk Point Lighthouse once again.

Earlier this month the U.S. Coast Guard relit the clamshell-shaped Fresnel lens, which guided mariners along the eastern tip of Long Island from 1903 to 1987, as part of a pilot program in partnership with Montauk Historical Society.

Commissioned by President George Washington in 1792, the lighthouse became a National Historic Landmark in 2012.

The lens was displayed in the lighthouse's museum for 36 years after the Coast Guard replaced it with a lower-maintenance light source, according to the historical society, which owns and maintains the lighthouse. 

“People always wanted it back,” said Mia Certic, the society’s executive director, who noted that the Fresnel lens provides brighter light that is visible nearly 20 miles away. 

The Fresnel lenses are known as "the invention that saved a million ships," according to the historical society.

Certic said in the years since the lens was removed, historical society officials tried to have it reinstalled — but with no success. The Coast Guard said it would be like moving backward, Certic recalled.

But the historical society persisted.

“We sharpened our pencils and did a little research and we found out there are probably about 50 of these lenses that are still in operation under the Coast Guard,” Certic said.

Then with the assistance of retired Coast Guard Rear Adm. Daniel May, who had worked on a project at the lighthouse in the 1990s, the historical society pitched a plan that finally piqued the Coast Guard's interest.

Since the Coast Guard didn't have protocols in place for maintaining Fresnel lenses currently in use, the historical society agreed to be a test case to gather data, Certic said.

It was agreed that during a two-year pilot program in Montauk, the historical society would collect data on temperature, humidity and dew point in the lantern room that the Coast Guard would use to create protocol for managing the lenses.

In the past, lighthouse keepers and lampists — specialists who work on the lenses — were responsible for maintaining the lenses. But those positions largely have been phased out, according to the historical society.

“This pilot program will not only return a historic landmark to its original state of prominence for the next two years, it will provide meaningful data to ensure the preservation of important artifacts of our country's rich maritime history well into the future,” Coast Guard Capt. Steven Ramassini, chief of the Office of Navigation Systems, said in a statement.

It’s unclear what the fate of the lens will be after the two-year program concludes, according to historical society officials.

To get the Fresnel lens operational again required specific expertise.

Michigan resident Kurt Fosburg, who specializes in maintaining lighthouse lenses, said in an interview that he was commissioned to build a lens pedestal with a new motor drive system.

Fosburg visited Montauk for a site survey a few months ago and then returned home and spent more than two weeks building a new pedestal.

Then he loaded the pedestal, weighing “a couple hundred pounds,” his tools and the new motor drive system into his Jeep and drove it all to Montauk.

Using a crane, crews loaded the lens into a basket and lifted it to the top of the lighthouse where Fosburg and several others installed it.

“Slow and patient, and don’t drop anything,” Fosburg said of their strategy.

Several other improvements, such as a tower ventilation system, a window film that filters ultraviolet light in the lantern room and state-of-the-art monitors to record temperature, humidity and dew point, had to be completed as well, according to the historical society.

Arizona-based lampist Jim Woodward assisted with the lens restoration, while a $100,000 grant from the Ludwick Family Foundation of California covered the cost, according to Certic.

Richard White Jr., chair of the Montauk Point Lighthouse Committee, said in a statement that "a whole new generation" now can "experience the beautiful sweep of light that the Fresnel lens is famous for."

A lens manufactured in France in 1902 is shining high atop Montauk Point Lighthouse once again.

Earlier this month the U.S. Coast Guard relit the clamshell-shaped Fresnel lens, which guided mariners along the eastern tip of Long Island from 1903 to 1987, as part of a pilot program in partnership with Montauk Historical Society.

Commissioned by President George Washington in 1792, the lighthouse became a National Historic Landmark in 2012.

The lens was displayed in the lighthouse's museum for 36 years after the Coast Guard replaced it with a lower-maintenance light source, according to the historical society, which owns and maintains the lighthouse. 

“People always wanted it back,” said Mia Certic, the society’s executive director, who noted that the Fresnel lens provides brighter light that is visible nearly 20 miles away. 

The Fresnel lenses are known as "the invention that saved a million ships," according to the historical society.

Certic said in the years since the lens was removed, historical society officials tried to have it reinstalled — but with no success. The Coast Guard said it would be like moving backward, Certic recalled.

A closeup of the antique Fresnel lens recently reinstalled in...

A closeup of the antique Fresnel lens recently reinstalled in Montauk Point Lighthouse. Credit: Montauk Historical Society

But the historical society persisted.

“We sharpened our pencils and did a little research and we found out there are probably about 50 of these lenses that are still in operation under the Coast Guard,” Certic said.

Then with the assistance of retired Coast Guard Rear Adm. Daniel May, who had worked on a project at the lighthouse in the 1990s, the historical society pitched a plan that finally piqued the Coast Guard's interest.

Since the Coast Guard didn't have protocols in place for maintaining Fresnel lenses currently in use, the historical society agreed to be a test case to gather data, Certic said.

It was agreed that during a two-year pilot program in Montauk, the historical society would collect data on temperature, humidity and dew point in the lantern room that the Coast Guard would use to create protocol for managing the lenses.

In the past, lighthouse keepers and lampists — specialists who work on the lenses — were responsible for maintaining the lenses. But those positions largely have been phased out, according to the historical society.

“This pilot program will not only return a historic landmark to its original state of prominence for the next two years, it will provide meaningful data to ensure the preservation of important artifacts of our country's rich maritime history well into the future,” Coast Guard Capt. Steven Ramassini, chief of the Office of Navigation Systems, said in a statement.

It’s unclear what the fate of the lens will be after the two-year program concludes, according to historical society officials.

The restored Fresnel lens began casting its glow anew after its...

The restored Fresnel lens began casting its glow anew after its restoration on Montauk Point Lighthouse in early November. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

To get the Fresnel lens operational again required specific expertise.

Michigan resident Kurt Fosburg, who specializes in maintaining lighthouse lenses, said in an interview that he was commissioned to build a lens pedestal with a new motor drive system.

Fosburg visited Montauk for a site survey a few months ago and then returned home and spent more than two weeks building a new pedestal.

Then he loaded the pedestal, weighing “a couple hundred pounds,” his tools and the new motor drive system into his Jeep and drove it all to Montauk.

Using a crane, crews loaded the lens into a basket and lifted it to the top of the lighthouse where Fosburg and several others installed it.

“Slow and patient, and don’t drop anything,” Fosburg said of their strategy.

Several other improvements, such as a tower ventilation system, a window film that filters ultraviolet light in the lantern room and state-of-the-art monitors to record temperature, humidity and dew point, had to be completed as well, according to the historical society.

Arizona-based lampist Jim Woodward assisted with the lens restoration, while a $100,000 grant from the Ludwick Family Foundation of California covered the cost, according to Certic.

Richard White Jr., chair of the Montauk Point Lighthouse Committee, said in a statement that "a whole new generation" now can "experience the beautiful sweep of light that the Fresnel lens is famous for."

Fresnel lenses shine the way

  • French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel invented the lenses in the 1820s.
  • For the first time, the lenses let one lamp illuminate the way for sailors many nautical miles out to sea.
  • In the past several decades, the U.S. Coast Guard phased out many of the lenses due to maintenance requirements.

Source: Montauk Historical Society

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