Contractors hired by the National Park Service are midway through the delicate two-week task of reassembling the original 1858 lens of the Fire Island Lighthouse.
The 9,000-pound lens was removed from the lighthouse in 1933 and displayed at a Philadelphia museum until 2000. It returned to Long Island in 2007 and its 900 pieces were stored until five weeks ago, when a month of restoration began. A week ago the reassembly began in a new building next to the tower.
The $360,000 project to restore and reassemble the 10-foot-tall brass and glass lens that sits on a 10-foot-tall cast-iron base is being overseen by “lampist” James Woodward, a 40-year Coast Guard veteran who owns an Arizona-based lighthouse lens preservation company, The Lighthouse Consultant LLC.
His crew has restored the 24 glass-and-brass prism panels, which were made in Paris, by replacing deteriorated glazing putty and covering five breaks with brass patches the same way the U.S. Lighthouse Service once did in the early 1900s.
The lens remains all original with the exception of three replacement elements: 10 brass “chariot wheels” on which it rotates, because the originals had been modified by the Lighthouse Service; the brass eight-legged “spider” that holds the top of the lens together, because the original was lost in Philadelphia; and the motor that rotates the lens.
The lens is being restored in a new cedar-covered structure being built above the foundation of an 1895 generator building of similar appearance.
The Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society is handling the $560,000 building construction project. The cost has been reduced by trade unions providing volunteer labor and 27 vendors that have donated materials, said contractor and former society board member Kenneth Herman, who is managing the project as a volunteer.
The building, with an arched zinc roof, will be dedicated July 22.
Kurt Fosburg, left, and James Woodward, behind the lens, secure the Fire Island Lighthouse's bull's-eye lens into the frame. The lens is being reassembled in a new exhibit building erected on the foundation of an old oil storage structure beside the lighthouse. (April 29, 2011)