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Friday, 4 August 2017

Spring Ledge Point Lighthouse - Maine - U.S.A.

What a difference a year can make –
how hard work and good fortune can help preserve a lighthouse
By Brian Durham

Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse - 2015
Owning a lighthouse is not easy. The lovely location in or near the ocean is also a very harsh environment. Wind, water, humidity and corrosion are ongoing threats that must be addressed.

Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse - 1897
Spring Point Ledge Light in South Portland Maine is a caisson-style light that went into service in May of 1897. A cast iron caisson was sunk to the bottom in 12 ½ feet of water and secured by four screw pilings into the rock. The caisson was filled with concrete and a cast iron and brick light structure erected on top.

Subsequently, granite rip rap was placed around the caisson to protect it from ice damage and in 1951 a breakwater was built connecting the light with the shore. The light structure remains on the bottom submerged in the water – neither the rip rap nor the breakwater keep the caisson dry.

Lighthouse in 1951 with new breakwater
In the 120 years since the light was built the seams between the caisson’s cast iron plates have deteriorated, allowing salt water to enter the structure. Some of the concrete has been damaged by salt water intrusion and the freeze/thaw cycle. Most of the cast iron plates are corroded and the reinforcing bands placed around the caisson in 1915 and 1929 have failed. Prior engineering surveys recommended removing some of the rocks around the caisson to allow a detailed structural analysis of the cast iron and concrete. This could cost up to $100,000 to find out how many more hundreds of thousands of dollars must be spent to fix things. Fortunately, the light is structurally sound for the moment and this project can be safely postponed while we conduct a major fund-raising effort.

Immediate concerns were water intrusion, corrosion and damage to the light above the water line. Rain and spray were leaking in and the water and high humidity were damaging the structure. This was caused by several factors:

When the Coast Guard automated the light in the 1960s they replaced all opening sash windows with glass blocks. The glass blocks are weather tight but cannot be opened for ventilation. Since the light is closed most of the time the internal humidity is quite high. Even when the light is open there are only two doors that can be used for ventilation – one at the bottom and one at the top. A dehumidifier failed to solve the problem.

From 1897 to 1934 kerosene was used for the light. Atop the lantern room roof was a ball vent to allow the heat and smoke from burning kerosene to escape. There were also vent holes on the sidewalls of the lantern room to allow combustion air to enter and allow regulating the flame. Over the years, the ball vent had corroded and the internal baffle that kept water out had rusted away, allowing rain and salt spray to leak in.

The lantern room windows had more than a hundred years of glazing repairs, very little of which was with modern materials. So, the windows were letting water in as well.

The result was that water leaked from the lantern room down into the assistant keepers’ quarters and was corroding the iron floor beams where they tie into the brick walls. We needed to stop the leaks, reduce the humidity level and fix the structural damage to the floors and walls. Thus was born the Weathertight Project, which we started in earnest in May of 2016.

Assistant Keeper's Quarters
While we were committing some of our maintenance reserve funds, we needed to seek grant monies to complete the project. We were fortunate to partner with Bill Bayreuther, CFRE, of Readfield, Maine, who helped us locate and apply for grants. With his assistance, we were successful in getting grants from the U.S. Lighthouse Society, New England Lighthouse Lovers, the Morton-Kelly Charitable Trust and the Davis Family Foundation.

We were also fortunate to have locally a contractor with extensive lighthouse restoration experience – J. B. Leslie Co., Inc., of South Berwick, Maine. We worked closely with Jim Leslie to define the project and learn from his experience before accepting his bid proposal. He started work in the fall of 2016 and expects to be done by May, 2017 – just in time for the 120th anniversary of the first lighting of the lamp!

Jim Leslie is replacing and repairing the ball vent, re-glazing the lantern room windows, repairing/restoring the floor beam bearings, and repairing brick work. He will also be replacing all the glass block windows with sash windows that can be opened to improve ventilation and reduce humidity. Mr. Leslie advised us to install mahogany windows, even though they were going to be painted, because they will last far longer than pine. He also worked with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission to get plans for the round port hole style windows to be installed in the assistant keepers’ quarters. The original plans for the light and early photographs show round windows but they were replaced with square glass block windows in the 1960s.

Much of the Project Weathertight work will be hidden. The repaired ball vent, window glazing, and masonry will look much as they always have. Other portions of the project, such as the replica windows, will be very visible and restore the lighthouse close to its original appearance. The generous support from our grantors is allowing us to repair damage, prevent further deterioration and restore the light to its proper historic appearance.

The Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse in South Portland, Maine, is owned and operated by the Spring Point Ledge Light Trust, an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) not-for-profit educational organization.

Assistant Keepers Quarter - Beams

Beams - Brickwork

Brickwork showing double wall

Ball vent ceiling panels

Ball vent opening with all panels removed

Lantern room with ball vent removed

Ball vent

Lantern room rusty base molding

Lantern room rusty floor

Lantern room rusty window sill

Lantern room vent

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