Owning one lighthouse is unusual enough, but two?
Thursday, the New London Maritime Society will take ownership of the Race Rock Lighthouse off New London, less than three years after it took over the New London Harbor Light, both from the federal government at no cost.
“It all happened very, very quickly,” Susan Tamulevich, the society’s executive director, said. “All of a sudden we have it.”
Tamulevich said the society was surprised by the speed — less than a year — for the decision on Race Rock. The process took nearly eight years for the New London Harbor Light.
“It’s a superb lighthouse,” Tamulevich said. “On the structural end, it is totally sound. It was built with great courage. It was a terrible place to build. It took seven years. But it was built and built solid.”
Race Rock, first lit in 1879, has a 3-1/2 story lighthouse incorporated into a 2-1/2 story, Gothic Revival-style granite lighthouse keeper’s dwelling. It was constructed under the direction of engineer Francis Hopkinson Smith, who also built the foundation for the Statue of Liberty in New York.
On top of a rich maritime history, many lighthouses have ghost stories associated with them, often involving the keepers and their families.
Tamulevich said the biggest challenge is safely navigating the swift current by boat to reach the lighthouse. A boat dock and breakwater has long been damaged making it difficult to anchor a boat for long periods of time, something that needs repairing.
Inside, most of the repairs are cosmetic, peeling paint and plaster. There are no utilities.
Tamulevich said she does not yet have an estimate for what repairs will cost for Race Rock, but it could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. It will soon launch a $300,000 restoration of the New London Harbor Light, the cost divided between donated funds and the time of professional tradespeople.
The ownership of Race Rock is being transferred as part of a program to relieve the federal government of the costs of maintaining lighthouses. While still important for seafaring safety, they are less critical in the GPS-era. The beacons of the lighthouses still remain in use.
For more about what it’s like to to buy, renovate and own a lighthouse, read Lighthouses For Sale: Own A Piece Of Nautical History
When a lighthouse is offered, non-profits and public agencies, including municipalities, are given the first shot, at no cost, if they agree to preserve it for cultural or education purposes. If there are no suitable takers, an auction for the general public is held. Bidding typically begins at $10,000.
See a video here of Race Rock Lighthouse:
Two lighthouses in Connecticut — the Saybrook Breakwater Light and the Penfield Reef Lighthouse — are up for auction to the public this summer.
Word is already spreading locally that the maritime society is taking over Race Rock, Tamulevich said. She’s already taking a call from a volunteer that might be able to help repair the breakwater.
“And I’ve taken my first call from a paranormal,” she said.