September 19, 2006  -  

Carmanah Model M702 installed at Avery Point Lighthouse.
Ron Foster, left, watches while Jim Streeter, points out the fresnel lens of the light while in the lantern room of the Avery Point lighthouse talking about the restoration project Friday. Foster and Streeter are co-chairs of the Avery Point Lighthouse Society. Photo by Dana Jensen.

Groton – Dormant for more than 30 years, the Avery Point Lighthouse will again become a navigational guide, showing mariners the way to safe harbor, when it is lighted next month.

The 55-foot-tall lighthouse along Avery Point’s rocky coast now has a self-contained LED light that runs off solar panels, approved by the Coast Guard. Made by Carmanah Technologies and about the size of a lantern, the light will blink green every four seconds, and cast light as far as 3.5 miles after Oct. 15.

It’s the last piece of the Avery Point Lighthouse Society’s restoration of the lighthouse, coming about nine years after the University of Connecticut at Avery Point considered tearing it down. A brick walkway built by the nonprofit group to solicit donations has increased its attraction to walkers and joggers and as a backdrop for wedding pictures.

The spot is unique in that from it one can see six lighthouses – Little Gull Island, Race Rock and North Dumpling in New York, and New London Ledge Light, New London Harbor Light and Avery Point in Connecticut, said APLS member Ron Foster.

The original Avery Point Lighthouse, built in 1943 by the Coast Guard, once emitted a steady white light from a cluster of eight fixed lights, but changed to flashing green in 1960. Then, in 1967, the Coast Guard moved its training center to Governor’s Island, N.Y. The lighthouse came off the navigational charts, and fell into disrepair.

Avery Point Lighthouse
The Avery Point Lighthouse, which was recently restored by the Avery Point Lighthouse Society, features an LED beacon powered by solar panels. The lighthouse, dormant since 1967, will be relit next month in a ceremony with local and state politicians in attendance. Photo by Dana Jensen.

The new LED light, which is used in buoys, is the only one of its kind inside a lighthouse in the United States that the restoration group knows of, according to James L. Streeter, co-chairman and co-founder of the lighthouse society.

A re-lighting ceremony has been long-awaited by the society, which is a chapter of the American Lighthouse Society in Wells, Maine. Members spent years securing funding through petitions, grants, testimony in Washington and donated services, all adding up to $500,000, and waded through government bureaucracy.

In 2002 the group got the lighthouse listed on the National Register of Historic Places. U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, R-2nd District, secured $100,000 from the National Parks Service’s Save America’s Treasures Act. Steve Jones, a professor at the Avery Point campus and owner of the West Mystic Wooden Boat Co., donated his services to reproduce the wood-and-glass lantern room.

The sandstone-mix bricks were replaced, along with the balustrade imported from Italy along the outer deck, which had been falling down.

For Streeter and his wife, Irma, the restoration became more than a hobby. Now they find a lighthouse every time they go on vacation. For many people, lighthouses are a spiritual experience as well as a chance to be near the water, Irma Streeter said.

Foster plans his vacations just to see lighthouses. A lighthouse represents “strength, hope and a safe harbor,” he said.

APLS members want the lighthouse to be accessible to the public and have pictures and historical information inside its cement walls.

At the Oct. 15 relighting and rededication ceremony three people will join together to light the beacon, representing the past, present and future. Various politicians and UConn representatives will speak, and Gov. M. Jodi Rell has been invited.

The sale of bricks for an extended walkway will resume to raise money to help defray costs of maintaining the structure, and for other lighthouse restoration projects.

k.warchut@theday.com

www.averypointlight.com