On the evening of October 15, 2006 history was made in a grand and emotional fashion when the Avery Point Lighthouse in Groton, Connecticut, was relit for the first time since 1967, capping a six-year, $500,000 restoration that in many ways was nothing short of amazing when considering the adverse odds associated with the project at its outset in 2000.
The Avery Point Lighthouse Society has not only demonstrated a relentless dedication to saving the once severely endangered lighthouse, they have also set a standard of excellence in the process by showing what an unwavering commitment can accomplish despite having to constantly conquer obstacles throughout the arduous restoration process.
During the activities leading up to the relighting ceremony on October 15th, those who closely followed the efforts of the Avery Point Lighthouse Society could plainly see what an accomplishment this project evolved into. Though the beautifully restored beacon itself sparkled like a crownjewel at the edge of the University of Connecticut’s Avery Point Campus, it was the faces of the APLS volunteers that told the real story – beaming with deserved pride as the festivities unfolded into one memory in the making after another.
In many ways, the APLS volunteers actually outshone the lighthouse the night of the relighting – for it took a group of unbelievably dedicated people to make such a momentous occasion possible in the first place. Those in attendance helped celebrate a specific moment in time with the members of the Avery Point Lighthouse Society, but lighthouse preservation is not just one moment in time, but rather a long and winding journey built upon a foundation of passion and hard work, one achievement at a time.
Thus this amazing journey could never have been adequately captured in an evening ceremony where the audience and participants could only see the accumulative end result of APLS’s passion, dedication and skills in the form of a restored lighthouse. In order to completely understand the true essence and magnitude of their accomplishment, all in attendance wouldhave also had to feel and know the group’s many sacrifices and frustrations incurred over six years of laborious toil where often times it was difficult at best to keep the faith that there was indeed an unseen light at the end of a dream called Avery Point.
In the aftermath of the relighting ceremony, the three chairpersons of the Avery Point Lighthouse each took an opportunity to reflect on the group’s six-year struggle to save the historic structure from the clutches of fate:
“Personally the relighting of the lighthouse provided me with a great deal of satisfaction knowing that we, the members of the Avery Point Lighthouse (APLS), were responsible for not only saving a local landmark but also a significant piece of maritime history,” said Jim Streeter.
Streeter went on to note, “Everyone on the APLS Steering Committee has given so much of themselves and their time over a six-year period inpursuing the restoration project. The relighting of the beacon showed what persistence and a burning desire to pursue a project could result in. I am so proud to say I am a member of this group. In my mind not only is the Avery Point Lighthouse a memorial to light keepers and lighthouses across America, but to those who worked so hard in pursuing their mission of saving, restoring and relighting it.”
Ron Foster touched on what it meant to share their success with the community, saying, “Up until the relighting ceremony the work to save, restore and relight the lighthouse was shared by only a few people, mainly the dozen or so members of the Avery Point Lighthouse Society. At times it became very frustrating but we shared many good times together along the way as well. It was a wonderful feeling to have hundreds of people to share this dream come true with. After all, the reason we worked together to relight the lighthouse was not for us but for the many who will use it as a navigational aid, those who will learn about our maritime history through it, and those who will visit it and walk along the memorial walkway.”
The historic occasion was also a moment where those who worked so hard for the beacon’s restoration suddenly found that the culmination of the experience also stirred their innermost emotions. Ron Foster recalls his feelings during that moment, noting, “It was a very emotional moment for me to listen to the USCG band playing patriotic music, to look out over the crowd and to see many familiar faces from the lighthouse community around the country, and to watch our granddaughter, Lexis, push the ceremonial button with Ken Black and Fran Mainella. When the button was pushed and our son, Joe, pulled the cover off of the Carmanah LED lens, the emotions welled up and I found it impossible to control the tears in the eyes and the lump in the throat. I am proud to have been a part of this historic restoration project with the dedicated volunteers of APLS.”
Dale Treadway of APLS observed the reactions of the audience with admiration, saying, “It was wonderful to hear the crowd’s exclamationswhen the light came on! I thought to myself at the time that the greater percentage of the some 2000-plus supporters in attendance who could be heard ‘oo-ing and ah-ing’ as the beacon was relit were not even old enough to have seen the lighthouse originally shine forth in service from 1944 to 1967! This experience at the relighting ceremony, along with the more than 6 years of work during the restoration of the Avery Point Lighthouse, was the culmination of a difficult, and at times frustrating, process, but to see the green flashing beacon light up the night for the first time in nearly 40 years – well, it was breathtaking!”
The ceremony at Avery Point was not only about celebrating the beacon’s restoration and relighting, but also about our nation’s lighthouse heritage and its importance. You might say the event served as a bridge of sorts back to America’s lightkeeping past, with the Avery Point Lighthouse standing tall as a monument to the devotion and duty of those who trimmed the wicks and kept the lights shining from the birth of our great country in an effort to safeguard human lives and property.
Jim Streeter explains, saying, “Prior to becoming involved in the Avery Point Lighthouse restoration project I knew very little about lighthousesand their operation. Like many others I looked at a lighthouse for little less than its beauty. Over the past six years I have learned so much about lighthouses and their keepers. These structures and the people who kept them operational should go down in history as heroes. I think about the hours the keepers and their families spent in isolation to provide protection to maritime traffic. The work the keepers performed was labor intensive and never ending. They received little public attention or recognition for their efforts. Therefore I hope by officially dedicating the Avery Point Lighthouse to the lighthouses and keepers it will finally bring some well-deserved recognition to these important people and structures.”
Ron Foster echoed Streeter’s sentiments, noting, “I found it fitting to rededicate this sentinel to lightkeepers and lighthouses everywhere, not just America. From the early keepers who, with their families, lived in remote locations and raised their crops, livestock and children while tending the lights, to the present day USCG who have manned the lights since 1939, the job these people performed was difficult and, many times, not too rewarding. I think it is a fitting tribute to have this sentinel dedicated to these fine individuals.
Dale Treadway concurred, saying, “I feel that this is a justly and richly deserved honor to all of the stalwart beacons throughout this grandcountry and to the men woman, and yes, at times, the children of the keepers of these lights, who stood by their stations under the worst conditions and the many who died in this service – they deserve our praise and all the honors we can bestow on them.”
The successful restoration of Avery Point Lighthouse was not just a “win” for APLS and the American Lighthouse Foundation, which APLS is a chapter of. It wasalso a tremendous victory for the lighthouse preservation community nationwide. Success breeds more confidence within the consciousness of the general public, and donors in specific, all of which helps other lighthouse projects around the country through positive awareness and the ability to derive the diverse best practices that can often benefit other efforts far and wide.
The leadership of APLS realizes the restoration of Avery Point Lighthouse can have a positive impact on the rest of the American Lighthouse Foundation’s preservation projects, as well as those in the lighthouse community around the country, and their hope is that their “win” can indeed help others in the process. “This project will hopefully be a highlight in ALF’s efforts to preserve our nation’s lighthouses and maritime history,” said Ron Foster. “It should be a feather in ALF’s cap and serve to bring other people into the movement to preserve more lighthouses for future generations.”
Dale Treadway, who played an important role in bringing the plight of Avery Point Lighthouse to the attention of the public through media outlets and magazines like Lighthouse Digest, a publication that placedthe structure on their ‘Doomsday List’ back in 2000, is also excited about what this project means. “We received the support of the lighthouse community through ALF and were aided along our path to achieve this wonderful end – the rededication and relighting,” said Treadway. “Along the way ALF brought us in contact with the New England Lighthouse Lovers, and they were a great supporter as well!”
Though the historic night when Avery Point Lighthouse was relit has passed, the event now belongs to the ages and will forevermore serve as a shining example to the lighthouse community as to what a determined and talented group of volunteers can accomplish when they “stay the course” and work hard.
How would Jim Streeter, Dale Treadway and Ron Foster hope the public remembers from this accomplishment? Streeter begins by noting, “I hope the community and lighthouse enthusiasts will walk away from this historic event with a desire to save and restore other lighthouses throughout America. The Avery Point Lighthouse came so very close to being lost forever, but it now stands tall in all its glory, thanks to the efforts and support of so many people. Be persistent in your desire to save other lighthouses and never, never give up.”
Ron Foster expresses his thoughts, saying, “I hope that they learned that determination and steadfastness by a small group of individuals can makea difference when seeking to save our historic buildings. I also hope that it helped to educate them more about our lighthouses and maritime history, as well as give them a sense of pride when they visit Avery Point and the memorial walkway.”
Dale Treadway concurred, noting, “I truly hope that we have shown our community and lighthouse enthusiasts that through community support, much can be achieved by pulling together on what appeared to be a lost cause when it was scheduled for a date with the wrecking ball at the close of the 1990s! There are many more lighthouses, as well as other historic structures out there in need of help and I believe that we have proven that a grassroots group with a can-do attitude can achieve miracles!