The Cedar Island Lighthouse will be restored and turned into a bed & breakfast. Photo by Genevieve Kotz
By Genevieve Kotz
Three miles off the coast of Sag Harbor stands the boarded up Cedar Island Lighthouse, which, after 40 years of being inaccessible to the public, is now on the way to being fully restored and turned into a bed and breakfast.
The development comes after the Suffolk County Legislature on June 17 agreed to extend a licensing agreement between the Suffolk County Parks Department and the Long Island chapter of the United States Lighthouse Society through 2029.
The legislation, sponsored by County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, will allow the non-profit organization and its president, Michael Leahy, to raise the money needed to properly restore the landmark.
On June 25, Mr. Schneiderman and Mr. Leahy offered details about the plans to a small group of reporters who accompanied them on a boat ride out to Cedar Point to view the building from the water.
Mr. Leahy said the plan to turn the lighthouse into a small bed and breakfast, with only two rooms, will bring in revenue for its upkeep. He believes keeping the building occupied will also deter vandalism. He has raised about $50,000 for the restoration, but now that Lighthouse, Inc. has permission from the county to raise more money, he hopes to be able to raise the $2 million needed to complete the job.
“This is the first sign of something happening,” said Mr. Schneiderman, who chairs the legislature’s Parks & Recreation Committee. “It wouldn’t be happening if it wasn’t for Michael.”
Pretty much the entire building has to be rebuilt after a 1974 fire gutted the interior. The lighthouse also needs a new roof and a dock that will allow easier access.
Mr. Leahy said the first floor will have a kitchen, a living room, and living quarters for the light keeper. The second floor will have two guest bedrooms. He said he also hopes to set up tours to allow the public to visit the historic landmark.
The Cedar Island Lighthouse was built in 1868 on what was once a 3-acre island off of Cedar Point. However, due to years of erosion, the island dwindled down to only an acre of land. In 1934, the lighthouse was decommissioned and the 1938 hurricane deposited sand, attaching the island to the mainland by way of a thin peninsula.
After the fire in 1974, East Hampton Town restored the roof, but to this day, the lighthouse remains boarded up and empty.
There are two main phases to the restoration project. Work is currently underway on the restoration of the lighthouse lantern, which was removed from the lighthouse in November 2013 with help from Chesterfield Associates and Bob Coco Construction and is currently being stored at the Breakwater Yacht Club in Sag Harbor.
With help by Jim Poitras, the lantern is being prepared for sandblasting to clean and remove rust before it will be repainted. After reinstalling the lantern, workers will put in new windows and doors.
The restoration of the lantern has been estimated to cost about $35,000 but may be cheaper, due to volunteer efforts, according to Mr. Leahy.
Mr. Leahy first got involved with Lighthouse Inc. five years ago. Having come out to the East End since 1951, he wanted to help preserve an important part of Sag Harbor’s maritime history.
“In the end, what’s left of us?” he said. “This is something that will remain.”
Mr. Leahy looked to other lighthouses for inspiration, particularly the Saugerties Lighthouse about 40 miles south of Albany on the Hudson River. It is open four days a week for $225 a night and is only accessibly by personal boat or a half-mile walk. It is completely booked for the rest of 2014.
The Cedar Island Lighthouse, which is easier to get to by water than land, is about a 15-minute boat ride from Sag Harbor, or a one-and-a-quarter mile walk from Cedar Point Park. Because of the nesting piping clovers, no one is allowed to drive to the lighthouse from mid-March to mid-August.
“It feels like 300 miles because it is so remote,” Mr. Leahy said.
For those who would want to traverse back and forth, the organization is hoping to work out a deal with a ferry or taxi boat to provide transportation.
The bed and breakfast, though, might be the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the busy summer season.
“If you come out for two days, you’d have a feeling of what it was like 100 years ago,” Mr. Leahy said. “You’d have a sense of history.”
Mr. Schneiderman, who grew up in Montauk and who has always been interested in historic preservation, recently met Mr. Leahy and was inspired by his passion for the project.
“I’m really thrilled that there’s someone like Michael out there that has the enthusiasm to take on a task of this magnitude,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “I think this will be a popular tourist attraction out of Sag Harbor.”
Together, they worked out a contractual arrangement that gave Mr. Leahy the comfort level to raise the money needed.
There were certain roadblocks that they had to overcome, including the fact that the county normally puts language in the contract that allows it to cancel any agreement. To prevent this, there is a clause that says Lighthouse Inc. will be reimbursed if the county decides to drop the project.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Mr. Leahy said. “Jay and the county doing what they are doing has been very helpful and we appreciate it.”
For more information – or to make a donation or offer volunteer services – for the Cedar Island Lighthouse, visit www.cedarislandlighthouse.org.