The Cedar Island Lighthouse lantern arrives at the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Society on Friday. Photo by Stephen J. Kotz.
By Stephen J. Kotz
Following a short procession with a police escort, the lantern, which once graced the top of the Cedar Island Lighthouse, made its way from the Sag Harbor Yacht Yard to a temporary home on the grounds of the Sag Harbor Historic and Whaling Museum on Friday morning.
Michael Leahy, who is spearheading the effort to raise about $2 million to renovate the lighthouse and convert it into a bed-and-breakfast, hopes placing the lantern in a very public place will spur donations to the cause.
The lantern was removed from the old lighthouse in November 2013 by Chesterfield Associates and Bob Coco Construction and moved to the yacht yard where it was cleaned, sandblasted, painted its original black.
Mr. Leahy, the president of the Long Island chapter of the United States Lighthouse Society and chairman of the restoration committee, said if all goes according to plan, the lantern will be ready to be placed back on the lighthouse as early as fall of 2015.
“First, we have to replace the roof,” he said. “I need to raise the money for that. If all goes well I can raise the money this winter and maybe next fall we can do it.”
Mr. Leahy, who pegged the cost of the roof project at “several hundred thousand dollars,” said the lighthouse restoration committee is looking for grant money and large donors with deep pockets to help with the fundraising effort.
Although Mr. Leahy had originally estimated that it would cost about $50,000 to totally restore the lantern, he now thinks the job will come in at about half that cost, thanks to all the volunteer help he has received.
The lighthouse was constructed on what was then Cedar Island in 1868, its beacon powered first by whale oil and later kerosene. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1934.
“It was in the middle of the Depression,” Mr. Leahy said. “Things were no different then than they are today. The biggest cost of anything is people. They could have little flashers doing the job instead of having a person there.”
Mr. Leahy said preservationists would like to have a replica made of the fresnel lens, which was removed when the light was decommissioned, although it would not be operational.
Cedar Island was joined to the mainland by sand deposited during the Hurricane of 1938, and eventually the abandoned lighthouse became a target for vandals. A fire in 1974 caused major damage. Although East Hampton Town replaced the roof, the building was boarded up and left alone.
Mr. Leahy said two similar lighthouses on the Hudson River were demolished. The Saugerties Light on the Hudson, about 40 miles south of Albany, was turned into a bed-and-breakfast.
Last summer, Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman announced a deal in which the county would allow the lighthouse society to transform the Cedar Island Lighthouse into a two-bedroom bed-and-breakfast as well, although those plans remain years from fruition.
Mr. Leahy said the Sag Harbor Historical Society had offered to place the lantern on the lawn of its headquarters at the Annie Cooper Boyd House on Main Street, but he later approached the whaling museum as it had more space and because of obvious ties of whaling to the lighthouse.
The museum’s board was receptive to the idea and a deal was quickly struck to allow the move. Barbara Lobosco, the board’s president, said it was “a perfect fit” to place the lantern on the lawn of the former home of whaling ship owner Benjamin Huntting III.
Mr. Leahy praised the museum’s board, Greg Therriault, the museum’s manager, and his staff for their cooperation. He also praised Lou Grignon, the owner of the yacht yard, and his staff, for their help in storing and refurbishing the lantern.
In the meantime Mr. Leahy said he would like to revisit a plan to place a set of binoculars, similar to those on landmarks such as the Empire State Building, so visitors can take a peek at the lighthouse, which is visible from the end of Long Wharf and a major piece of local history.