Swan’s Island’s historic lighthouse is getting a facelift for the first time in almost 40 years.
A Portland-based company that handles historic structures is replacing cracked and shattered brickwork on the square-shaped tower of the Burnt Coat Harbor Light Station. The work started in mid-April and is expected to cost about $172,000, said Eric Chetwynd, the lighthouse committee grants coordinator for the town of Swan’s Island.
Built in 1872 and listed on the National Registry of Historic Places since 1987, the automated lighthouse is an island icon, said Sonny Sprague, chairman of the Swan’s Island Board of Selectmen.
“It’s our historic site. It’s always been part of the community. When you come to Swan’s Island from the southern side, it’s the first thing you see,” Sprague said Friday. “Most of the visitors who come to the island end up at the lighthouse at some time during their trip here.”
The massive structure still acts as a line-of-sight feature in the daytime and flashes a dozen times a minute at night to help mariners navigate the ledges and spits of land between Hockamock Head and Harbor Island, Chetwynd said.
Tito Masonry LLC of Portland has much of the structure wrapped in scaffolding as it continues the project, which was funded by a $5,000 donation from the town, community fundraisers and an $85,000 grant from the National Maritime Heritage Grant Program of the National Park Service, Chetwynd said.
The town, U.S. Coast Guard and volunteers from Friends of the Swans Island Lighthouse help maintain the lighthouse, Chetwynd said.
“The islands and ledges have been quite dangerous to navigation,” he said. “This is a fairly heavily traveled area. You have cruise ships going into Bar Harbor and tankers going into Portland near here.”
Since 2007, the town has totally restored the lighthouse keeper’s house, the interior of the lighthouse tower, removed all lead paint from the house and tower, and converted the house’s upstairs into an apartment that the town rents for $1,000 a week during tourist season. The rent helps pay for maintenance. All of that work cost about $500,000 raised through fundraisers, grants and contributions from the town, Chetwynd said.
The town also added about two miles of trails to about 20 acres of the the island’s Hockamock Head peninsula, Chetwynd said.
The ongoing restoration of the masonry should take about three months. During that time, the keeper’s house will remain open as usual to visitors. Chetwynd said the tower will reopen once the work is finished.
The last time masonry was repaired or replaced to this degree was done in the 1980s by the International Masonry Institute, Chetwynd said.