Esopus Meadows Lighthouse, in the middle of the Hudson River in New York, stands straighter and prouder than it did a few years ago thanks to a highly dedicated band of local preservationists. “We are losing too much of our past, and I want to know that I have helped preserve a small portion of it,” says Sharon Jones, summing up her reasons for being a part of this effort since 1997. Sharon has been director of the Save Esopus Lighthouse Commission (SELC) since 1999.
Sharon was born and raised in Freeport, Long Island. When she was 11 her family moved to Kingston, New York, and Sharon’s maritime career got started soon after that. Her father worked in a marina owned by Sharon’s aunt and uncle, and by the age of 13 Sharon was also working there. Her parents started their own marina in 1978, and now Sharon runs the family marina — Certified Marine Service, Inc. - with help from her brother Bill and her husband of 32 years, Fred Jones.
The Joneses live close to two Hudson River Lighthouses, Esopus Meadows and Kingston Rondout Light. Esopus Meadows Lighthouse had been essentially abandoned after its decommissioning in 1965. The preservation organization was originally started in 1990 by Arline Fitzpatrick, but the group became inactive when Arline became ill. The Save Esopus Lighthouse Commission was restarted in 1997 by Pat Ralston, who says, “I’m just so proud to be involved with this group. All the ‘nay sayers’ went away, but the people that really cared and had a fire in the gut to save this lighthouse are still there.”
What’s so special about the Esopus Meadows Lighthouse? “It is the last wooden lighthouse on the Hudson River,” explains Sharon. “The Hudson River is very busy with heavy traffic, both pleasure and commercial vessels. Without the lighthouse there would be numerous vessels stranded on the flats. This lighthouse also sits in an area that is surrounded by historical mansions, state-preserved lands and estuary study programs that are both private and public. We hope to incorporate the lighthouse into the environmental and estuary programs.”
Years of neglect, along with ice and erosion, had left the lighthouse unstable and leaning toward the east shore. Grants received from the Hudson River Improvement Fund, Greenway Heritage Conservancy, and the Department of the Interior enabled the SELC to complete structural engineering, architectural surveys and specifications, as well as emergency repairs, extensive carpentry and the shingling of the mansard roof. The building was jacked up and leveled and now sits securely on new H-beams.
After the start of the restoration process, the main goal of the SELC became ownership of the lighthouse, which had been leased from the Coast Guard on a long-term basis. The years of effort paid off on September 22, 2002 when the Esopus Meadows Lighthouse charter group (part of the SELC) received the title for the lighthouse under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2002 pilot disposal program. “We all went through that day with smiles, laughter and vast relief,” Sharon recalls.
During the transfer ceremony, a symbolic key to the lighthouse was presented to Sharon by Commander Keith Turo of the Coast Guard. Before and after the ceremony, visitors were given a tour of the lighthouse to see first-hand the work done by volunteers. “It was very important to take people to the lighthouse,” says Sharon. “Until you go out there it is very hard for others to understand our hopes, dreams and determination.”
Sharon’s work encompasses many other maritime causes in addition to the lighthouse. She received the 2002 Lou Del Santo Hudson River Stewardship Award for her tireless efforts “to protect and promote all uses of the estuary.” And believe it or not, every spring Sharon somehow finds the time to hold a striped bass tournament and seminar, and another striped bass tournament for children.
“I have made many new friends with this group and I am always amazed at their determination,” says Sharon of the SELC. “We work through illness, busy work schedules and family obligations. This lighthouse is a fever that comes first with our working members. Being at the lighthouse, watching the faces and hearing the love and pride that each member feels towards the lighthouse and each other, makes one realize that some projects are well worth the time and commitment that they demand.”
For more information contact Sharon Jones, Director, Save Esopus Lighthouse Commission at P.O. Box 1290, Port Ewen, New York 12466. Or visit them on the web at www.esopusmeadowslighthouse.org
This story appeared in the
December 2002 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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