They went up for a vacation and came home with a 133-year-old lighthouse. Well, it was almost as simple as that... almost.
In July of 2002, the Faust family left their New Jersey home for a week’s vacation at Henderson Harbor in upstate New York. Sherry Faust recalls how they found out about the Stony Point Lighthouse. “There was a little old man who used to come over every night to see what we had done that day,” she says. “He wanted to know where we went in the boat, what we had seen, where we had gone. He asked, ‘Have you seen the lighthouse?’ No, we hadn’t seen it, and he told us that you have to go down around the point (for a look). The day we came out (to see it), we got caught in a storm. We saw it but just briefly. When we got back that night he asked ‘Did you guys see it?’ We said ‘briefly,’” The little old man said, “Well, if you had a million dollars you could buy it.” Sherry laughs.
Sherry says that on the way back home the family discussed how nice it would be to have a place on the lake — in this case, Lake Ontario. She went on to tell me that for about the same amount of time it takes them to get to the Jersey shore, they can be at the lake and avoid the traffic and crowds.
So Sherry Faust took to the computer. “I remember seeing the realty sign, went on the web, searched the realty company and BOOM, the first thing that came up was the lighthouse. I said to myself, ‘That is what the little old guy was talking about.’ So I called the realtor.”
Sherry says they got home on a Sunday. She and husband Willie, who owns a heating and air-conditioning business, went back up on Tuesday to take a look at it and came back home that night. Two days later they made an offer and three months later closed on it. Not for the one million dollars that the unnamed “little old man” had said, but for the sum of $272,500. “The kids thought we were totally insane,” Mrs. Faust states.
Now comes the part Sherry Faust says is reminiscent of the movie The Money Pit.
“Willie had come up in the winter (of ‘02-’03) with some friends and co-workers and demolished the whole inside. We didn’t know it was going to be as extensive as it was.” Sherry said the interior of the house portion had several modifications over the years that were not true to the style of the building. “The ceiling in the living room was wavy, but when they took that down, there was a false ceiling, there was another one above it. When they took that one down, it was like ‘Oh my...’ the main beams had been taken out! Beams that should have not been cut for plumbing. So we knew at that point that everything was going to have to come out. They gutted the whole entire thing.” The Fausts met with architects who came out to the lighthouse and said that house was not structurally sound, although the tower was OK. “That’s when the roof came off, the second floor came off, down to just the rock (foundation).”
Sherry says the neighbors were starting to become concerned, to say the least. “They thought, ‘These New Jersey people are taking it (the lighthouse) down? What are they doing?” But they were able to put to rest the neighbors’ fears. “There were a million things we could have done with it, but we knew we had to make it like it used to be (as much as possible). So it’s like you’re building a new structure, but it’s looking the same as the old (one). Really the only difference, we made the dormers a little bit bigger (and the fireplace chimney is gone).” They are planning to reuse as much of what is left of the original fixtures as possible.
As the contractor and crew worked what seemed to be almost seven days a week (they really liked working on it), the Fausts (kids ‘n all) came up to work on it also almost every weekend they could during this past summer. Sometimes their weekends at the lighthouse were the length of a “work” week while just going back to New Jersey for two or three days at a time. They stayed at the “non-light” house on the property during the renovation. That house is what the Coast Guard built for their crew when the lighthouse was decommissioned in 1945 and they moved the beacon to the first of two skeleton structures onsite.
The first Stony Point Lighthouse was erected in 1830, and part of its foundation can still be seen on the shoreline of the property. In 1869, the current structure was built with a 73-foot square tower that now has been repointed and repainted. It is said that in 1966, a fire from a nearby barn caused extensive damage to the lighthouse. That could explain why the renovation has to be so extensive.
The first keeper was Wiley Gilbert Nickles, who served in the first of the Stony Point lighthouses for 30 years. During that time he lost both of his hands to cannon fire during a Fourth of July celebration in nearby Sackets Harbor. He continued to work at the light with the assistance of his wife and daughters.
Reportedly one of the last lighthouse keepers there was Miles E. Eggerston, who worked the light for 37 years. It is said that in 1902 he received the gold life saving medal for saving five people and a dog from a wreck that year.
Although construction costs continue to climb for the Fausts as they find something new to deal with at every turn, they say they have enjoyed meeting with the many people who have shown an interest in the project. Sherry says, “Everybody is so nice, they’re so interested in what we’re doing. The neighbors are totally supportive with everything we are doing.”
The lantern has been rewired for electricity. Sherry Faust says they will ask the Coast Guard if they would be willing to put their beacon back in or on the lighthouse. Failing that, they plan to have some sort of light in the lantern so it won’t be dark anymore.
Their current plan is to use the lighthouse as a summer home, although Sherry says the use of it as a year-round residence is a possibility down the line. “We were here in February when the temperature was minus 40. The ice on the lake was a blue color — it was gorgeous. You could hear the water still underneath it, but you could hear a pin drop out there. It was the quietest place on earth, it was unbelievable.”
This story appeared in the
October 2003 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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