Ohio’s Ashtabula Harbor Lighthouse, built in 1905 and enlarged in 1916, was the last manned lighthouse on Lake Erie. The light was automated in 1973, but its 1896 rotating fourth order Fresnel lens remained in use until 1995. That year, the lens was removed by the Coast Guard and loaned to the Ashtabula Marine Museum, where it was put on display. The lens’s old age took its toll in recent years, as the glazing putty dried out and some of the 72 prisms loosened. That’s where Jim Woodward, the nationally renowned “Lighthouse Consultant”, comes in.
Woodward is one of only four men in the U.S. who can properly call themselves “lampists,” which means he’s qualified to repair and restore the priceless works of functional art known as Fresnel or classical lighthouse lenses. Of the four lampists, Woodward is the only one who apprenticed under a lampist in the old Lighthouse Service.
A resident of Cleveland, Ohio, Jim is known affectionately as “Woody” to his many friends in the world of lighthouses. Through four decades, he’s played a role in 120 lens restorations and has earned unparalleled respect. He’s worked on some of the most high profile lenses in the nation, including the second order lens from White Shoal Light (Michigan) and the first order lenses from Assateague Light (Virginia), Heceta Head Light (Oregon), St. Augustine Light (Florida) and Farallon Island Light (California). He even ventured slightly outside the U.S. to repair the first order lens in Gibbs Hill Light in Bermuda.
Woodward has frequently been called upon to work wonders on huge first and second order lenses, which were among the largest ever made. But he approaches every lens, no matter of its size, with the same respect and dedication. When the Ashtabula Marine Museum hired him to restore the fourth order lens, lighthouse technology historian Tom Tag said the museum’s directors had selected the right man.
“He’s number one,” said Tag.
The Ashtabula job took about a week in early December. First, Woodward disassembled the lens and removed all
the loose putty with dental tools. He reassembled the parts using modern non-lead-based putty. He also realigned the lens’s round bull’s-eye panels, which had become misaligned from decades of vibration from wind, waves and museum visitors’ footsteps.
Before he starts his actual work, Woodward typically runs through a job in his head two or three times. He says that patience is the key in this delicate work; he’s been known to take a day figuring out the best way to remove a screw without doing any damage. During the Ashtabula project, museum visitors were invited to observe the master lampist at work. Woodward wondered if the painstaking process might look a little boring to the casual visitor. He sums up the labor-intensive process by likening it to “taking apart a steam shovel with tweezers.”
A $10,000 grant from the Lake Erie Protection Fund paid for the restoration. Bob Frisbie, assistant director of the Marine Museum expressed his satisfaction with Woodward’s work to a local newspaper, the News-Herald. “He’s remarkably professional. It takes time and work, but it’s well worth it,” Frisbie said. The restored lens should be good for at least 50 years without any additional major work, says Woodward.
The Ashtabula Marine Museum (also known as the
Great Lakes Marine & Coast Guard Museum) is in a building that served as the lightkeeper’s house before the present lighthouse was built. In addition to the lens, the exhibits include ship models, paintings, marine artifacts and miniature handmade brass tools that actually work. For more on the museum, see www.ashtcohs.com/ashmus.html on the web,
or call (440) 964-6847.
For more on Jim Woodward, the Lighthouse Consultant, visit www.lighthouseconsultant.com or call (216) 961-6114.
This story appeared in the
March 2006 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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