Back in 1846, the first Key West Lighthouse was demolished by a hurricane. However, 153 years later another hurricane named Irene could not dampen the spirits of the attendees at 1999 National Lighthouse Conference held at Key West, Florida.
"Lighting the New Millennium" was the theme of the last national lighthouse conference of the century that despite the weather related power failures, did much to illuminate the current and future state of lighthouse preservation.
"Partnership" and "Cooperation" seemed to be the buzz-words for the entire conference, something which needs to be learned by lighthouse groups nationwide.
A number of dignitaries from various government agencies and the private sector spoke and served on numerous panels discussing everything from the Coast Guard's new role, to lighthouse preservation, lighthouse tourism, fund raising, and the future of the lighthouse information and historical data on the Internet.
One of the more interesting parts of the conference was the thought-provoking presentation by Tom McGrath, Superintendent of the National Park Service. Titled, "Saving Offshore Lighthouses: The Last Frontier of American Preservation or Lunatic Fringe," McGrath defined off shore light stations as those that are hard to get to, perhaps as many as 200 in the United States. At an average cost of $11 million to save these lighthouses, he asked "How many can we afford to save?"
Despite the cost and obstacles, McGrath gave examples of off shore lighthouses that have been saved, such as St. Helena Light-Station in Michigan. One of his questions was, "Is saving an offshore lighthouse worth risking the lives of volunteers and visitors?" He then went on to ask other provocative questions, such as, "Can American lighthouse preservationists accept decay as a treatment?" and "Where does the boundary between saving offshore lighthouses and the lunatic fringe begin?" McGrath offered no easy answers, but his presentation offered much food for thought and debate.
Henry Stephenson of the National Lighthouse Museum gave a slide/talk presentation about the future plans of the new museum which will be located in the former Lighthouse Depot site in Staten Island, NY. One of the new developments was the uncovering of facts that the Romer Shoals Lighthouse was originally stored at the Lighthouse Depot before its placement on Romer Shoal. The lighthouse is now in disrepair, and there is ongoing discussion with the Coast Guard about the possibility of bringing the structure back to Staten Island as part of the new museum.
Although the lighthouse conference was cut short by the hurricane, attendees agreed that through the presentations and simply getting to know one another they all gained a deeper sense of how important it is to share hard-earned knowledge about how to save our historic lighthouses.
This story appeared in the
December 1999 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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