OWLS HEAD, Maine — The 185-year-old lighthouse perched on a point at Owls Head is looking shabby. Rust stains drip down the otherwise white tower, the iron stairway inside is rusting off three layers of paint — all different colors — and stones that act as the tower’s foundation have slipped down the 80-foot cliff.
But with the help of federal funding, the lighthouse is about to get a makeover. Starting Monday, the American Lighthouse Foundation will begin an $80,000 refurbishing project.
Cheryl Simmons of Westfield, Mass., who has gone up and down the coast from her home state to Maine, calls herself a lighthouse fanatic.
“This is in rough shape compared to the other ones I’ve seen,” Simmons said, gazing up at the 30-foot lighthouse Saturday.
It’s a sentiment that Eric Davis, chairman of Friends of Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse, has heard before. He and Owls Head Lighthouse volunteers keep the tower open as often as they can in the summer, and they get some complaints about the small tower on the steep cliff.
“People recognize that this lighthouse is in sad shape and needs attention,” Davis said. “Hopefully, that appeals not only to their hearts, but to their pocketbooks.”
Bob Trapani, the executive director of the American Lighthouse Foundation, said Owls Head Lighthouse is battered by the weather each year, leading to the dilapidation.
“The Northeast winds take a beating on the structure. Once the paint deteriorates and water gets in here and it freezes,” he said, pointing at the mortar between the bricks, “it busts the joints.”
The water leaks into the tower and erodes the mortar there too.
“It’s a big job,” Trapani said Saturday.
Keeping visitors happy, interested and invested is important, he said.
“They don’t build these anymore,” Trapani said, standing in the tower. “You try to make sure that when people visit, they get the experience they would have 100 years ago.”
Repairs, which will wrap up in late June, include repointing the interior and exterior brickwork, repainting the tower exterior, stripping and repainting the interior stairs a traditional red, removing plaster from the interior brick walls, fixing a wiggly ladder inside the tower and repairing the stone foundation.
At the same time as the federally funded $80,000 project restores the lighthouse, the Coast Guard will invest $168,000 for historic restoration of the lantern, the granite slabs the lantern sits on, and the ironwork and windowpanes that surround the light.
Owls Head Lighthouse joins Pemaquid Point Lighthouse and Wood Island Lighthouse, which also received money through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The three lighthouses were awarded $380,000 for preservation.