November 17, 2018
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‘Everything pops now’: Major renovations bring new life to iconic Nubble Light

Rich Beauchesne | The York Weekly
Rich Beauchesne | The York Weekly
The Cape Neddick Light Station, also known as Nubble Light, underwent major renovations over the summer.

YORK, Maine — The Cape Neddick Light Station will be strutting its stuff during this year’s Lighting of the Nubble, with a new, clean and sparkling look following a major renovation of the lighthouse keeper’s house and the light tower.

It is the first time in many years that the buildings on the island have undergone a thorough restoration, including the main building, as well as the workshop and utility building. Visitors last summer and this fall would have noticed the scaffolding that was erected as each section of the house, outbuildings and light tower was brought back to life.

In fact, work just wrapped up last week, several weeks later than anticipated, said Jim Leslie of JB Leslie Co., which specializes in lighthouse restoration.

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“The biggest challenge was from Sept. 15 to yesterday,” he said last week. “We were struggling with seas almost every other day.”

Parks and Recreation Director Robin Cogger said it’s important to remember the buildings are still on an island, even if it’s just separated to the mainland by a short distance. “It doesn’t matter how far away it is, they still have to get there. It’s been prohibitive to get back and forth.”

But, said Leslie, it’s a small price to pay: “Everything pops now.”

The work was undertaken after Groundroot Preservation Group of York conducted an exterior condition assessment in 2017 and found widespread problems associated with buildings in an extreme marine environment. At the same time, the Cape Neddick Light Station is on the National Register of Historic Places, so all work has to be approved by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.

“The whole place was in rough shape,” said Leslie. “Everything on the keeper’s house was failing. The lighthouse was badly rusted.”

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JB Leslie was hired by the town last February, and has since been awarded contracts totaling $238,000 for two phases of work. Phase 1 involved exterior work to the keeper’s house, the connector building to the lighthouse, the red generator building and the small white keeper’s workshop. During Phase 2, Leslie and his crew removed all the paint from the cast iron tower itself, repainted it, as well as repaired or replaced the railing around the light itself.

All costs for this and future work are paid for through Sohier Park gift shop revenue; no taxpayer funds are used.

The lighthouse work was interesting, said Leslie. First of all, they took off “layers and layers” of existing paint that had built up over the years, stripping it down to bare metal. For that work, said Leslie, the crew had to suspend 600 feet of 2-inch hose weighing 6,000 to 7,000 pounds across the gut, connected to a large compressor at Sohier Park.

“We strung a separate cable and then mounted it to existing hard points, and had to pull the hose across the gut. And it had to be to a high tension. There couldn’t be a sag. It took six guys to pull that hose to the other side,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s ever been taken down to metal before, but if it has it’s been a while. It was failing badly, including the rust we removed.”

Two coats of primer and three coats of special marine-grade paint were needed to deal with a troublesome surface. “It’s such an imperfect surface — rough and bubbly. That’s the nature of a cast iron lighthouse. But now it has five layers of paint, and it stands out. That’s the intention. We want people to say, ‘Wow that looks good.’ We wanted it to be striking.”

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He said when it came to the railing around the light, the preservation commission wanted them to be restored as much as possible, “but a lot had to be rebuilt or replaced.”

The restoration work is not done yet, said Cogger. She is seeking an estimated $80,000 in the fiscal year 2019-20 capital plan to replace the roof of the keeper’s house, to undertake structural repairs to the keeper’s workshop (the smaller white building) and to replace the picket fence. Again, the funds will come from gift shop revenue.

“That’s kind of the success story of the gift ship. It’s generating the revenue that is affording us the opportunity to get this work done,” she said. “It’s a treasured landmark. Every 30 years or so, you have to put the work in to continue to maintain it routinely.”

As for the Lighting of the Nubble, Leslie donated all the labor for his crew to put up new LED lights outlining all of the buildings. And the workers and Leslie will be the guests on Nov. 26, accorded the place of honor of actually turning on the lights at the end of the countdown.

“It speaks to the relationship we’ve formed with him. We’re very pleased with the work he’s done. He has a great passion for this niche of repairing and bringing back these lighthouses,” Cogger said.

Lighting of the Nubble

This annual event for residents and visitors alike kicks off the holiday season in York. Festivities start at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 26, with seasonal carols by Fox and Fern as well as the York High School Chamber Singers. At 5:45 p.m., Santa arrives to bring holiday cheer to children of all ages, and the lights come on at 6 p.m. Free shuttles will be leaving from Ellis Park starting at 3:30 p.m.

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