New Bern, NC – INTRO - Work continues on restoration of the Bodie Island Lighthouse, though recent discoveries threaten to delay its reopening until 2011. George Olsen has more.
Regular travelers on the Outer Banks motoring south on Highway 12 can be excused if they believe a landmark along the road has disappeared.
"Last three months we began setting up scaffolding. Most people as they drive by are noticing a big difference at the site. I don't think most people realize there's a lighthouse there. They drive by with the scaffolding up and wonder what the park service is doing. We see comments where people say what are you guys doing, building a water tower?"
Doug Stover, a historian for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. What they are seeing is the restoration process of the Bodie Island Lighthouse, which with scaffolding enveloping it, is virtually out of public view. Preparations for the renovation began last summer with work getting underway in earnest last December. To date, the scaffolding is up, the 1st order Fresnel lens that beams light 19 miles over the ocean has been taken apart and removed and the process of removing all the metal pieces of the lighthouse including the balcony and roof is underway. When some of those metal pieces return what was once old will be new again sort of.
"So at the foundry right now they are actually taking some of those historic pieces that came off the lighthouse and melting those down along with more stabilized metals such as zinc and that will help prevent the cast iron from breaking up and rusting as cast iron does. So we've begun melting those materials and pretty much the casting has gone well."
Stover says this is a relatively new technique that's running counter to what typically happens in historic preservation. With the Bodie Island Lighthouse, innovative techniques like this may be necessary to preserve it as Stover says they've found the lighthouse closed to climbers for about 15 years is in worse shape than they expected.
"Pretty much cables and brackets were holding this lighthouse together, and it was really kind of a scary situation about a week ago when we removed those cables and brackets, its like a band-aid once you cut the elastic band off, what happens, it expands and that's exactly what happened to the Bodie Island lighthouse. It did some settling during that time so we're going to have to go in and do some exploratory into the brick work, the interior of the brick, to see what's causing these hairline fractures."
There are further problems up top problems which could delay a hoped-for December 15th re-opening of the Lighthouse.
"As we removed the brackets that hold the balcony, those brackets have hairline fractures across the brackets which had been covered up with many years of paint, so now we're doing an analysis to determine if we have to replace the brackets or do interior repairs to the brackets to stabilize those."
Stover said the original contract for repair of the Lighthouse called for replacing two of those brackets but they're finding all eight may need replacement. They were due to go back up in the middle of June but if the brackets have to be replaced rather than repaired it could delay the completion of the project by 2-3 months. Stover for one is pushing for the job to be done right rather than good enough, saying he sees no sense in opening on-time to the public and then having to close it down again. It wouldn't be the first setback in regards to a Bodie Island Lighthouse this is the third erected with the 1847 lighthouse abandoned because of a poor foundation and the 1859 version destroyed during the Civil War by retreating Confederate troops. This one went up in 1872 and when opened back up with the surrounding non-developed National Park Service land will offer climbers a view that extends back nearly 150 years.
"This is one of the lighthouses that still, its one of the most beautiful views you could imagine. Today when you climb that lighthouse and you walk along that balcony the view is identical to what the keeper saw when he was there in 1872."
Doug Stover is a historian for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. I'm George Olsen.