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This blog is a place for dialogue on issues and actions relating to Boston's unique built environment and the preservation and continuing evolution of historic resources within it. My goal, as the Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, is to post timely, relevant and thought-provoking intelligence, ideas, and insights that will engage conversations, inform our actions, and broaden perspectives on preservation.

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Greg Galer, Executive Director, Boston Preservation Alliance

GREG GALER
Executive Director

AllianceViews Blog

Preservation Achievement Award Winner: Boston Light

October 19th, 2016  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

In anticipation of our 28th annual Preservation Achievement Awards ceremony on October 24, we are profiling each of the eleven winning projects over the next several weeks. Follow this series to get a special look at projects that honor and update the character of Boston.


It’s not particularly well known that Boston Harbor is the site of America’s first lighthouse, and Boston Light on Little Brewster Island celebrates its 300th birthday in 2016. The beacon of Boston Light has provided navigational guidance at the entrance to Boston Harbor and welcomed sailors and passengers to our city since before our country existed. In fact, its history is intimately associated with the Revolution. The original rubble stone, granite, and brick structure lit the way for the first time on September 14, 1716, and heralded the start of Boston’s success as a port city. However, the light we see today had a break in service during the Revolutionary War when the British had captured the island and American troops on two occasions in 1775 destroyed it to keep it from functioning to benefit the British. Construction of a new lighthouse, following closely to the original plans, began in 1783 on the original site, and this is the structure that still stands today.

Boston Light.

Boston Light.

One can imagine, though, the punishment that the lighthouse and its support structures face given the building’s island location exposed to the elements of the sea and weather. Imagine facing a Nor’Easter on Little Brewster Island at the far edge of the Harbor. Significant wear and deterioration had occurred over many years. A large team of Coast Guard staff and contractors contributed over several years to make this challenging project (imagine the difficulties of getting materials and equipment to the site) a success, from Coast Guard Sector Boston which oversees the operation of the Light, to the Coast Guard’s Civil Engineering Unit in Providence which managed the project.

Boston Light.

Boston Light.

The US Coast Guard looked to the future of this site from two angles. The first was the preservation of the historic structure through structural and cosmetic repairs, and the second was to make it more environmentally friendly for a sustainable future. The structure’s exterior wood trim rotted from years of exposure to sea spray was replaced to replicate the original; building roof was resurfaced with cedar shingles. Inside, the light itself underwent a complete resurfacing of the mortar to seal the granite bricks that comprise the lighthouse tower. Solar power is now used for the light’s emergency beacons, and the waste water treatment system was completely replaced in order to ensure that no pollutants enter the Harbor. Outside of the building, an old underground fuel take was removed to guarantee no fuel would enter the site’s soil.

A central illustration of Boston’s reputation as an international port, the Boston Light embodies the tradition of its commercial and maritime history alike. And Boston Light remains the only one in the nation still “manned,” in this case a woman, keeper Sally Snowman.

Sally Snowman with visitors.

Sally Snowman with visitors.

As the first of America’s lighthouses, it has guided many boats safely to shore in its 300-year history and will continue to do with this successful restoration and upgrade project. Open for tours seasonally, visitors can visit to learn about our country’s commercial and Colonial history. With its completion, Boston Light will continue to be an aid to navigation and a site teaching Boston and our nation’s maritime past for generations from a real place where history happened.

The view from Boston Light.

The view from Boston Light.

 

Do you think Boston Light is the best of the best? Then vote for it for this year’s Fan Favorite! Vote once per day until October 24. Join us that evening at the Paramount Theater to find out if your favorite won, and to celebrate the preservation of Boston’s vibrant built environment. Tickets on sale now!

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