Lighthouse keepers in America may no longer tend the lights of our great nation but that doesn’t mean all the “wickies’ have gone away. In fact, one keeper in particular still maintains a faithful watch for lighthouses, but instead of minding a light he is helping save a beacon for present and future generations.
Stephen Jones, a former keeper at Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse in Delaware Bay, has spent the last four years helping the Avery Point Lighthouse Society, a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation, with aspects of the restoration of Avery Point Light. The lighthouse, which is located on the University of Connecticut’s Avery Point campus, was in danger of being lost in 1999 due to the structure’s advance deterioration. The unchecked decay of the lighthouse over the years had caused it to become what many deemed a safety hazard. If it was not for the passion and resolve of the Avery Point Lighthouse Society (APLS), the beacon might not be standing proud today.
Jones, who serves as a professor at the University of Connecticut, has played a major role in this shining example of a lighthouse preservation project that goes beyond the typical donation. Thanks to his kindness and strong interest in the project, the lighthouse now sports a new lantern in place of the previous structure that had deteriorated beyond repair. In addition to the fabrication of the new lantern, which was built by Mark Robinson of 2-B Sailing at Jones’ West Mystic Wooden Boat Company in West Mystic, Connecticut, the former keeper and his son Geoffrey also played a major role in its dramatic delivery to the site at Avery Point.
On September 21, 2005, Stephen Jones orchestrated a 13-mile trip with the lantern through Fisher’s Island Sound and Long Island Sound aboard his tugboat CHIEF, as Geoffrey Jones stood at the helm and skillfully guided the vessel along its exciting journey to the Shennecossett Yacht Club. Jones explains why the nearly 2,000-pound lantern was transported by water rather than over land, noting, “The best way to get it to Avery Point and avoid all the low-hanging branches and wires over the streets of Groton was to do it by boat.”
Jim Streeter, co-Chairman of the Avery Point Lighthouse Society, concurred with Jones on the choice of transportation for the lantern, but took it one step further, saying, “This is a maritime event and this is the way it should be brought in. All of us, as well as the community, have this feeling that it is finally coming to completion.”
Co-Chairman Dale Treadway captured the essence of Jones’ contribution of the new lantern to the Avery Point Lighthouse, saying, “After all these years of work, this is really wonderful. This accomplishment will really open up history again – our beacon of hope is back.”
The donation of the lantern by Stephen Jones, which was an estimated $48,000 in materials and labor costs, went beyond a wonderful physical improvement to the overall restoration of Avery Point Lighthouse. Jones’ kindness also buoyed the spirits of the APLS volunteers who have labored for the last five years on the nearly $500,000 restoration project. Jim Streeter explains, saying, “The lantern donation was not simply a monetary contribution. Steve’s kindness helped bolster our organization’s morale, as well as providing us with even more incentive to continue our work to carry the project through. It was a tremendous boost to the Avery Point Lighthouse Society knowing good people like Steve were supporting our efforts. The fact that he is also a former lightkeeper working today to help save a lighthouse like Avery Point was special too.”
Jones didn’t simply donate and deliver the new lantern to Avery Point Light — he also witnessed the reestablishment of the elegant structure built of mahogany and copper. On September 30th a telescopic crane under the supervision of Joseph Gnazzo Company, Inc., hoisted the lantern high in the air and gently placed it down on its majestic perch atop the 55-foot stone-block tower. Jones commented “It gave me quite a lift coming over the hill, just seeing it…I never grow tired of it.”
So why does Avery Point Lighthouse mean so much to Stephen Jones? The Mystic River Press noted, “Jones grew up on Pine Island Bay, just a stone’s throw away from where the lighthouse stands, and that “During World War II, he monitored U.S. cruisers and submarines moored there.” But Jones’ appreciation for the lighthouse goes far deeper than simply growing up nearby Avery Point. The former keeper of Harbor of Refuge Light (1961-62) explains, saying, “One of the last pictures I have of my parents is of them standing in front of the Avery Point Lighthouse. So when people ask me why this project is so important, I simply tell them it’s part of my family.”