By Ron Foster
When the New England Lighthouse Lovers (NELL) was originally organized in 1998 I was asked to make a presentation about Avery Point Lighthouse in Groton, CT (my hometown) at the very first organizational meeting. You would have thought that my love for lighthouses and the fact I was living in Groton for over twenty years at the time that my knowledge of Avery Point Light would be vast. Nothing could be further from the truth and, in fact, I didn’t even realize that it existed.
As I set out to gather information about this structure, which is located on the University of Connecticut Avery Point Campus, I learned of a grass roots effort started by Jim Streeter and Dale Treadway to save this historic beacon. It was at that point that I contacted Jim, who also was a local historian, and arranged to pick up materials that would inform me about the history of this lighthouse and aid me in teaching my audience about the grassroots effort to save it. Little did I know that this meeting would result in my commitment for the next eight years to help save, restore and relight the Avery Point lighthouse, while allowing me to gain some very close friendships.
NELL’s very first public-invited meeting was held, coincidently, on the UCONN Campus at Avery Point in April of 1999 and our very first speaker was Elinor DeWire, teacher, lighthouse historian, author and dear friend. As she so often does, Elinor inspired NELL with her love for lighthouses and reiterated the need for all of us to work for the preservation of lighthouses so that future generations could also learn from and enjoy them. I will always remember how Elinor refused the speaker fee that day and encouraged us to donate the money instead to the restoration efforts of Avery Point lighthouse.
As NELL grew in size the organization was also able to raise and donate substantial gifts of money to help various lighthouse restoration projects throughout New England. In October of 2002 NELL donated $1,500 to Avery Point Lighthouse Society for the purchase of a door for the tower at Avery Point. That seems like such a long time ago and the struggle to restore this lighthouse has not been an easy one. But in spite of the many setbacks, in February 2006 the door to this tower was finally installed. It looks beautiful and is an exact replica of the original door that had once adorned this tower.
The Avery Point lighthouse is almost 100 percent restored and it looks as stately as it did in 1944 when it was completed and the beacon first lit. The last 70 feet of the new memorial walkway leading to the tower will be installed in the spring of 2006 and hopefully the tower will be fitted with a new beacon and relit by October 2006. This will be the culmination of the efforts of so many people and will be the crown jewel on the UCONN Avery Point Campus. This tower will once again be alive and help guide mariners to safe harbor.
I should note that the community loves the 800-plus foot memorial brick walkway and the requests to purchase bricks never ceased, even though the original shutoff date for ordering them came in May of 2005. It is for that reason, and the fact that additional funds are needed to help maintain the lighthouse and eventually build a small museum inside of it, that the brick sales have just recently started up again.