The American Lighthouse Foundation’s “Keeper of the Light” award is designed to honor those individuals and organizations in the national lighthouse community who have contributed in a significant manner to the preservation of America’s lighthouses and their rich heritage.
On May 7, 2017, ALF presented Ford Reiche – owner of Maine’s Halfway Rock Lighthouse, with a “Keeper of the Light” award during the organization’s annual Gala, which was held at the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport, Maine.
The wave-swept Halfway Rock Lighthouse, located ten miles offshore of Portland in Maine’s Casco Bay, is no ordinary restoration project, but thankfully, its “keeper” – Ford Reiche, is no ordinary preservationist. Ford’s amazing passion, tenacity, savvy and “can do” spirit is a perfect match for restoring a lighthouse that many felt could not be saved.
The task of preserving Halfway Rock Lighthouse was considered so daunting that in 2004, Maine Preservation listed the sentinel on its “Ten Most Endangered Historic Properties.” The lighthouse, which was automated in 1975, received virtually no upkeep over the next four decades, and by 2013, the Federal Government placed Halfway Rock into the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act program.
Six nonprofits submitted letters of interest, but ultimately, each of the nonprofits declined to seek ownership of Halfway Rock Lighthouse. In 2014 the Federal Government deemed the historic site as surplus property and tasked the General Services Administration with excessing the light station at public auction.
At the time of the Government auction, the facility condition was as follows:
All original windows and doors in the two story boathouse had been broken out by storms, and haphazardly covered with plywood;
Birds were living in the buildings;
The 120’ boat ramp was over 50% destroyed;
Rust and corrosion to the tower’s steel components was in an advanced state of deterioration.
The Presumpscot Foundation (TPF) was not aware of the opportunity to obtain Halfway Rock at no charge, and thus was required to participate in the subsequent public auction. Bidding started among six parties, but soon was narrowed down to TPF and just two others: an owner of a Florida mega yacht who stated publicly that he just wanted to be able to tell his golf buddies that he owned a lighthouse in Maine, and a billionaire with wild plans to convert Halfway Rock to a meditation retreat after he convinced Congress to shut down the loud horn fog signal. Thus, our resolve to obtain ownership became rock-solid – like the historic site itself.
Thankfully, The Presumpscot Foundation was the highest bidder for Halfway Rock Lighthouse and was awarded ownership. Following a lengthy deed fiasco with the State of Maine, restoration work was permitted to go forward and included the following:
The restoration has included the following work:
Trash removal and demo of 1960’s era “improvements,” which seemed to go on forever;
Restoration of 150’ dock ramp, half of which had been destroyed in the Perfect Storm, plus addition of two boat moorings;
Exterior of the two story boathouse and living quarters completely renovated and painted, with replacement of all windows, doors, most of siding and wood trim along distinct locations to the 1950’s era, which is Halfway Rock’s approved Period of Historical Significance for restoration;
Interior of entire two story wood structure entirely restored to original use/spec: first story boat house/utility space, second story living space and kitchen;
Modern systems (with minimal moving parts to limit long term maintenance requirements) have been installed: composting toilet in location of original head in boathouse, replacement of electrical wiring in living quarters, domestic water system to galley sink;
The adjacent stone tower has seven levels, each with a separate entry door and room…all connected by spiral stairs working their way up. The first two levels have surface prep and painting completely, the balance of the interior is being completed presently.
All of the aforementioned work items went through the Section 106 Consultation Review Process with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission and adhere to the Secretary of the Interior’s “Standards for Preservation.”
The remaining restoration items that comprise the light station’s scope of work will be completed in 2017. This includes pointing and waterproofing the 76-foot granite tower, coating the exterior, installing nine custom windows in the lighthouse and installing a webcam that will broadcast 24/7.
According to Ford Reiche, “The demo and construction process was demanding. Everything on an island is always more difficult, but so much more on Halfway Rock. The first year of restoration was conducted without a boat dock or ramp, and we destroyed three small boats and lost two outboard motors in that process. All new construction materials and workers were shuttled out by boat; sometimes we would arrive with materials, crew and groceries for a four day work session, only to be turned back home because of unmanageable sea conditions at the rock.”
Reiche went to say, “One could say that this project is a good example of a challenge in historic preservation. HWR clearly has historic significance as a structure and as an iconic piece of Maine / US maritime history, yet nobody wanted it. It has no economic value in repurposing for anything. It has no income potential in any form, and is therefore not a candidate to benefit from the Historic Preservation Tax Credit. It was long neglected, and threatened with decay beyond repair. It is big and difficult and needy – but extremely important. And what a blast!”
For preservation excellence at an offshore lighthouse and for demonstrating the type of indomitable spirit required to save such a challenging project, the American Lighthouse Foundation is proud to present Ford Reiche with a 2017 “Keeper of the Light” award. Congratulations!