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 April 28, 2019, ALF presented Dolly Snow Bicknell of Project Gurnet & Bug Lights with a Keeper of the Light award during the organization’s annual Gala, which was held at the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport, Maine.
Dorothy Snow Bicknell, or Dolly as she is known to her family and her many friends, was born in Marshfield, Massachusetts, on Boston’s South Shore. Dolly’s entrance into the field of maritime preservation happened early in life. As the daughter of the famous author, preservationist, and “Flying Santa” to the lighthouses, Edward Rowe Snow, Dolly grew up having adventures visiting islands and lighthouses and delivering Christmas gifts to lighthouse keepers and their families. In fact, the first time she accompanied her father on his Flying Santa mission to New England’s lighthouses, she was less than one year old.
We are honoring her today for her contributions to lighthouse preservation, but she has had many other accomplishments. For instance, she was a 2012 inductee into the New England Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island. She began playing tennis competitively at age 11 and has been one of the icons of the New England tennis scene as a player, and also as a teacher at the Kingsbury Club in Kingston, Massachusetts.
Dolly is also known as much, if not more, for her tireless volunteering and fundraising for many good causes. She has been riding her bicycle in the 192-mile Pan Mass Challenge, which raises funds for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, for 33 years. She also donates the payments for her tennis lessons to the Pan Mass Challenge. Dolly’s efforts have raised nearly three quarters of a million dollars for cancer research. Dolly is also a former president of Friends of Cranberry Hospice and a past Walk for Hospice of the South Shore Co-Chair.
Dolly deserves recognition for those aspects of her life, and in fact was she was honored just a couple of weeks ago with a “Greater Love” gala event thrown by the Hull Lifesaving Museum, an organization for which she has been a longtime member of the board of directors. But we are honoring her today primarily for her advocacy of lighthouse preservation as the longtime president of Project Gurnet and Bug Lights.
Dolly became involved with the organization back in the 1990s when it was known simply as Project Bug Light. It had been formed back in 1983 to save Duxbury Pier Lighthouse, the first offshore caisson lighthouse in the United States, built in 1871. After the initial effort in the 1980s saved the historic structure, the organization had virtually dissolved when Dr. Don Muirhead of Duxbury, a pediatrician and avid sailor, spearheaded a new preservation effort. He convinced Dolly to get involved and soon she became the group’s president in 1999. She still holds that title today, 20 years later.
In 1999, the Coast Guard turned over Plymouth Light, also known as Gurnet Light, to the organization. Hence the name change to Project Gurnet and Bug Lights. The organization also now cares for the 1962 keeper’s cottage, which has been completely renovated and is available as a rental property with 100% of the profits going to the restoration, preservation, education, and maintenance projects of Project Gurnet and Bug Lights.
In Dolly’s 20 years as president, both Duxbury Pier Light and Plymouth Light have been repaired and painted several times, including the reshingling of Plymouth Light in 2007 and the restoration of the lantern room in 2010. More than 10,000 volunteer hours have gone into the maintenance of the two properties, and the group also cares for the earthen berm of Fort Andrew at the Gurnet. Project Gurnet and Bug Lights also conducts tours of Plymouth Light and Fort Andrew for over 500 people each year, many of them during the very busy “Opening of the Bay” event each May.
Last year, the organization enlisted a conservationist from Gravestone Conservation Services to restore the tomb of Hannah Thomas, the first woman lighthouse keeper in America, in Kingston, Massachusetts. A ceremony was held and a special marker was placed on the site just a couple of weeks ago, with a large audience and Dolly as the MC and Sally Snowman, America’s only official lighthouse keeper today, in attendance.
Through the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, the organization was awarded ownership of Duxbury Pier Lighthouse in 2018, and the deed transfer ceremony is happening soon. Meanwhile, the group is working to secure permitting and to raise as much as a million dollars for a revetment to protect Plymouth Light and Fort Andrew from erosion.
As anyone involved with lighthouse preservation knows, the job is never really finished. As Dolly said in a video portrait produced by filmmaker Rob Apse, “It’s a fragile coastline and we do the best we can to be the keepers. Lighthouses are magical. We’re lucky that they’re still around, and we’re going to do our best to keep them.”
Dolly’s best on behalf of the lighthouses has been extraordinary, and for that we are proud to honor her with the American Lighthouse Foundation’s Keeper of the Light award.