It has been nearly five decades since the wood floors inside the keeper’s house at Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse have been free to shine apart from the accumulated grime of time.
Since the automation of the light in 1965, the brilliance of the floors had been doused with a dingy assault of dirt, tar, spilled paint and scratches.
Yet beneath all of the grime and wear were wood floors still in fine condition – just waiting to be renewed by the fervor of a professional restoration.
Thanks to the dedicated efforts of the Friends of Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse, a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation, this possibility has finally become reality.
On September 30, 2011, Don Dickel Wood Floors of Winterport, Maine, wrapped up a week-long project in which the vintage luster of the light station’s Douglas fir floors was returned. In the wake of the company’s talented efforts, the interior of the keeper’s house has taken on a whole new and wonderful appearance.
“Don Dickel Wood Floors did such a good job with this project, it seems as if the wood floors always looked this way,” said Eric Davis, chairman of the Friends of Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse. “They simply look great!”
The project required crews to spend two days sanding the wood floors on the first and second levels of the dwelling, before applying the appropriate coats of Tung oil. The process of renewing the wood floors was capped with the application of a Butcher’s wax in each room, hallway and closet, which was then buffed and toweled to a gleaming shine.
When asked about the oil and wax process, Don Dickel, owner of Don Dickel Wood Floors, explained, “Tung oil feeds the wood. You have to feed wood or otherwise it dies in the form of rot. So whereas Tung oil seals the grain of the wood, the wax in turn protects the wood from wearing.”
Like any other restoration project that has occurred at Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse over the years, the site’s location proved once again to be challenging. Despite the lighthouse being connected to land by a 7/8-mile-long stone breakwater, the site remains impacted by many of the same difficulties that accompany the care of an offshore lighthouse.
The breakwater is too long and irregular to haul heavy equipment out over it, and besides that, is often awash at high tide. Although crews did walk to and from the lighthouse on a number of days, they did so without their equipment, which had to be transported to the site by boat.
“One of the biggest hurdles for us was just getting out here,” said Don Dickel. “We couldn’t forget one tool or piece of equipment; otherwise, we would have had to make time consuming trips to shore. Good planning was essential.”
As for the project itself, the most challenging aspect proved to be the removal of tar on the kitchen floor.
So why was tar present on the kitchen floor at Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse in the first place?
Dickel explained, saying, “Prior to the advent of plywood, wood floors receiving Linoleum were prepped with an initial layer of tar, then 30-lb felt paper was laid overtop, before another layer of tar was applied to the felt paper. Together the felt paper and tar would bridge the gap between the original wood floors and the Linoleum – allowing for the expansion and contraction of the Linoleum.”
Dickel went on to shed light on the use of Douglas fir as the choice of wood for the floors during the construction of the keeper’s house in 1902, noting, “Hardwood floors will buckle up all over the place due to humidity and cold temperatures, but not Douglas fir. The reason is because of the high sap content found in Douglas fir. This wood will not move or expand. Just look at how tight these floors are here in the keeper’s house over a century later.”
“Further, in the case of this lighthouse, the wood used by the original builders was taken from the heart of the Douglas fir tree, which is really rare. We only come across wood floors like this once every five to ten years.”
Dickel concluded, “The contractors who installed these floors did a great job. There is plenty of life left in these floors – at least another 100 years.”
“As for our efforts, the gratification we receive from a project like this is very high. This is a floor guy’s dream!”
In the end, the success of the wood floor restoration project proved to be outstanding, but it would not have been possible without the behind the scenes work that went into the effort before work even commenced at the lighthouse.
This is where Don Dickel Wood Floors demonstrated a commitment to adhering to the historic standards that complimented their longstanding expertise in the field, which includes a wood floor restoration project in the keeper’s house at Maine’s Swan’s Island Lighthouse.
Abbie Thompson of Don Dickel Wood Floors worked closely with the Friends of Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse and the Maine Historic Preservation Commission during the consultation review process, and remained an invaluable resource throughout the duration of the project.
In addition to Don Dickel and Abbie Thompson, the remainder of the Don Dickel Wood Floors team that worked at the lighthouse included: Aaron Gibbs, Nick Marshall, Matt Gibson and Matthew Sullivan. A job well done by all!
Now that the wood floors inside the keeper’s house have been restored, the next phase will prove to be just as exciting – the planning process to outfit the kitchen, living room and two upstairs bedrooms with period furnishings.
“Once we close the lighthouse for the season, the Friends of Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse will get busy over the winter preparing to carry out its interpretive plan for each of the rooms at the site,” said Eric Davis. “We can’t wait for visitors to see the restored floors in 2012 and be able to watch how the rooms will come to life as they are outfitted!”