Historic Lighthouse Walkway A 'Once-in-a-Lifetime' Project

October 11, 2011 at 12:00 PM

By Joey Cresta, Sea Coast Online

Rye- A construction team has spent the last month living on White Island while building a new historically accurate walkway to the island’s lighthouse.

Jeff Thurston of Thurston Mill Works in Concord said there have been some “brutal” conditions, but living on the old lighthouse keeper’s cottage with six other crew members has been a “once in a lifetime” opportunity and the job is one “you work your whole life to get.”

Thurston’s team is finishing up the $340,000 project to build a new triangular walkway on the island. The old walkway was built in the 1800s and lasted until a storm battered it in 2007. The new one is designed with historical accuracy in mind, but thanks to better materials, it should last even longer than the original, he said.

Lighthouse Kids, a local nonprofit group focused on saving New Hampshire’s only offshore lighthouse, has played a major role in restoring the site.

The island is owned by the state, which has a memorandum of understanding with Lighthouse Kids to work as partners to preserve the historic site said Sue Reynolds, founder of Lighthouse Kids.

Reynolds, a retired North Hampton teacher, started the group with her students in 2000 to raise money to restore the White Island Light when it fell into disrepair.

She said the latest effort is the result of a combination of a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant and matching state funds.

The challenging terrain resulted in some problem solving during the construction process.

Thurston said a large barge was rented to ship in premade segments of the 118-foot wooden walkway and used a helicopter to life then into place.

Some days were so windy crews could barely work, and the have found it difficult to leave the island because there is no dock, he said.

“The house is kind of rough,” he said of the keeper’s cottage, which is not regularly occupied because the lighthouse is not automated. “It needs a lot of work, but we have a gas oven and some solar panels we hooked up, so we have electricity.”

Thurston’s crew of six is now down to three, and those remaining plan to leave Wednesday, and week ahead of schedule, he said.

Despite the tough conditions, Thurston said, he will miss the moments of beauty, such as watching the sun set or the moon shimmering off the ocean.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” he said.

White Island is one of the nine Isles of Shoals, four of which are considered part of New Hampshire.

Watch the NH Chronicle video.