City, Rockport Aid Giant Lens Project

December 24, 2013

By Gail McCarthy, staff writer for the Gloucester Daily Times - A joint effort to preserve a mammoth lighthouse lens that assisted Cape Ann mariners for more than 120 years, has received a boost through two Community Preservation Act grants, approved in Gloucester and Rockport.

The Cape Ann Museum and the Thacher Island Association each received $10,000 from CPA grants in the two communities for phase two of the lens preservation project. The two organizations teamed up to return a Fresnel lens, which used to sit atop one of the Thacher Island twin lighthouses, to Cape Ann.

The lens — which is 10 feet tall and 6 feet in diameter — will have a permanent home when the Cape Ann museum reopens next year after major renovations and a redesign of its galleries.

The Gloucester City Council recently approved the city’s CPA awards, which included the museum’s application for $10,000 for restoration, preservation and exhibition of the Fresnel Lens, Phase II. Rockport’s Town Meeting approved the other CPA grant in September.

Sandy Ronan, a member of the Gloucester Community Preservation Committee, noted that CPA officials statewide were eager to see CPA funds used for collaborations among communities. The money for any CPA projects is generated through voter-approved property tax surcharges of up to 3 percent per year, combined with a partial state match drawn from property deeds fees.

The 2,000-pound lens was made in Paris in 1860 and is composed of more than 1,000 glass prisms set in a bronze frame. In the 1850s, most of America’s lighthouses received these lenses.

For many years, the Thacher Island lens was on display at the U.S. Coast Guard museum in New London, Conn., before it was put into storage. Cape Ann Museum director Ronda Faloon explained that there are two phases to the Thacher Island Fresnel Lens project, which has an overall cost of approximately $200,000.

The first, which was undertaken by the museum working with the Thacher Island Association, was to bring the lens back to Cape Ann — a mission achieved last May. The museum hired trained “lampists” to install it temporarily in museum’s Maritime Gallery until a new gallery is completed.

Each organization applied for CPA funds to support Phase II, which is to reinstall the lens in the new, permanent gallery at the museum. That work includes hiring the lampists to finalize the restoration, which means reworking the metal framing, focusing the prisms and performing the final glazing, as well as fabricating a permanent base for the lens.

The new gallery will have proper climate control, lighting, fire protection and security as required by the United States Coast Guard.

Many other educational materials will go along with the exhibit, including the stories related to the lens, the history of the Fresnel Lens, the history of Thacher Island an overview of all Cape Ann’s lighthouses and more, said Faloon.

“We appreciate the support of the CPA committees in each of our communities,” said Faloon. “We are also grateful for the support received from private foundations, thus far.”

Paul St. Germain, president of the Thacher Island Association, talked about the work done this fall when the lampists went to Thacher Island in October to remove the 6-foot diameter cast-iron lens base.

“This came out in about 12 large pieces, which we then had sandblasted and repainted in the original 1861 hunter green color. This base now sits in storage awaiting reassembly and mounting under the lens,” he said. “We are also working on a 15-minute video on the history of Thacher Island, which will be part of the museum’s exhibit.”

St. Germain said both the association and the museum have worked hard to raise money for the project, which is rooted in Cape Ann’s history. Both nonprofit organizations will continue to accept contributions for the project.

Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000, or at [email protected].

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