MONTAUK, NY, November 6, 2023 — The 3-1/2 order Fresnel lens that beckoned mariners safely into Montauk between 1903 and 1987 has been returned to active service in the lantern room in which it served during all that time. The antique lens, manufactured in France in 1902 by Barbier, Bernard & Turenne, had been a feature of the lighthouse museum for 36 years, ever since the Coast Guard replaced it with lower-maintenance light sources.
“We could not be more pleased to be able to allow a whole new generation the chance to experience the beautiful sweep of light that the Fresnel lens is famous for,” said Richard F. White Jr., chair of the Montauk Point Lighthouse Committee and, for many years, an advocate of returning the optic to the tower. “Those of us who grew up in Montauk have tremendous affection for that bright, reassuring beam, so we’re especially happy that the Coast Guard is allowing us to participate in this exciting pilot program.”
The pilot program was designed to provide important data about lens maintenance to the Coast Guard. At one time, many hundreds of Fresnel lenses burned brightly in lighthouses across the country, and keeping them in tiptop condition was part of the job description of lighthouse keepers and Coast Guard lampists. Today, only about 50 Fresnels remain in lighthouses — 21 of which are in the Northeast’s First District, which extends from the Canadian border south to New Jersey — as the Coast Guard has been phasing them out systematically, along with lighthouse keepers and lampists, in an effort to streamline the Aids to Navigation system. Nowadays, if you see a Fresnel lens, it’s much more likely to be in a museum setting, and those that remain in unmanned lighthouses aren’t getting the kind of attention that they would have enjoyed in their 100-year heyday.
“We saw this as a unique opportunity,” said Matthew Stuck, USCG First District Waterways Chief. “The Montauk Historical Society was very eager to put the 3-1/2 order lens back up in their tower, and they were willing to perform daily maintenance tasks and keep detailed records and logs for the two-year duration of this pilot program to help us create new protocols for managing our Fresnels. In addition to that, they provided everything necessary to satisfy the Coast Guard Curator’s requirements regarding temperature, humidity and light control in the lantern room.”
Those requirements were quite onerous, and involved a complete restoration of the lens, along with removal of the mercury in its pedestal — both accomplished by Jim Woodward, one of only five lampists whose work is approved by the Coast Guard. In addition, 3M UV-light-filtering window film was applied in the lantern room by TriState Sun Control; a ventilation system for the tower was designed and installed by SchroffTech; and state-of-the-art monitors were provided by Avtech to record temperature, humidity, and dew point. Finally, a new pedestal and gear mechanism were designed and constructed by Kurt Fosburg, another Coast Guard-approved lampist. All of this had a hefty price tag, which was largely relieved by a six-figure grant from the Ludwick Family Foundation of California.
“Thanks to the Ludwick family, and especially their youngest trustee, Nicole Warner, whose idea it was to award us this grant, we had the luxury of being able to say yes to all the improvements that the Coast Guard needed from us,” said Mia Certic, executive director of the Montauk Historical Society. “We are endlessly grateful to them.”
The Montauk Point Lighthouse also has the advantage of a dedicated team of employees led by Site Manager Jason Walter, who is himself a retired Senior Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard. “We will have a fair bit of responsibility in maintaining the lens and keeping the daily logs and records,” he said, “but this is a very exciting opportunity and we are equal to it.”
Joe Gaviola, president of the Montauk Historical Society Board of Directors and lighthouse resident, concurs. “The public/private partnership that we enjoy with the Coast Guard is something that we treasure. I know that each and every person on our team is more than willing to go the extra mile to make this work.”
The Montauk Historical Society owns the Montauk Point Lighthouse, and is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.
Contact: Ariana Garcia-Cassani