NORTH EASTHAM — Jeremiah Berube was on an aerial lift 40 feet in the air removing rust from Nauset Light on Thursday. An angle grinder in hand, the wire wheel whirring away years of accumulated rust, Berube could see miles out to sea, and the lay of the coastal land around him.
He worked just below the level of the lighthouse that was temporarily shut down while restoration work continues. His was an unparallel view. To the east was the glistening ocean, the rolling undulations of the water coming in waves towards the beach.
Berube, Paul Francis and site superintendent Joe Scarfone have called Nauset Light “home” since Sept. 14 when they arrived to work on the storied beacon. The men work for the Historic Preservation Division of ICC Commonwealth. Their task is to preserve as much of the original lighthouse as possible and replace only what is necessary.
“Rust is the big issue,” Scarfone said.
Corroded handrails running outside the lantern room where the light shines will be replaced. Corrosion on the lantern wall and on bolts and flanges underneath the watch room will be descaled, resealed or replaced, if necessary. Masonry will be repointed. Spalled brick will be removed and replaced. Vents will be installed between the outer cast-iron shell of the lighthouse and its interior brick wall.
Susan Abbott, vice president of the Nauset Light Preservation Society, was on site Thursday to check the progress. The Society is responsible for the lighthouse, even though it’s located within the Cape Cod National Seashore.
The National Park Service has no financial stake in the lighthouse, Abbot said. The Society is responsible for the maintenance, interpretation programs and the light itself, even though the Park Service owns the lighthouse.
The Society has contributed $10,000 from its funds and $11,000 from its fundraiser towards the renovation work, Abbott said. An anonymous donor contributed $10,000. Eastham voters approved $180,000 in Community Preservation Act funds for the project. Any costs over $31,000 will be spent first, then the CPA money, she said.
The 48-foot-tall, 90-ton lighthouse was built in 1877 in Chatham. It was moved from Chatham to Eastham in 1923. In 1993, with only 50 feet remaining from its base to the eroding dune cliffs, the Coast Guard planned to darken and dismantle the lighthouse. That’s when the Society was formed.
By 1996, the Society had raised enough money, coupled with a grant from the Department of Transportation, to move the lighthouse 300 feet from the cliffs. The National Park Service gave the Nauset Light Preservation Society a partnership agreement to operate and maintain the light as a “private aid to navigation,” and the tower was opened to the public for tours. Thousands of tourists and residents have visit it annually, Abbott said.
“People love the lighthouse,” Abbott said. “They think it’s romantic. And it’s a huge part of maritime history.”
Scarfone is still fascinated with lighthouses, and he’s worked on about 30 of them in his career. His work has brought him all over the country. He’s worked on the Gay Head, Race Point and Wood End lighthouses on the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard.
“You can find a Dollar General anywhere,” Scarfone said. “Not lighthouses. They’re all different.”
Not everyone appreciates the work that went into keeping them in working order, Scarfone said.
Nauset Light used to run on whale oil and kerosene. The keeper had to make sure there was enough fuel to keep the light going through the night. Because there was no electricity, he had to keep a wooden clock mechanism wound so the beam of light would circle the lantern room throughout the night. He also had to keep the windows of the lantern room clean so mariners could see the light at sea.
Today’s Coast Guard lighthouses have LED lighting, are automated and require no nightly fueling or clock winding. The Society decided not to install LED lights at Nauset. “LED lights don’t have that romantic sweep that people love,” Abbott said.
And because it is a private navigational aid, the lighthouse doesn’t have to have LED lights in it.
The restoration work is expected to be completed by the end of this month. The Society plans to open the lighthouse up to tours eventually. They used to offer tours three to four days a week prior to the pandemic. Schedules were posted on its website and at the Seashore’s Salt Pond Visitor Center.
The lighthouse continues to draw visitors, even though it’s closed to the public, Abbott said.
Forty-four steps lead up to the circular watch room where two round windows look out over the ocean and another looks inland. Beadboard covers the 10-foot-tall walls. A trap door leads up to the lantern room and the light. A storage closet stands against the southern side of the room.
Warm sunlight poured in while Scarfone considered his good fortune to be working on the project. “It never grows old,” he said.
Editor’s Note: Due to incorrect information provided to the Times, funding figures in the original version of this story for the renovation and repair work at Nauset Light were inaccurate. The story has been updated with the correct numbers.
Contact Denise Coffey at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @DeniseCoffeyCCT.