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Governor Hochul Hails the Restored Montauk Lighthouse

Thu, 08/17/2023 - 17:42
Gov. Kathy Hochul, third from left, at a ribbon-cutting Wednesday for the restored Montauk Lighthouse. Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., second from left, spoke at the ceremony. Georgette Grier-Key, director of the Eastville Community Historical Society, is center, joined by Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, Mia Certic, director of the Montauk Historical Society, and State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid. Brenda Simmons, director of the Southampton African American Museum, is far left.
Montauk Historical Society

Gov. Kathy Hochul entered a large white tent set up at the foot of Turtle Hill Wednesday evening and sat in the front row, while Dick White, treasurer of the Montauk Historical Society, was speaking at a lectern adorned with a seal of the Montauk Lighthouse. 

She was there to celebrate the completion of several restoration projects. From the tent, waves could be heard lapping against a new $38 million revetment, a pile of incredibly large and strategically placed rocks, while barn swallows looped over the meadow dominated by the 110-foot Lighthouse, newly patched.

"The last governor to visit Montauk Point Lighthouse was Governor Pataki, when he broke bread with us 20 years ago," said Mr. White, giving way to Mia Certic, the executive director of the society.

Ms. Certic used her time at the mic to acknowledge "the Montauketts and other native peoples of the East End on whose ancestral homelands we gather," before Joe Gaviola, "the keeper of the Light," stepped in to introduce the governor.

The Lighthouse, Governor Hochul said, "has paralleled our entire nation's story, through everything, the Civil War, the Vietnam War, and most recent developments. When you think about a country that could be defined as divided, you come out here and it reminds you of our great history. How, despite some of the toughest times, some of the toughest challenges, just like this Lighthouse we are resilient against the storms and the tides of time."

"Let this be that symbol to all of us, that we will endure," she said. "You often look at the Light as the beacon, but never forget the foundation. The foundation that you made sure will be there, strong, for the next 100 years. Because of your work building up this foundation, generations will know the history of the great maritime culture of this beautiful part of the state."

And work it was. "They did a pretty damn good job when they built this in 1796," said Nick Racanelli, chairman of the restoration and board member of historical society. The society is a 501(c)(3) organization that owns the Lighthouse and is responsible for its repairs and maintenance.

Mr. Racanelli said he was Italian but on St. Patrick's Day 2021 nearly became Irish when with two phone calls he raised $400,000 for the project: one donation from Northwell Health totaling $250,000, and another from two part-time residents, Maurice and Sarah Iudicone, who gave $150,000.

"I'm sure that way up there somewhere, George Washington and all the people who built the original Lighthouse back in the 1700s are very proud of us for preserving this piece of history," he said.

He shared four facts about the Lighthouse: It was commissioned by George Washington in 1792; it's the oldest one in New York, and the fourth-oldest working one in the United States, and it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2012.

Apart from the revetment, which was constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation with federal money released in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, the Montauk Historical Society spent $1.3 million to restore the exterior of the Lighthouse. In an email, Ms. Certic said the project was "the most ambitious work undertaken on the tower since 30 feet were added to its height in 1860."

Ms. Certic and the historical society had such success raising money that an extra $500,000 was used to renovate the exterior of the 1860 keeper's dwelling, which houses the museum. With the help of Robert Hefner, a historic-preservation consultant, the building was returned to its pre-World War II look, when the Coast Guard occupied it. The newly refurbished Oceans Institute, a small museum focusing on the health of the ocean, now with an interactive virtual aquarium made possible by a grant from Gurney's Resort & Seawater Spa, was also feted.

Mr. Gaviola, the easternmost resident of Long Island and the president of the society's board, spoke about winning, at auction, the original authorization, signed by President Washington, for the purchase of the property. He described an emotional moment when, left alone, he viewed the document "chained to a desk in a Lucite sleeve" before the auction.

"I thought, 'I may never be able to touch something that George Washington did.' So, I admit to sneaking my finger in there and just touching it." He held the document up for all to see. It showed that President Washington had paid $250 for the land. "Maybe dinner for one in the Hamptons," he joked.

Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. recounted a conversation he had earlier in the day with Governor Hochul. "I said this about the Montauk Lighthouse: It is one of the two most beautiful sights that I see. The Lighthouse is number one . . . and the second most beautiful is Albany in my rearview mirror."

Mr. Thiele also spoke of work. "Just like our democracy, to protect it and preserve it, it takes work. That work has been done by this community, and especially the Montauk Historical Society."

After Mr. Thiele's words, everyone in the tent walked over to the base of the Lighthouse for a ribbon-cutting. The morning rain had given way to a deep blue sky. Sure, there were a few clouds left, but you would have been a downer to point them out. The Lighthouse looked neat, in summer whites with a thick maroon belt. 

Governor Hochul and Assemblyman Thiele cut through a long red ribbon before the governor toured the Lighthouse. Minutes later, she descended and walked toward the parking lot, past the same ribbon and members of the East Hampton Town Board. A group of three Coast Guard members asked for a photo.

"Thank you, Governor," said one. 

Down in the tent, people were sipping champagne and celebrating. But Governor Hochul was presumably headed west, toward the setting sun, which was giving the Lighthouse a slightly orange tinge.



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