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South Whidbey delivers new lighthouse lantern
For the first time since 1962, the Admiralty Head Lighthouse stood without a lantern house for a couple of hours Thursday afternoon awaiting installation of the new, historically accurate lantern house built by Whidbey’s high school students.
Two years of hard work by Oak Harbor, South Whidbey and Coupeville students and teachers, Archie Nichols of Nichols Brothers Boat Builders in Freeland and many other volunteers culminated as the lantern house arrived by truck at Admiralty Head Lighthouse Thursday morning preceded by an Island Crane Services, Inc. crane driven by Don Carscadden.
Volunteers had already prepped the old lantern house, leaving it loose for fast removal — a relief because volunteers had feared the lantern house was welded to the floor, but instead, it was bolted.
Archie Nichols and four South Whidbey High School students who put countless hours of work into the project climbed the winding staircase into the old lantern house and attached ropes for its removal by crane. A crowd gathered below to watch the removal of the lantern house, a thin, Plexiglas lantern house not intended to look historically accurate. Dust rained down as the lantern house was lowered to the ground. It will be auctioned off by the park.
“I’m so excited! I’m just like dying of excitement!” exclaimed Julie Pigott, WSU Extension Island County Admiralty Head Lighthouse program coordinator.
“It’s gorgeous!” she said, admiring the new lantern house. “The students have done a wonderful job. It’s professional work ... I’m so proud of them!”
As watchers gazed at the lighthouse, topless for the first time in 50 years, Nichols drilled holes in the new lantern house on the ground to match the studs already in place, which were unevenly spaced. Students Christian Justus, Zach Caravan, Scotty Campbell and Michael Cavender cleaned rust and dust from the lighthouse or helped Nichols prepare the new lantern house. Volunteers rushed to do last-minute repainting.
A couple of hours after the lantern house arrived, Carscadden prepared to lift it to its new home. The crowd held its collective breath as 5,000 pounds of steel were lowered onto a lighthouse more than 100 years old, but the structure didn’t even groan.
The first visitors to the new lantern house, Nichols and the students and South Whidbey High School shop teacher Chad Felgar caulked the base and adjusted its location until the holes matched up.
While there’s still plenty of work to do before visitors can step inside, including placing polycarbonate window coverings and a brass handle for the door, Nichols congratulated the students with handshakes, saying how proud he was of their work and how they even taught the old boat designer a thing or two.
“It’s really neat to see the guys come out here in the summer. They don’t have to be out here,” Felgar said.
Students from all three island high schools each took part in the project: Oak Harbor students, led by teacher Jerry Mumper, made the center piece, which included twisting steel for the windows; Coupeville students, led by teacher Tom Eller, created the upper portion; and South Whidbey students, led by Felgar, made the “tub,” the bottom part.
All three parts were relocated to South Whidbey High School in February to be pieced together. Despite the hundreds of hours of work the students put in, Felgar said there was still a lot of work to be done during summer vacation.
“The kids came and did more. It was great,” Felgar said.
The project was a lesson in coordination not just between three high schools but also with Fort Casey management and WSU Extension of Island County. The students presented to groups to gain funding and coordinated with each other. Campbell said he enjoyed getting out into the community.
“I loved all the community work,” the South Whidbey High School senior said. “We worked with businesses and independent business contractors and different schools, and we got to meet a lot of people.”
“The kids have had a lot more lessons than you’d ever thought building. There’s so many real life things that they learned,” Felgar said.
Not all of his 62 students working on the project welded. He had 28 different jobs for them, ranging from photography to interpreting plans to keeping track of supplies. One job was updating their Facebook page almost daily, which kept the three high schools connected and updated on each other’s progress.
“I tried to involve as many kids as I could,” Felgar said, noting that the girls were some of his best welders.
“Nobody builds lantern houses anymore. These kids are the only ones in the country who know how,” Felgar added. The students were featured in magazines across the United States.
Dick Malone, of Oak Harbor, watched the replacement of the lantern house. He was part of the council that came up with the idea for commissioning a new lantern house five years ago. The problem they faced was that the original lantern house had been cast iron and the group couldn’t find anyone on the island to get a cost estimate for a new one, although they were expecting six figures, Malone said. Finally, they decided to delve into the knowledge at Nichols Brothers Boat Builders and they wound up talking to Archie Nichols.
“So he said a few months later, ‘What do you say we build it and have the high schools build it for little or no cost?’” Malone said.
Without the donations of Nichols Brothers and local organizations, the project would have cost $200,000, said John Shoosmith, former lighthouse employee.
“And they were able to do it with a few thousand in grant money, lots of volunteer time and instruction,” Shoosmith said.
The new lantern house on the historic Central Whidbey lighthouse is much improved. Felgar pointed out the vents in the sides of the lantern house and the vents in the roof that will let out hot air, alleviating a big complaint from visitors to the previous lantern house, which lacked air circulation vents. The polycarbonate window covering will look like glass, as compared to the cheap-looking Plexiglas of the old lantern house. Glass may be a possibility down the line with a lot of fundraising, Pigott said.
Most importantly, this lantern house is historically accurate, as proven by drawings from the 1800s and Admiralty Head Lighthouse’s original lantern house, which was relocated to the Dungeness Spit lighthouse in the 1920s.
The primary supporter, Nichols provided the instruction and donated steel and supplies. Seaport Steel also donated steel. Lighthouse Environmental Programs and Keepers of Admiralty Head Lighthouse supplied funding and the Coupeville Festival Association gave a $4,800 grant that went to the schools to buy brass and glass, and
Island Crane Services, Inc. moved and replaced the lantern houses free of charge, Pigott said.
“Our classes probably would’ve been gone if this project hadn’t come through,” Felgar said of shop classes.
“It was a really good learning experience and a really fun time,” Campbell said. “This is something we’re giving to our community.”
Although the project is finished, Campbell enjoyed learning and plans to pass the knowledge forward, saying that his favorite part was “getting to learn from experienced guys like Archie and Felgar.”
“I want to give a big shout out to Archie. Without him, this would not have started. And all the support and people who gave us free steel — Seaport Steel and Nichols Brothers — and Julie (Pigott) and Dick Malone, who were overseers and problem solvers — a big shout out to them,” Campbell said.
On this particular day, all of Whidbey Island gave a shoutout to the students who gave a beloved lighthouse a beautiful new lantern house.
Celebrate Admiralty Head Lighthouse’s new lantern house, which will be dedicated from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8 at the lighthouse in Fort Casey State Park.
State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen will speak, as well as teachers and other volunteers. For details, call the lighthouse office at 360-240-5584.