On February 26, 2019 more than eighty people gathered at The Abaco Inn to celebrate the success story that is the ongoing restoration of the Elbow Reef Lighthouse. The event, sponsored by the Elbow Reef Lighthouse Society (ERLS), opened with a heartwarming introduction by DP Patterson, ERLS Administrator, who welcomed everyone with the theme that the success of the restoration work was due largely to the team spirit that has been fostered between many generous donors, the ERLS team and those at the Port Department, Antiquities, Monuments, and Museums Corp, the Ministry of Tourism, and the Office of the Prime Minister in Abaco.
In attendance were representatives from all three groups. From the government, James Albury, MP & Parliamentary Secretary, Mr. Montez Williams, Deputy Permanent Secretary, Gayle McIntosh, Office Manager of the Prime Minister Abaco, Administrator Frederick Rodgers of the Port Department, Wynsome Ferguson, Manager Abaco Ministry of Tourism, Nancy Albury, Manager of the AMMC Abaco Office and various members of the Lighthouse Society team.
Following the introduction of those above in attendance, Miss Patterson gave some history.
In 1995 when governments around the world were looking to save money on their budgets by automating Lighthouses, the Community of Hope Town asked if our lighthouse could be spared, and the government said, “Of course, but you will have to go and find the parts and the equipment necessary.” Now, 24 years later, our lighthouse has become the last of its kind out of 18,000 lighthouses in the whole world.
Initially, work to save the lighthouse was conducted from the living rooms of Dave Gale, Jerry Whiteleather, Annie Potts, and Lory Kenyon. With gratitude to the Hope Town District Council, in October of 2017, the Lighthouse Society was granted official office space in the Hope Town Library building, located in town near the Post Office. This office has proven to be a great asset in creating awareness for ongoing restoration efforts and assisting folks seeking to visit the light station.
Featured at the event was an inspirational power point given by Annie Potts, ERLS Restoration Facilitator and author of ‘Last Lights.’ Research, education and fundraising have been key elements of the success of the restoration program Ms. Potts said. She then highlighted points in the history of the lighthouse and shared previously unknown facts about its construction.
“The Elbow Reef Lighthouse was completed in 1864 and it has had two major structural rebuilds since then; the first during which the original lantern (the metal and glass portion of the tower) was replaced (1930s) and a second in which the masonry part of the structure was strengthened with external bands of concrete (1950s). We had known that the lantern part of our tower had previously been in use at Gun Cay near Bimini but through additional research we also learned that before that time the upper level of our lantern had spent the first 100 years of its life atop a small lighthouse in West Usk, Wales,” she said.
She followed with information about the current ongoing restoration work.
“The Elbow Reef Lighthouse Society’s top down approach to restoration began in earnest in 2011 with visits and guidance from lighthouse experts from the States. Broken weatherglass and the rusting iron framework had allowed rain and wind to enter the tower. But the roof canopy was also seriously deteriorating and needed attention. So, the roof work had to be completed before the glasswork could begin.
“Once the roof was watertight the restoration crew was able to concentrate on replacing the beautiful curved but cracked and aging weatherglass. The iron framework for the glass with its naval brass astragals must have been fabricated with the expectation that it would be reassembled at a remote site; all its parts were clearly stamped and numbered. Special tools needed to be designed and fabricated for removing the astragals. Measurements had to be taken of every opening for the glass.
“Heather Forde-Prosa completed a beautiful key enabling the correct replacement of the 128 astragal bars and plates, all of which were removed, cleaned, rebedded, and replaced as the newly fabricated weatherglass was installed.
“The Elbow Reef Lighthouse Society continues to implement the only major successful and community driven restoration project on an Imperial Lighthouse Service lightstation.” Ms. Potts added.
However, as she also pointed out, “None of this would have been possible or even necessary if it weren’t for the constancy and resilience of Principal Keeper Jeffery Forbes, Jr. and his family. Jeffery may be the only man alive (besides his own father) who can reliably light our 110 year old pressure kerosene burner and keep it functioning night after night.”
“Jeffery Forbes, Jr. himself is as irreplaceable as our lighthouse itself”, she added.
The Society also used this event to unveil their “A Hand for the Light” fundraiser.
The excellent luncheon menu was crafted by Tom Hazel of the Abaco Inn and Ms. Kent LeBoutillier, Lighthouse Society member extraordinaire, who also made the creative table decorations. The addition of displays of various restoration equipment on view and large format photos of the restoration efforts rounded out this wonderfully informative noontime event.