Pomham Light Restoration

Mist at Pomham
R. Wohlgemuth photo

Our November 2005 meeting was a special treat for us because it centered on the restoration of the Pomham Rocks Lighthouse. We always hear about the destruction of historic buildings to make way for progress; this time we heard about the preservation of such an important building. The event was offered by the Friends of the Pomham Rocks Lighthouse and drew a large crowd to the new Riverside Library.

Our member Dave Kelleher, who is also member of the Friends of the Pomham Rocks Lighthouse, gave a quick overview of the struggles and negotiations involved in getting to the point where a partnership was formed between ExxonMobil, the American Lighthouse Foundation and its East Providence, Rhode Island chapter, the Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse. When the group could finally choose a contractor to begin restoration they decided on Keith Lescarbeau, owner of Abcore Construction, because of his experience in the restoration field. Keith has a passion for lighthouses and preservation and you could tell that during his Power Point presentation. One of his latest projects was the restoration of the Plum Beach Light in North Kingston.

Looking good already
D. Doucette photo

A special challenge with this project was the location of the worksite. Materials, tools and crew had to be ferried by boat to the island and all scrap had to be brought back. While most of us enjoy a boat trip on the Bay on a 90° summer day, rain, wind and snow squalls make these trips less enjoyable. Keith also showed us some photos where the sheer size of the tools (compressor, tractor) created a special challenge for the skipper.

Walking along the East Bay Bike Path you may have thought that the lighthouse was in good shape. While ExxonMobil, the current owner of the lighthouse, had done a good job over the years to keep it painted, Keith found a lot of rot inside the wooden structure during his inspection. One of the corner posts of the tower was badly deteriorated and had caused the tower to lean about 7°; a serious problem considering there is a 3 ton metal lantern room perched on top of the wooden tower!

The first phase of his restoration project was to create a physically sound structure that is protected from the elements. It was supposed to be complete before the cold weather set in, but due to the extents of the damage found it is taking until the middle of December. Together with his crew he stripped the old shingles of the building to reveal the original shiplap siding. This also revealed what he already suspected: all original ornamental protrusions around the building had been hacked off to create a smoother surface to shingle the structure. And they found an additional window that had been boarded up.

The red slate roof
D. Doucette photo

The original shiplap siding was carefully removed to salvage as much of it as possible. After cutting off all split ends and sorting out all the rotten boards Keith was able to reuse about 40% of the original siding; the rest had to be milled from new stock to match the profile. While the siding was removed they cut out all rotten diagonal sheathing and framing timbers and replaced them with new wood. Installation of the new windows with the ornamental frames and a good coat of paint completed the walls.

The wooden shingles of the mansard roof were replaced with beautiful red slate shingles. Red slate is only quarried in one place in upstate New York and Keith decided to pick it up himself rather than trusting a shipping company with the precious load. This will be a long lasting maintenance-free roof compared to the peeling red paint on the wood shingles.

If you are interested in the restoration of Pomham Light, take a look at the website of the Friends of the Pomham Rocks Lighthouse for the latest information on their efforts or how you are able to help.