Starting springtime at Graves Light

Lynn removes the non-original brass vent cover so that the restored originals can be installed.

Lynn sets a cleaned and restored component of the original USLHS ventilation system.

We started springtime restoration at Graves this year by wrapping up our last winter project, which was to install the original brass vent covers in the watch room.

The heavy cast covers had been lost for decades, but we found them last year, and now they’re back in place.

Lynn is shown at work on one of the vents.

These vents allowed fresh air to flow through a specially designed duct (to prevent rain and seawater from entering) and up into the lantern above where five burners produced the illuminating flame.

In the gallery below, Dave is standing on the snow-covered watch deck, holding one of the original vent covers about to be returned to its space.

Another picture shows the vent cover back in place, flanked by two portholes. We added the portholes, from a steamship that sailed at the time Graves Light was built, to provide light and ventilation in the formerly windowless watch room.

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Rebuilding the inside of Graves Light – on Nantucket

Making exact copies of the interior doors of Graves Light at Karl Phillips' Nantucket shop.

Making exact copies of the interior doors of Graves Light at Karl Phillips’ Nantucket shop.

The snow and ice haven’t stopped the renovation of Graves Light. We’ve been using the winter months to reconstruct precise reproductions of the original interior woodwork.

Lots going on at the Nantucket workshop of Master Carpenter Karl Phillips.

Karl has finished replicating the interior stairway oak doors, and the deep oak sills of the windows that he built last summer.

One photo shows the sole surviving original interior door, rebuilt and stripped down to the wood, flanked by two reproductions to be installed in the spring.

The original door itself needed major repairs, but it provided us a good template to work from. Original 1903 US Light House Service architectural drawings of the doors helped ensure faithful reproductions.

Karl also built nine new oak windowsills using one rotted original sill (in the foreground of the gallery picture below) as a guide.

Just wait until he installs these with his oak paneling – still under construction – to fill in the deep window pockets!

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‘This Old House’ features Graves Light


The PBS supershow¬†This Old House broadcast a segment on Graves Light, adding animated models of the envisioned renovation and calling Keeper Dave “intrepid” for tackling the “amazing” vacation home project.

Richard Tretheway, who visited Graves earlier to scout out the lighthouse for the August shoot, hosted the segment that aired November 13.

Above is a preview of Episode 7, featuring Graves, as part of an ongoing program on the restoration of a Charlestown, Massachusetts, townhouse. On the program’s website, you can stream the entire episode. About 10 minutes into Episode 7 is the part about Graves Light.

See our This Old House photo album on Facebook. More photos below:

 

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Facelift just in time for TV advertisement shoot

Still from Harvey window ad, by Redtree Productions.

Still from Harvey window ad, by Redtree Productions. See how different the lighthouse looks after the exterior restoration?

Our summer-long facelift was completed just in time for a local production company to film a television advertisement for Harvey windows.

The ad, produced by Redtree Productions, features a Harvey window being installed in a lighthouse.

PowerwashShot in Boston Harbor, the ad shows Curtis, a Harvey contractor, braving choppy waters to deliver a carefully wrapped, custom-built window to the lighthouse.

The intrepid contractor takes a lobster boat to the rocky ledge and rows the window ashore in a wooden dinghy. He is greeted by a lighthouse keeper. (See still shot above from the ad, and the video directed by Jonathan Bekemeier.)

Freshly cleaned of more than a century’s worth of coal dust and other grime, its stonework all re-pointed, Graves Light glows as it did when it was completed in 1905. There’s even a glimpse of the freshly painted iron stairway railing inside.

In the ad, the lighthouse keeper leads the contractor the curving staircase. The window is neatly installed, showing the Harvey Building Products brand.

All this really did happen, and the Harvey window was installed at Graves Light. But it was just for the shoot. We’re sticklers for staying as close to the original as possible, and one of our workers found an original 1905 casement window, in a rotted oak frame, stored in the oil house.

With that exciting find, we used the original window as a template for nine reproductions. Those were custom-built out of oak and brass, true to the original, by a master carpenter in Nantucket.

But the Harvey ad sure tells a nice story. Here’s Harvey’s Facebook page, and the YouTube video, below.

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Before and after: The watch room is shaping up

The Watch Room at Graves Light, before initial cleaning and painting (left) and after sandblasting and first coats of primer and paint (right).

The Watch Room at Graves Light, before initial cleaning and painting (left) and after sandblasting and first coats of primer and paint (right).

Here’s the first look inside Graves Light after our initial cleaning and preservation. These two pictures are of the Watch Room, the black metal deck on top of the granite tower, just beneath the bronze-and-glass lamp room (see illustration).

watchroomThe outer walls are 1/2″ thick brass or bronze. The inner walls are thin sheets of steel. We had everything sandblasted. All brass, which had been painted, was coated with a clear preservative to keep the golden color of the metal. The two doors and doorframe at left, which lead out to the watch deck, are bronze. So is the circular perimeter of the ceiling where the round skylights can be seen.

The center of the ceiling is a modern addition from when the Coast Guard removed the enormous, original first order Fresnel lens and installed an automated system.

We primed the cast iron stairway and steel interior walls, repaired rusted sections, and painted the walls white and the stairs black with a special marine epoxy paint.

Because this room had no windows and little ventilation, we cut large holes through the walls and installed antique brass portholes from a steamship that sailed at around the time Graves Light was built.

We have a long way to go on this room, as it is going to be a kitchen and social area. This is just the first look.

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Authentic replacement windows restore original design

Karl Phillips of Driftwood Construction in Nantucket looks at how he's going to install the white oak casement window he built to restore the Graves Light windows to their original appearance and function.

Karl Phillips of Driftwood Construction in Nantucket looks at how he’s going to install the white oak casement window he built to restore the Graves Light windows to their original appearance and function.

From a rotted original casement window frame, master carpenter Karl Phillips and his friend Will Phelps built nine replacements in his Nantucket workshop, and installed them at Graves Light in early August 2014.

First we removed the historically inaccurate and aesthetically displeasing block glass windows that the Coast Guard installed decades ago to replace the originals, and then installed the casements.

Part of the installation was filmed for “This Old House.”

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Zip line operation recovers original lighthouse windows

window glass on zipline

The first load of original 1903 lantern glass is returned to the lighthouse by a 100-foot zip line.

The perfect weather coupled with our hearty all-volunteer team enabled us to recover the original lighthouse lantern glass.

Decades ago, when the lighthouse was being renovated, the Coast Guard thoughtfully stored the historic glass away in the oil house.

But to safely recover the heavy plate glass, we needed to build a 100 foot heavy-duty zip line over the treacherous rocks.

Fingers crossed as the first load is away!

We even recovered the rest of the original oak and brass casement windows from the tower.

Big shout out to Jack, Diana, Wes and Lonnie.

zip line from oil house to lighthouse

Moving the priceless original glass was a complete success. Decades ago, the Coast Guard had carefully stored the glass for safekeeping in the oil house.

photo-3

Our volunteer crew takes a well deserved rest on the ledge, and does a little exploring as the tide starts to rise.

The plate glass we recovered were spares to replace the huge, curved panes in the lamp room.

The plate glass we recovered were spares to replace the huge, curved panes in the lamp room.

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Original architectural drawings discovered at National Archives

Lamp room diagramJust discovered: Copies of the original architectural drawings of Graves Light from 1903.

We’re just going through them now. The US Coast Guard Historian recommended a professional archivist to us, who knows the Coast Guard and US Light House Service records at the National Archives in Washington better than anyone else.

The drawing pictured is of the lamp room and roof. It gives a good idea of what we’ve found so far. Other drawings literally get down to the nuts and bolts.

Almost none of the Graves Light records at the National Archives are imaged electronically. We have hired the professional archivist to digitize everything she can find, and will provide the electronic images to the Coast Guard Historian’s office and to the National Archives.

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