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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Chillin’ at Graves on a February day

 

GL 2015.02.07eFinding a rare calm day between back-to-back-to-back Nor’ Easters in February, we chanced a winter maintenance trip to check on leaks, reload the cameras and stuff like that.

The seas were cold and choppy, but when our man Randy made it to the ladder we thought we were “on station.”

Not to be.

An easterly swell out lifted our little dinghy onto the cross-brace of the dock and punched a hole in the side, and it immediately started leaking fast.

We abandonded post and rowed like mad to the safety of the Keepah and Captains Meg and Pat.

Whew – if that dinghy had sunk we’d either be stranded on the ladder or tossed into the sea. Needed a couple of cold Harpoon ales over at KO Pies to settle after that one!

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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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Last work of the season: interior cleanup and glazing windows

Pedro is up on the lamp deck, a hundred feet above the rocks, glazing the windows. Photo by Richard Green, who was passing by on the 'Freedom.'

Pedro is up on the lamp deck, a hundred feet above the rocks, glazing the windows. Also see the oak-and-brass casement windows, faithful reproductions of the originals, installed in the granite tower. Photo by Richard Green, who was passing by on the ‘Freedom.’

We wrapped up a busy first season of bringing Graves Light back to life, concluding with work that wasn’t as dramatic as much of what we’ve seen, but was every bit as important.

The crew from Partner Solutions General Contracting came in to do a major cleanup.

Their targets: the rust, tar, dirt and mystery goo from the glazed white interior bricks.

This was the first time the bricks had been cleaned in about 40 years.

We were thrilled with the job that Ricardo, Claudio and Leo did to make the inside of Graves Light shine once more.

On Columbus Day weekend, we went out one last time for the season, before the seas got too rough for our boats to approach the dangerous stone ledges.

Among other things, Pedro went all the way up to the top of the outside of the lighthouse, to the lamp deck, to glaze the huge curved window panes joined together by colossal brass frames.

Pedro stopped the water from leaking into the top of the lighthouse.

By happy coincidence, a friend and fan of Graves Light, photographer Richard Green, happened to be passing by on the flybridge of the Freedom, and took some dramatic pictures with his telephoto lens. Nobody realized it at the time, but Richard snapped some photos of Pedro working up on the lamp deck.

Richard shared the pictures with us on the Graves Light Facebook page.

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The watch room: Before, during and after

Watch Room

Before, during and after the restoration of the watch room, the metal room on the top of the granite tower and beneath the lamp room that contains the light. This set of pictures builds on our previous watch room update.

After Rick Tower of Tower Blast & Paint sandblasted and primed the iron, steel and bronze interior, our crew of volunteers applied black and white marine epoxy paint, while our skilled metalworkers and carpenters installed antique portholes salvaged from an old steam ship.

The lamp room had no windows, and we wanted to add windows to let in light and fresh air, while being as authentic to the period as possible.

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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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Boston Globe profiles Graves Light, one year later

Good news on the front page of the Boston Globe.

Good news on the front page of the Boston Globe.

Joe Kahn of the Boston Globe wrote an engaging feature about Graves Light, one year after Dave and Lynn purchased it from the federal government.

In a page-one, above-the-fold story datelined Graves Island Light Station, the Globe laid out what it called “A long to-do list for feeling at home in the lighthouse.”

“We’re figuring this out as we go, though,” Dave says in the Globe, “having no previous experience with something like this.”

“Few people do,” the Globe comments. “Fewer still have the passion and resources that Waller, 51, a Boston businessman who lives in a converted firehouse in Malden, has brought to renovating one of the state’s iconic landmarks, aiming to covert it into equal parts family vacation home and historic preservation project.”

The online version includes a gallery of pictures by Globe photographer Wendy Maeda, and a video.

Keeper Dave explains in the Boston Globe video the progress to date and future plans.

Keeper Dave explains in the Boston Globe video the progress to date and future plans.

While the Globe focused on Keeper Dave as the main character, it laid out the bigger picture of family members, contractors, volunteers, local officials, and well-wishers who are making the revival of Graves Light possible.

“Waller says his biggest surprise has not been the extent of the repair work, or the price tag attached,” the Globe reports.

“‘It’s been the outpouring of positive energy from the community — and willingness for contractors to actually come out and work on this,’ he said, grinning. ‘I thought people might say, “Hell, I’m not working out there on this rusty old lighthouse.” But they haven’t.'”

The Globe asked Dave what a lot of people have been asking: Will there be any public access to the lighthouse in the future, and might people have a chance to rent it out as a B&B?

“Yes and yes, says Waller. For now, anyone attempting to land on the rocky outcropping is trespassing and warned to stay clear. Once access is improved, though, open houses should become more feasible. Short-term rentals, too. ‘Because it’s something worth sharing,’ he said, bounding between floors. ‘People are curious.'”

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Volunteers devote Labor Day weekend to paint the lighthouse

Sunday paint crew: Sue, Allison, Mike, Shane, Andrea, Jack and Lynn.

Sunday paint crew: Sue, Allison, Mike, Shane, Andrea, Jack and Lynn.

Family, friends, friends of friends, and even a new friend discovered online took time from their Labor Day weekend to come out to Graves Ledge and paint inside the lighthouse.

We had sandblasted all bronze, iron and steel surfaces inside. We covered the bronze with clear protectant and painted the iron and steel with a special marine-grade green-gray primer. That work was done by a professional crew.

Over Labor Day weekend, a hardy group of volunteers from all walks of life visited Graves and, with paintbrushes and rollers, carried out the difficult task of applying a thick epoxy urethane paint as a secondary primer to bond with the first. This is the same kind of primer used on oceangoing vessels and oil rigs.

The two-day midcoat primer job was followed by a topcoat job on Monday, to apply black paint to cast iron stairways, rails and other surfaces.

Here are some of the pictures of our Labor Day weekend paint party. We are really, really grateful for all the enthusiastic and devoted help.

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Our new YouTube channel is launched


We just launched a YouTube channel to share our videos.

Click here for the link to the Graves Light Station YouTube Channel.

The first feature is the above magnificent 34-second time-lapse montage. Using a remote camera, we snapped a photo every five minutes for four days, resulting in this video.

Take a look at how the tide rises and falls, the sun and moon rise over the horizon, the workers move up and down the lighthouse and around the dock and ledge, and the light itself casts its beacon over the dark sky.

We also link to YouTube videos that other people shot, where Graves Light is seen or referenced, and arranged them on playlists for “one-stop shopping” for Graves Light videos. We’ll continue to expand these lists.

RC camera improvHow we made the stop-action video

The Graves Light keepers describe how the crew created the remote camera system: “We used a Canon 5D camera with a 24mm lens. My nephew Patrick and I built a waterproof housing out of a 50 caliber ammo box and powered it with two solar panels and a car battery.

“The real trick was the triggering device: Patrick cracked an old cell phone which he can fully control from his iPhone.

“The cracked phone triggered he camera, the camera sent the images to the cracked phone, which sent them on to Patrick’s phone, then automatically deleted them so the phone and camera didn’t fill up.”  

See the photo of the initial improvisation with the ammunition box, which we posted on Facebook in February.

Again, here’s the link to our YouTube channel.

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