2016-05-19 / News

Lighthouse manned once again?

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – The planning board is scheduled on June 1 to review a proposal by the Friends of Wood Island Lighthouse to classify the structure as a residential dwelling.

Brad Coupe, president of the nonprofit organization that owns the lighthouse, said the group is nearing completion of its restoration of the building and is beginning to plan for how the historic landmark can best be used in the future.

Coupe said one idea that has been discussed is to have a keeper who lives on the island during. Another reason the group wants to get the residential classification is so a proper septic system may be built into the site.

“The lighthouse itself is not usable in the winter, it doesn’t have heat and it won’t have any,” Coupe said. “A summer keeper could be there to maintain property and be there for security reasons, to have a presence during the summer months. We would like to do that but at this point, we don’t have a building suitable for it. When finished (with restoration), we would like to be in a position to try that out, at least have the opportunity to do it.”

Coupe said the exterior of the lighthouse has been restored and final work on the interior should be completed this summer. The next step after interior restoration, Coupe said, will be to furnish the lighthouse with period furniture.

“We’re looking at furnishing it with what would be in a lighthouse in 1906, and try to replicate it with anything we could credibly say is what they would have had back in 1906,” Coupe said. “We will set up an environment that looks as close as we can make it to when keepers used to live there. You can imagine that they did not have lavish furniture, they just had basic furniture.”

The physical layout of the lighthouse as it is now – three bedrooms, a parlor, living room and kitchen – was originally constructed in 1906, even though the lighthouse itself was built in 1808. Coupe said there are no pictures of the lighthouse’s interior from that era to use as reference points.

The lighthouse will be open to the public for visitations and tours from July to September. The tours include stories of shipwrecks where rescues were helped by the lighthouse, and a keeper’s dog that used to ring the bell for him. One of the most dramatic stories, Coupe said, is the story of how 2-year-old Tammy Burnham was rescued after a boat capsized in a storm in 1960. Coupe said Burnham still lives in Biddeford.

Coupe said Friends of Wood Island Lighthouse have spent more than $500,000 restoring the lighthouse and look forward to planning how to best make the site available to the public in the future.

City Planner Greg Tansley said the change of the lighthouse’s classification wouldn’t materially affect the city in any way, except that emergency response to an island has its own challenges. Installing the septic system was “a big part” of why Friends of Wood Island Lighthouse are seeking the change.

Tansley said the proposal was previously brought to the city council, which expressed support for the reclassification, but referred the matter to the planning board for review and recommendation.

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