The Town of North Hempstead authorized an engineering report for the Stepping Stones Lighthouse and allocated $520,000 in its 20172021 capital plan towards creating a dock and pier yesterday, marking a big step for the fixture’s restoration.
The Great Neck Historical Society has also contracted an engineer to study the building and its foundations to determine what needs to be done.
Restoration of the lighthouse is currently estimated to cost more than $4 million, but no estimates are final until an engineering team looks into it, officials said.
“We’re actually at a good milestone where we’re past just the concept that we should save this thing and we’re filing paperwork,” said Robert Lincoln, a commissioner for the Great Neck Park District and chair of the Lighthouse Restoration Committee of the Great Neck Historical Society. “Things are starting to move.”
Lincoln said that The Stepping Stones Lighthouse, built in 1877, is in no danger of falling. However, the lighthouse has several windows, rooms and brickwork in need of major repair.
“The interior is basically gutted. There’s not even the walls, just beams,” said North Hempstead spokeswoman Carole Trottere, who has visited the lighthouse many times.
A dock is pivotal for restoration efforts because it will serve as a landing point for construction equipment and workers. Currently, the only way to access the lighthouse is at high tide and climbing a ladder.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers already approved the plans for the dock and the pier. However, the Town’s request for permits, filed in May 2016, have not yet been approved by the State Department of Conservation.
“It’s a complicated process that can take over a year,” Trottere said. “So we’re expecting it soon.”
At least $265,000 in grant money is also not yet available. The Town of North Hempstead was named the recipient of a $165,000 National Park Service grant to fix the Stepping Stones Lighthouse, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The other grant, from the New York State Assembly, is worth $100,000.
“We’re just waiting and waiting for the state,” said Alice Kasten, president of the Great Neck Historical Society. “Until that dock is in, there is really nothing that can be done.”
North Hempstead was named steward of the deteriorating lighthouse back in 2008 to prevent it from being torn down. They are partnered with the Great Neck Historical Society and Great Neck Park District to try restoring the lighthouse.
The Great Neck Park District has a $100,000 grant from former State Senator Jack Martins. Currently, the Great Neck Historical Society also has around $35,000 available towards restoring the lighthouse, all from fundraising, Kasten said.
While the Stepping Stones Lighthouse technically does not have to be restored to serve its fundamental purpose, which is to serve as a beacon to mariners, many said replacing it with a simple metal beam and a light up top would sacrifice its historical value.
“It’s part of who we are,” said Robert Müller, a preservationist and expert on Long Island lighthouses. “It’s represents an American lifestyle that no longer exists, so the only way to really keep that alive is to keep those places alive.”