Shining the light on Bug Light

09/09/2010 12:00 AM |

Celebration of the rebuilding of Long Beach Bar ‘Bug’ Light on Sept. 5, 1990, brought together community members and Navy and Coast Guard representatives. The replica of the original 1870 lighthouse was built on land and then taken in three main pieces to the tiny island, where it was reassembled with the use of cranes.

Twenty years after a huge group effort resulted in the reconstruction of the Long Beach Bar Lighthouse, better known as Bug Light, the project will be remembered and celebrated with a screening of a rarely seen short documentary at Greenport Theatre this Sunday at 4 p.m.

Sunday’s showing will be followed by a short question and answer period, capped off by a wine and cheese reception. Admission is $15.

The video, “Long Beach Bar Lighthouse ‘Bug Light’ 1990 Reconstruction,” was produced, directed and edited by Paul Szpapa of PS Productions and includes video shot by Rory MacNish, Holly Haera, Clay Raynor, David Diggs and Merlon Wiggin.

Leueen Miller of the Greenport Merchants Association saw the film recently and thought it would make sense to screen it publicly to celebrate the reconstruction’s 20th anniversary. The Greenport Merchants Association along with the Stirling historical Society and Shelter Island Historical Society will jointly sponsor Sunday’s event.

Few copies of the video exist. Aside from the one in the files of John and George Costello at Costello Marine, which Ms. Miller saw, Bob Allen — whose father was the last lighthouse keeper at Bug Light and to whom the rebuilt lighthouse was dedicated — has a copy. The Costello copy will be the one to be screened Sunday.

“We were all watching and we were absolutely mesmerized,” said Ms. Miller. “All these people came together to make this happen,” she said of the year-long effort to rebuild the lighthouse that marks the eastern entrance to Peconic Bay.

Ms. Miller didn’t have figures on what the rebuilding cost, but noted that it would be difficult to put a total cost on the project because of the many contributions of materials and labor by local businesses. Individuals from both Greenport and Shelter Island donated an estimated $140,000, according to Internet reports.

The original Long Beach Bar Lighthouse, built in 1870, was destroyed by vandals who set it on fire on July 4, 1963. The blaze gutted the structure. The tiny island where it stood lay empty for years. By then, the Coast Guard had decommissioned the lighthouse sometime in the 1940s, and it was auctioned in 1955. The Orient Point Marine Historical Association bought it for $1,710. Other bids ranged from $52 to $212.

The East End Seaport Marine Foundation was formed with the sole purpose of overseeing the reconstruction, according to a member of the foundation’s current lighthouse committee, George Rowsom of Greenport’s S.T. Preston and Son nautical supply store.

Then-foundation member Merlon Wiggin took hold of the project, adopting plans from the original 1870 lighthouse, ignoring changes that had been made to the structure in subsequent years.

Years later, Mr. Wiggin had a falling out with foundation members and devoted the rest of his life to the organization East End Lighthouses. It is responsible for major repairs to the structure, while the marine foundation handles day-to-day maintenance.

Before the lighthouse could be placed on the island, work had to be done to shore up the foundation. North Ferry Company delivered a concrete truck to the island and barges were provided by Costello Marine to carry cranes, materials and workers.

Rebuilding took place off site, on land owned by Steve Clarke, whose boat-building business is on Carpenter Street overlooking Greenport Harbor. The structure is composed of three main pieces that were taken by barge and lifted by crane onto the island.

On the lighthouse cruises sponsored by East End Lighthouses Bob Allen tells a story about a fisherman who went out on the morning of Sept. 5, 1990, and passed the empty island, to return that night and see a fully built lighthouse there.

“I don’t know whether he started or stopped drinking that night,” he said.

On Sept. 5, 1990, Andrea Rowsom, the wife of George Rowsom of S.T. Preston and Son, called the rededication “a day of pride and a day of beauty.” The lighthouse was recommissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1993 and it remains a functioning aid to navigation.

The video not only captures the ceremony, but recounts the construction phase and is most dramatic in its pictures of barges carrying the lighthouse in sections to the island and the cranes lifting them into place, followed by a massive fireworks display with music provided by U.S. Navy and Coast Guard bands.

“Everybody pulled together to support this,” Ms. Miller said.

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Bug Light 20th Anniversary Celebration

Screening of “Long Beach Bar Lighthouse ‘Bug Light’ 1990 Reconstruction”

Greenport Theatre

Sunday, Sept. 12

4 p.m.

Wine and cheese reception follows

Admission $15