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Oswego asks state for funds to finish lighthouse renovation

Payne Horning
Volunteers are working to reverse the damage that the weathered West Pierhead Lighthouse has endured in its 81-year existence.

Oswego city officials and volunteers hope to get a financial boost for the West Pierhead Lighthouse restoration effort.  The Oswego Common Council recently submitted a request for $100,000 from the state to pay for the next phase of the project.

The lighthouse has deteriorated since the U.S. Coast Guard automated its light in 1967. Now, the structure is in need of major repairs to fix a leaking roof and cracked concrete base.

Volunteers have worked on renovating the lighthouse for nearly two years. Chairman of the lighthouse restoration committee Ted Panayotoff is a maritime history fanatic. This is the third time he has led a lighthouse restoration project.

Credit Payne Horning / WRVO News
Ted Panayotoff is chairman of the lighthouse restoration committee. This is the third time he has led an effort to refurbish an historic lighthouse.

“It’s very exciting to see it come back to life, so to speak,” Panayotoff said.

Each week, the volunteers sail out to the lighthouse, chip away at its rot and slowly refurbish the 81-year-old landmark.

Standing only a foot away from the now solar-powered light in the lantern gallery, Panayotoff said it’s important to honor the service of those who once lit its kerosene lamp. 

“The people that worked out here and devoted their lives to making sure this structure survived and the light always came on every night the way it was supposed to and that the mariners that sailed out on the lake were safe," Panayotoff said.

That’s why Ned Goebricher got involved in the project. He served at the lighthouse with the Coast Guard when he was 19.

Credit Payne Horning
Ned Goebricher, who formerly served at the West Pierhead Lighthouse with the U.S. Coast Guard, is one of many volunteers refurbishing the historic landmark.

“You hope it looks somewhat like it did a long time ago so when people come here and look at it, it represents something," Goebricher said. "It isn’t just a pile of rust.”

Since acquiring the lighthouse in 2009, the city has teamed with the H. Lee White Maritime Museum to restore the historical landmark, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The campaign has received funding in the past, including a $225,000 grant to pay for the removal of toxic materials like asbestos and large swaths of lead paint.

Assemblyman Will Barclay (R-Pulaski) is sponsoring the city's resolution. He said if the money is awarded, it would likely come from the State and Municipal Facilities Program and arrive sometime in 2016.

"It's kind of the gateway for the city of Oswego and the port of Oswego and I hate to see people coming into the city and seeing a rundown lighthouse," Barclay said.

Once the next phase is complete, museum board member Ron Wilson hopes to open the lighthouse for public tours.

“Everybody who knows the lighthouse knows that not only is this an icon of Oswego, but it’s a great tourist attraction," Wilson said. "This is going to bring people to Oswego for years as soon as we start tours.”

Barclay said he would be willing to look into future investments as well, possibly including a walkway to the lighthouse.