Old Baldy Foundation has won a $750,000 grant to repair damage from two hurricanes and - equally important - fortify the state’s oldest lighthouse from future storms.
The State Historic Preservation Office grant, administered by the National Parks Service, is by far the largest ever received by lighthouse supporters.
Old Baldy Communication and Development Coordinator Abby Sachs said having time to work on the grant application with Director Chris Webb and a university consultant was the upside of having to close the lighthouse to the public last summer as a COVID-19 precaution.
“It was a wonderful opportunity,” said Webb. “We had the time and staff to invest in a very comprehensive application.” She also credited Paul Willeboordse of the School of Administration at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington with considerable assistance on the complex, highly competitive grant.
Old Baldy, standing at 110 feet, was completed in 1817 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Initial preservation surveys started in 1985, and in 1990 crews replaced exterior stucco and the stairs, fixed the lantern room and repaired interior joists.
Water infiltration remained a problem, so in 2017 International Chimney Corp. fixed the sandstone roof cap and the vent ball on the lantern room. Crews have also repaired the roof and windows, among other work.
“Hurricane Florence hit in 2018 while the Foundation was waiting to move to interior work,” the grant application stated. “Due to the work in 2017, the roof and lantern room suffered no damage with no evidence of water infiltration. Unfortunately, damage to the exterior occurred as stucco fell from the tower. Over time this will present an issue with further water intrusion. The stucco must be replaced to protect the 2017 project’s integrity and allow future preservation work within the interior to be addressed.”
Old Baldy’s adjacent museum and some of its priceless artifacts have also been damaged by recent hurricanes. Florence had a significant impact on revenues, followed by the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions. The Foundation acquired the money for a new museum roof, debris haul off, and for a conservator to restore most artifacts. The Foundation, however, hasn’t had the money to invest directly in the lighthouse, the grant application stated.
Repairing the exterior stucco is job one, and contractors will use acoustic sounding to determine where to pull off the old material and replace it with a three-coat application.
The second priority will be to remove a 30-year-old earthen berm at the base, which is allowing water to infiltrate, the grant application stated. It will be replaced with a stone and mortar glacis, a sloped structure that will cast off water away from the bottom of the lighthouse.
The grant will also cover replacing railings and stairs, and making interior masonry repairs.
Webb said the Foundation hoped to have contractors on site by September 2021, near the end of the tourist season. Work is expected to continue until March 2023.
To learn more about the lighthouse, visit www.oldbaldy.org.