Cape lighthouse topless for first time in more than 100 years

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla.—Construction workers guide the 18,000-pound roof and lamp room to the ground from atop the 151-foot Cape Canaveral Lighthouse. The structures were removed as part of an ongoing renovation project. This is the first time the original lamp room has been separated from the lighthouse base in more than 100 years.

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla.—Construction workers guide the 18,000-pound roof and lamp room to the ground from atop the 151-foot Cape Canaveral Lighthouse. The structures were removed as part of an ongoing renovation project. This is the first time the original lamp room has been separated from the lighthouse base in more than 100 years.

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. -- A small gathering of workers, volunteers and news media representatives saw something here Jan. 26 that hasn’t been seen in more than 100 years: a topless Cape Canaveral Lighthouse. 

Construction workers using a gigantic crane removed the roof and lamp room atop the 151-foot, 138-year-old structure as part of an ongoing refurbishment project. The combined weight of the roof and lamp room is approximately 18,000 pounds.

Although there is some debate as to the exact date, the last time the lamp room was detached from the base of the lighthouse was sometime between 1892 and 1894. “Whichever it was, what we’re seeing today is probably only the second time it’s ever happened. There is so much history here. Seeing this is phenomenal,” said Sonny Witt, deputy commander of Detachment. 1, 45th Support Group at the Cape.

The lamp room is the original structure, but the roof is actually a replacement roof that was perched on top of the lighthouse during modifications in 1994. The original copper roof was taken to the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Museum at the Cape, where it covered a gazebo for several years. That original roof was recently taken off the gazebo and will be put back on top of the lighthouse. The roof removed from the lighthouse will sit on top of the gazebo.

This refurbishment project will clean up corrosion problems, as well as damage to the lighthouse caused by Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne. “We’re working to restore the lighthouse,” said Robert Elliott, 45th Civil Engineer Squadron project engineer. “We’re repairing damage caused by severe corrosion and making the lighthouse safer for people to visit.”

That’s great news to Dr. David Paterno, president of the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Foundation. This group signed a memorandum of agreement with the 45th Space Wing on Dec. 1, 2005, that allows it to work with the Air Force to help maintain the lighthouse and possibly improve public access.

“The lighthouse has been rusting away and is in dire need of all the help it can get. This is a major step toward getting the lighthouse complex back to what it was,” said Dr. Paterno. “This lighthouse sits on land that is the oldest mapped location in the [United States}.The famous scientist Dr. Werner Von Braun used to watch rocket launches from the top of this lighthouse. We believe this is the most unique lighthouse in America, and we want to make it safe and secure, and preserve it for our children and their children.”

The Cape Canaveral Lighthouse is the only operational lighthouse in the Air Force and is still used by mariners as a navigation aide. While the Air Force owns the lighthouse, the U.S. Coast Guard operates it. “The Coast Guard powered down the light on January 10. The plan is for them to refurbish the light and it will be put back on top of the lighthouse again--inside the refurbished lamp room and under the original copper roof,” said Mr. Elliott. “When the project is completed we’ll have resolved all the core corrosion issues and have a new exterior coat of paint. The lighthouse will look as good as new.”

The entire refurbishment project is set for completion around mid-July. For more information on the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse and the foundation, go to www.capecanaverallighthousefoundation.com.