ARROWSIC — The Kennebec Range Lights have guided ships along the Kennebec River to safe harbor in Bath since 1898. Now, efforts are underway to raise money for the restoration of the twin beacons, which are showing the wear of 119 years of Maine weather.

The Range Light Keepers are working to raise $40,000 to completely restore both lights to their former glory, and this past summer, crews worked steadily to renovate the rear tower, which needs a complete restoration.

Photos taken during the project by Range Light Keepers President Michael Kreindler show why. Beams that form the foundation of the structure look like a metropolis for ants. Squirrels, as well, found the lighthouse to be the perfect place to make extensive homes. Both have since been removed, likely to the critter’s dismay.

Wayward forest creatures aren’t the only issue, wind and weather are ever-present for any lighthouse. But the Range Lights have a unique problem compared to many others on the coast. While the shape of the two towers is aesthetically pleasing, they pose a problem: The “drip line” of the roof actually falls onto the structure itself. Meaning all the water and snow-melt ends up hitting one spot on the walls of the structure, every single time it rains or snows … for 119 years.

“We could not put it off any longer. In order to save the towers, we had to dig into them and start the work this year,” said Kreindler. “We have been fundraising over our 19 years of existence with the knowledge that the day would come that we have to do this work.”

The Range Lights represent a significant part of Midcoast history, tied to the lore of the other lighthouses along the same stretch of the Kennebec. When they were constructed, the same set of plans were used for each one. Doubling Point, Perkins Island, and Squirrel Point lighthouses all share the same dimensions as the Range Lights. In addition, the keepers’ houses and other supporting structures were made from the same blueprints, too.

“All four locations were built at the same time to create a modern river system at the turn of the 19th to 20th century. It was federal infrastructure investment because the Kennebec was such an important transportation link,” said Kreindler. “They had a standardized set of plans and then they repeated the construction at each location.”

The Range Lights were a unique and important part of safe passage along a treacherous part of the Kennebec River, which makes a 90-degree turn at Doubling Point. Pilots could use the lights as a means of staying inside the safe channel by lining up the front and rear lights.

While pilots along the river have more sophisticated methods of navigating these days (there are apps for that), the range lights still serve as a low-tech, foolproof backup.

The U.S. Coast Guard still maintains the navigational aspect of the lighthouses. As long as the lights stay in the area, the Coast Guard isn’t really concerned if the towers remain intact. “A light on a tall pole would suffice,” said Kreindler.

Some signs of change over the years testify to neglect. The towers originally had small decorative touches that were abandoned decades ago. Small curves at the bottom and top, crown molding, and other aesthetic structures were simplified and replaced over the years for ease of repair. The restoration will bring back all of the special touches that made the lighthouses unique.

However, restoring any historic structure always seems to be like opening Pandora’s box, with the inside always being harder to deal with and more expensive than you realized. The lighthouses are no exception.

Surprises on the rear tower – which is nearing completion – have been many. The extent of the water damage is one. Lack of rather important supporting structures in the roof due to rotted beams is another.

A key part of what makes the restoration difficult is the purpose of the structures themselves. Both the front and rear lights are considered active navigational aids by the U.S. Coast Guard, meaning they must continue to function at all times throughout the restoration process. The lights are also considered of military importance, making their operation even more essential.
Throughout the restoration, crews have had to carefully deconstruct parts of the building while not disturbing the light itself, meaning everything had to be done in a short time-span.
“This is not something we can just tick away at,” said Kreindler.

Restoration is allowing crews to correct some of the issues that the towers face. Some were caused by the Coast Guard’s attempts at waterproofing the buildings decades ago.
“They tried to seal the building up like a boat. The water is trapped in the walls,” Kreindler said, moving up the exterior via capillary action, essentially wicking into the building. Sealing it tight made sure all that water stayed there.

Modern materials, coupled with old techniques, will help keep those problems at bay in the future. The rear tower showed evidence of those efforts as crews carefully cut shingles to fit back onto the tower’s exterior. A lining material, which wasn’t on the original, acts as a barrier between the shingles and the interior lining, breaking up the surface and preventing capillary action. In addition to that, the building will be allowed to “breathe” by not being sealed tightly.

Mike Halica and Audra Ziobro of Blaiklock Carpentry have been steadily placing those exterior shingles. It’s slow work, especially given the octagonal structure of the lighthouses. Each corner requires careful weaving, and the door itself needs consideration. Each shingle has to be measured and cut to fit the space.

Materials and other help has been provided by Sherwin Williams, Modern Pest, Hancock Lumber, Bath Savings Institution, and CertainTeed Roofing. With their help, and the help of donors, the rear tower is nearing completion, but the forward tower is showing it’s not far from being lost either. Current fundraising efforts are going towards the second phase of the project.

For Kreindler, the preservation of the lighthouses is an important part of remembering the way people once lived on the Kennebec River.

“What we all have in common is this heritage,” he said. “These towers will only continue to exist if we collectively want them to.”

For more information on the Kennebec Range Lights restoration process, visit www.rlk.org.