California Man Plans To Restore Cleveland Ledge Lighthouse

A California businessman plans to purchase and restore the Cleveland Ledge Lighthouse in Buzzards Bay off the Falmouth coast.

The 70-foot tall Art Moderne steel and concrete lighthouse is two miles due west of Old Silver Beach. It has been unoccupied since 1989 when the US Coast Guard removed the eight-man crew and automated the lighthouse. It still flashes a white light every 10 seconds and a two-second foghorn blast every 15 seconds in foul weather.

Two years ago the lighthouse was put up for auction by the US General Services Administration (GSA) as part of the National Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. 

Sandy D. Boyd of Emeryville, California, the owner of a dozen coffeehouses on the West Coast, won the lighthouse at that auction for $190,000.

Now, Mr. Boyd is going through the permitting process to restore it to its original condition.

“It’s exciting and a little scary,” he said. “I think it could be really beautiful on the inside. I’d love to restore it to the way it was.” 

Mr. Boyd, 56, said he is trying to find the original plans, pictures and biographies of the crews that served on the lighthouse to create a kind of living museum.

He has bid on lighthouses in the past, but this is the first lighthouse auction he has won. “I thought this was a very beautiful and iconic one and I liked its location,” he said.

It’s exciting and a little scary. I think it could be really beautiful on the inside. I’d love to restore it to the way it was.

                                                  Sandy Boyd 

The lighthouse will never be his primary residence, but he would like to spend nights out there, he said. “That’s all I really want to do is fix it up and feel like it’s mine,” he said.

Ultimately, he would like to turn the lighthouse into a place that others could come visit as well. “I could see having fundraisers where people go out there for an evening or things like that,” he said. He would also like to make it available to “lighthouse junkies.”

Mr. Boyd grew up in Mystic, Connecticut, has property in Bangor, Maine, and spends summers in Nantucket, but this is his first property in Falmouth.

His personal connection to the lighthouse is that his father was the captain of the submarine USS Permit, the sister ship of the USS Thresher, which sank off Cape Cod in 1963. Mr. Boyd was friends with the children of men who died on the submarine and has been fascinated by the sea his whole life. 

First Private Sale Of Lighthouse

This is the first lighthouse in Massachusetts that has been offered for sale to a private party, said GSA Branch Chief Barbara J. Salfity. “We’re very excited to find a steward and we’re looking forward to working with him,” she said.

There are two conditions of the sale. It must remain as an aid to navigation for mariners and the historic structure must be preserved.

Ms. Salfity has visited the lighthouse herself and said it is impressive. “I think it is really beautiful, and given its location I think it would make a very nice place to stay,” she said. “Not to mention that you have a 360-degree view of the water,” she said.

The four-story structure includes four bedrooms, one bathroom with a bathtub, subway tiles and original light fixtures, a living room with a wood burning stove, a galley kitchen with pantry, an office, and of course the lighthouse tower. The spiral staircase ascending the tower includes two landings with enough space for couches and reading lamps, she said.

The lighthouse came before the Falmouth Conservation Commission last week, but instead of a street address, the property was identified by latitude and longitude. Commission members gave initial approval to go forward with the property sale, but said they would need more detail about the project before authorizing any work. They also asked if they could do a site visit.

The hearing was part of the permitting process of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, which must approve the conversion of the lighthouse into a residence by granting a Chapter 91 license, said spokesman Edmund Coletta. Issues with the application include that there is no fresh water source, no wastewater disposal, no dock to easily access the lighthouse, and asbestos in the building.

Lighthouse In Need Of Repair

North Falmouth resident George R. Hampson visited the lighthouse about eight years ago, and said it is a bit harrowing to get on. “We hooked our ladder onto what was left of the original ladder and climbed up,” he said. “It’s old and when you go aboard you soon realize that instead of being completely plumb, it’s tilted a little bit.”

He toured the basement with its diesel engines and cisterns, and said the place is a bit rundown. “It just looks kind of gloomy,” he said. But there is good fishing near the lighthouse, he said, which makes it fun to visit.

CLEVELAND LEDGE LIGHTHOUSE

Last lighthouse commissioned in New England (1943)

Named after America's 22nd and 24th President Grover Cleveland

Constructed by the J.F. Fitzgerald Construction Company of Boston

Sits in 21 feet of water and has a foundation that is 52-feet high. In total, it is 70 feet in height. 

Has remained unoccupied since 1989.

Every 10 seconds, Cleveland Ledge flashes a white light.

Sandy Boyd's purchase of it in 2010, makes it the first lighthouse to be sold to a private party in Massachusetts.  

Mr. Hampson visited the lighthouse with James M. Howe, a North Falmouth resident who secured a lease for the lighthouse for research and educational opportunities for college students. The plans fell through after Mr. Howe died of pancreatic cancer at age 52 in 2005.

The lighthouse was then offered at no cost to local municipalities and nonprofit organizations in 2010, but there were no applications, Ms. Salfity said. The lighthouse was then offered at auction.

The Cleveland Ledge Lighthouse was named for President Grover Cleveland, who had a home in Bourne and used to fish in the area. It was the last lighthouse commissioned in New England in 1943.

It was constructed by the J.F. Fitzgerald Construction Company of Boston on an iron caisson foundation that is 52 feet high in 21 feet of water and 52 feet in diameter.

There is still some question as to whether the lighthouse falls under the jurisdiction of the local Falmouth government or the Town of Bourne. Falmouth Building Commissioner Eladio R. Gore has asked town counsel to render an opinion on the subject.

If the lighthouse is under the jurisdiction of Falmouth, building department employees would have to travel by boat to inspect the structure.

While there is a notion that living on a lighthouse is a romantic life, the lifestyle is not everyone’s idea of a good time. “I certainly would not mind spending a weekend there,” said Mr. Gore, “but I don’t think I’m quite ready for year-round life on what is essentially a rock.”

Others viewed life on the lighthouse through a more rose-colored lens. Patrick Sclafani, spokesman for GSA, said he would be intrigued by living there. “I think everybody has some sort of romantic notion about living in a lighthouse,” he said. “That’s why this program is so active, because there is a romantic relationship with these lights across the country. It exists and it’s been there for a long time.”

 

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CORRECTION (11/16/12): This original story stated that Mr. Boyd planned to make the lighthouse a home. He does not; he intends to restore the lighthouse. We apologize for the error.

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