Volunteers load up the rusty pedestal for a trip to Tallahassee where it will be restored.
EGMONT KEY – A piece of Egmont Key Lighthouse is on its way to Tallahassee for preservation and restoration.
The object, properly termed a “lighthouse lens pedestal” consists of a 5-foot-long cast iron column and a 3-foot-round flat table that served as the stand for the lighthouse’s 5-foot tall glass lens.
It served in the Egmont Key lighthouse at the mouth of Tampa Bay from the 1890s until 1944, when the top of the Lighthouse was removed for wartime safety and cost reasons.
“It may not look like much right now, but we’re really fortunate it wasn’t destroyed or lost,” said Neil Hurley, one of the volunteers spearheading the project. “Egmont Key Lighthouse is one of the Tampa Bay area’s oldest structures, and it is frankly quite miraculous that the lens pedestal has survived.”
The Louis Sautter Company originally manufactured the 500-pound lens pedestal in Paris, France, in the late 1850s. It probably served at another lighthouse until it, along with a third-order Fresnel lens, was installed in Egmont Key in the 1890s to make the lighthouse brighter.
In 1944, the lighthouse needed repairs but with World War II still going on, the U.S. Coast Guard decided to demolish the top 20 feet of the tower and replace it with a concrete cap and a searchlight-like lens. The old lens pedestal was discarded in the woods for several years, and then moved to various locations on the island for safekeeping.
Despite receiving no other care for more than 60 years, the pedestal is in excellent condition. An effort to find out what happened to the original glass lens that was used in the tower has been unsuccessful so far.
The current Egmont Key Lighthouse was built in 1858 to replace an earlier one built 10 years before. The lighthouse remains an active aid to mariners maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard.
The island is jointly administered as a Florida State Park and a National Wildlife Refuge. It can only be reached by boat or by a passenger ferry, which runs from Fort De Soto State Park.
Funding for the lens pedestal restoration work is being provided by a $2,500 grant from the Florida Lighthouse Association and the Egmont Key Alliance. Both groups are nonprofit volunteer organizations that are eagerly seeking more members.
The Florida State Conservation Laboratory in Tallahassee will perform the restoration work, which could take up to a year.
The pedestal will be treated to remove salt that has migrated into the metal during its years of outdoor exposure. After treatment, it will be coated and should look just like it did in 1858. Once restored, the lens pedestal will be returned to the lighthouse for display.
“Of course we would eventually like to see the lighthouse fully restored to its original 1858 appearance,” said Hurley. “This is one small step toward that goal, but it is a particularly important one since if left untreated, the lens pedestal could be permanently damaged.”