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BOCES Students Reconstruct Lighthouse

A crane assists in constructing the newly rebuilt “Lady of the Lake Liberty Lighthouse” north of the Stow ferry landing. The lighthouse was renamed to honor the late North Harmony Town Supervisor Sally Carlson. Submitted photo

STOW — The lighthouse that has stood north of the Stow ferry landing has been newly rebuilt and renamed thanks to the senior carpentry class of Erie 2 Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES.

The original lighthouse, which had rotted and become a safety concern, has now been replaced by a new lighthouse structure called “The Lady of the Lake Liberty Lighthouse.” The cupola, or roof of the topmost lantern room, was the only piece from the original lighthouse used in the new construction.

A decision was made to rename the lighthouse in honor and memory of former North Harmony Town Supervisor Sally Carlson, who died March 23 at her home in Stow. Former state Assemblyman Rolland Kidder requested the lighthouse name be changed from the family of late state Sen. Jess Present, who had secured grant funding to construct the original lighthouse.

“Chautauqua Lake recently lost a great advocate and friend with the death of Sally Carlson,” Kidder said in a letter to the editor in the April 2 edition of The Post-Journal.

About one month after that article was published, current Town Supervisor Frank Stow contacted Kidder to see if he could work out a name change with the sons of Present. They obliged, making the decision to rename the lighthouse “The Lady of the Lake” an easy one.

“Sally was a wonderful person and did a lot for the lake,” Kidder said.

Chautauqua County Legislator Pierre Chagnon said he has “tremendous respect” for Carlson, who was remembered as being extremely supportive of her town and the region and popular with those she represented. Chagnon remembers her as a “real champion for the lake and watershed.”

“I think it’s terrific,” Chagnon said of the lighthouse. “She was a beautiful person; this is an opportunity for her legacy to live on as ‘The Lady of the Lake.'”

The town provided the building materials to instructor Chris O’Brien’s carpentry class. O’Brien guided his students through the construction process, and Highway Superintendent Dan Strickland provided further planning and manpower. Cathy Peterson of Jamestown Boiler Co. assisted with a crane and operator to place the new structure on its foundation and transfer it from the construction site to the ferry.

“The carpentry class at BOCES did a fantastic job,” Stow said.

The class went to work starting in early winter and began with an old set of prints that were challenging to read. O’Brien highlighted the difficulty of the project as a whole, as most carpentry projects don’t have eight-sided structures, a wider base and the angles of a lighthouse to contend with.

“The kids kind of ran with it,” O’Brien said. “It went really well.”

Sixteen students worked on the project, and for some who worked on it extensively, it served as a senior project of sorts. They finished the lighthouse in the first week of June just prior to their graduation.

Strickland had approached O’Brien and his class last fall since he prefers seeing the BOCES classes utilized in the community. BOCES students had helped construct the inner walls of the North Harmony highway department building as well.

“They keep us busy,” O’Brien said. “Every year it seems like some kind of special project comes up.”

O’Brien and his students worked closely with the town. Originally having considered cedar shingles, the class settled on a vinyl coating for the lighthouse as Carlson had wanted it. To keep the lighthouse intact for more years to come than the original structure had lasted, treated, weather-proofed lumber was used in construction.

Lots of complicated cuts and measurements were completed, O’Brien said. Work included sheeting the structure in plywood before coating it in vinyl and making sure the frames of the windows at the top were water-resistant.

“We tried to bring it right back to what it was,” O’Brien said. “It was nice to get it done the way she wanted it.”

He was also glad to see the students move on to construction internships after the work was completed on the lighthouse. The project provided valuable experience that O’Brien said his students can use to impress prospective employers. The class experienced real-world challenges such as winter work and a strict deadline.

“A lot of the kids had good ideas,” O’Brien said. “They’re accountable for the final project. The farther it went on, the more excited they were about getting it done.”

Strickland commended the senior class for having built such a project.

“It’s a complicated thing to build,” Strickland said. “It’s not a simple project.”

It was a relatively inexpensive one at $3,000 compared to the $25,000 project that turned into the former lighthouse. Strickland’s crew tore down the rotting former structure that had not been treated properly with water-resistant additives. The new lighthouse is vented properly to avoid rapid deterioration. Strickland’s team also completed cement work around the lighthouse base and wired the inside with LED lighting.

Peterson was glad to donate her company’s crane services. Carlson had originally contacted her about helping with the new lighthouse, something Peterson said is cared for by the community of North Harmony.

“I think it’s very important,” Peterson said.

By mid-June, the lighthouse stood finished in its renamed status. The red, white and blue lighthouse was something Strickland said Carlson wanted in the town.

“It was truly a community project, and the town and its residents are grateful to see the light continue to shine at ‘The Lady of the Lake’ lighthouse,” said Nancy Thomas, town clerk of North Harmony.

Stow is glad to see the light on and have the ferry monument dedicated to his predecessor’s memory. He said that hands-on experience for the class seniors doubled as meaning a lot to the local community as well. Plans are in the works to add a sign toward the ferry that displays the new name of the lighthouse.

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