International Chimney Corp. has made a name for itself by successfully moving five historic lighthouses on the East Coast from dangerously eroding shores, including the famed Cape Hatteras Light, the country’s tallest lighthouse.
Now, the Williamsville engineering firm is embarking on its sixth relocation project with another landmark lighthouse. It was recently tapped to move the iconic and still-active Gay Head Lighthouse, which now stands on clay bluffs just 46 feet from the edge, on the westernmost tip of Martha’s Vineyard.
“We are thrilled to be part of it,” said Tyler Finkle, assistant project manager. “We’re just fortunate to be able to work on these old structures. It’s like a calling for us.”
The lighthouse, which was built in 1854 and weighs 400 tons, will be moved 140 feet back from its current location, he said. The preliminary work will involve doing engineering calculations based on the lighthouse’s center of gravity, as well as planning the path of the move. Jo Jakubik, who was involved in the company’s five previous lighthouse moving jobs, is the lead project manager.
The 56-foot lighthouse is in the Town of Aquinnah on Gay Head Cliffs, situated on a bluff that’s 130 feet above sea level.
Len Butler, a resident of the town, said the erosion of the bluff has been rapid, spurring the formation of Save the Gay Head Lighthouse Committee in 2013. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has designated the lighthouse one of country’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.
“The erosion is advancing between one and two feet a year,” Butler said. At that rate, it would be unsafe to move the structure in a couple of years, he added.
Aside from being an active navigational beacon, the lighthouse needs to be saved because of its history, said Butler, who is chairman of the preservation committee, which has raised $1.5 million, half of the $3 million needed to move and restore the lighthouse.
“It’s not only the town’s history, but also the island’s maritime history,” he said. “It was the first lighthouse on the island. It was the I-95 corridor for the shipping industry. It’s the first light you see when you approach the Massachusetts coast.”
The group selected International Chimney because of its résumé, which includes moving Sankaty Head Lighthouse in Nantucket in 2007, a similar brick masonry lighthouse in a location also similar to Gay Head, Butler said.
The company is most known for relocating the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in Buxton, N.C., in 1999. The historic 200-foot, 5,000-ton lighthouse, built in 1870, was moved more than a half a mile inland over a 23-day period, away from the fast-approaching coastline.
Save the Gay Head Committee is bidding for ownership of the lighthouse from the U.S. Coast Guard, and the transfer should take place early in 2015, Butler said. The relocation project would commence in the spring.
“We love the work and being a part of it,” Flinker said. “We’re looking forward to it. It’s really an iconic part of the country.”