Lighthouse Island; Cape Romain SC
After taking a short break after returning to Charleston from Georgia, I am resuming the journey. I have decided to head north for the summer rather than head into lower Georgia and Florida during the hottest part of the year.
Just north of Charleston lies Cape Romain, the first of four capes that stretch into North Carolina. And about five miles off the coast lies Lighthouse Island, home to Cape Romain Lighthouse. Back in the 1800's there was a big problem with shipwrecks here. Ships heading south had to hug the shore to avoid the northern running Atlantic currents, and just off the shore here are numerous shoals. So this lighthouse was constructed to warn ships of the danger, and after its construction in 1857 shipwrecks on this stretch of coast were dramatically reduced.
Contractor and restoration expert Tommy Graham
I am meeting local contractor Tommy Graham to take the several mile boat ride out to the island. He is a passionate advocate of the lighthouse, trying to keep it structurally intact in the hopes that one day a full restoration project can be put together.
We meet at the public boat ramp in McClellanville SC. The first order of business is to load a generator and numerous tools into the boat. Tommy, who just turned 70 a few months back has his 31 year old son Thomas Jr. along for the day.
We quickly put McClellanville behind us, and early in the trip out we cross the Intra-Coastal Waterway. This is the waterway that runs from Maine to Miami, allowing sheltered passage for north and south bound boats off of the choppier waters of the Atlantic.
We are soon dealing with the wake of the Coast Guard's Anvil, a boat on a mission moving a barge and crane.
Quickly we leave the coast behind and are heading out through the estuaries - mile after mile of tidal salt water marsh that is an incubator for much of the aquatic life in the Atlantic.
And a half hour later we arrive at Lighthouse Island. There is a slight lean to the lighthouse - just a couple of degrees.
The next job is to get the generator and the tools onto the island and over to the lighthouse. Years ago there was a pier here, but no more. We slog in through the pluff mud and Spartina grass.
Then it is back a trail to the lighthouse itself. One of the jobs today is to remove the old steel door, which has rusted to the point that there is some worry that it will give way and hurt someone.
About an hour with a metal saw and the door is loose. Some rope is attached and the door lowered down the steps.
But there is a bonus here. There are actually two lighthouses on this island. The other structure was built earlier than the 180 foot tower we have been looking at - about 30 years earlier.
This lighthouse was not in service long because at only 80 feet tall it didn't do much to reduce shipwrecks. The shoals extend about 10 miles off the coast, and this light just didn't have the size or the candle-power to properly warn ships.
The beam above the door is carved "Light 1827."
A spiral staircase made of wood winds up through the heart of the structure.
And there is more here. Old concrete pathways lead through the dense underbrush to the ruins of 3 houses that were built for use by the lighthouse keepers and their families.
Old wells and cisterns also dot the property.
But back to the main lighthouse. Vandals and thieves broke out the windows and the big lens several decades ago. This allowed a good bit of moisture inside the structure, which hastened the decay of the cast iron stairway system in the bigger lighthouse.
This spiral staircase was built as the lighthouse was built, so the end of each step tread is firmly cemented into the wall. They didn't use regular mortar - they used cement, and after 150 years of curing it is very hard.
But as these stair treads have rusted, they have also expanded. They push against the large pillar in the middle and against the outside walls. They are cracking the walls, and numerous treads have come apart completely.
Tommy is experimenting on techniques to remove the old treads so that new ones can be installed. 180 plus feet high worth of treads will be quite the project. Ladders will have to be constructed outside the lighthouse so that work can begin from the top and descend.
The first tread Tommy removed weighed in at over 110 lbs. This is no light job, and cutting the cement out to release the treads is proving to be a more difficult task than originally thought.
I couldn't climb any further than the wooden steps because of the deterioration of the spiral staircase, but the photo above shows the proximity of the beach.
After several hours of work, we load up the tools and head back out. We turn toward the beach, and an Oyster Catcher comes along to lead the way.
The beach here is only a hundred or so yards wide - with beach on both sides !! Large flocks of birds are on the strip of sand and all throughout the water. Numerous pods of dolphin eye us as we cruise by.
Evening begins to fall, and it is time to say goodbye to Lighthouse Island and head back to the mainland. As the day begins to wane, we put back in at McClellanville.
Tommy Graham is devoted to being as good a steward as he can be to this historic property. Lots need done, and many efforts are underway to raise private funds to save the lighthouse. With the interest of his son Tom Jr, another generation is seeing the value of preserving this bit of history. Of course state and federal coffers are tight for this sort of thing, but maybe they will be able to generate the amount of private interest necessary to keep this place from completely decaying. I hope their efforts pay off.
Today's parting shots were taken while sitting on a screened in porch the other day. Numerous varieties of flies would get trapped in the enclosure where a small army of anoles stalked them. It was like a mini Jurassic Park for a while.
Yum. So, don't be too quick to run off these colorful little lizards. They take care of a lot of pesky bugs.
Have a great Tuesday!!
ps - I was able to earn a bit of money the last couple of weeks to help sustain me on the road. Also, a lot of progress was made structuring and getting the ball rolling on the foundation. I expect to head north steadily for the next 3 months, with the exception of a trip inland next week for my son's graduation. Hopefully we will make Wilmington NC by September, and then pick up back in Georgia and head out for the first big circuit around the edge of the states.
In case you recently started following me, I am traveling the perimeter of the USA setting up contacts and stories to prepare for a bicycle ride around the perimeter of the US in a couple of years. This is all a fund-raiser to raise monies to push a cure for several neurological issues. Thanks for coming along !!
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