Story posted August 15, 2008
At the end of a dirt road not far from Reid State Park, a berry-brambled path leads into the woods. Though not easily found, it's worth the half-mile hike there. The journey ends at a majestic bluff, where Squirrel Point Lighthouse stands sentinel over a bend in the Kennebec River, as it has for over a century.
Fierce currents course past the light, which is one of a several navigational aids along the Kennebec as it flows past Bath. "When the tide is turning, you can see the strength of the current whipping by," says Annie Hancock '10. "It's really fierce."
A different set of navigational issues threatens the lighthouse these days. In the 30 years since the light was automated and the property made available for lease, stewardship of the historic light has run into troubled waters. A progression of private and community leasers have failed to restore the property, open it to the public, or develop educational programming, as required by the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. It reverted to Federal ownership in 2005.
Hancock has worked for the better part of the summer trying to help turn things around. Under a Rusack Fellowship, the physics/visual arts major has been working with the Chewonki Foundation—a non-profit camp and environmental education program in Wiscasset, Maine—to bring life back to property and open it up for public enjoyment and outdoor education programs.
"Chewonki has signed a 15-year license to the property," says Hancock, stooping to nibble a blueberry. "I've been working all summer with them and a citizen group to figure out what to do. We put together a set of drawings that maps out current conditions of the house and a proposal for the changes we plan to make."
It's not as simple as it sounds. Hancock had to walk every square inch of the property in order to plot its elevations. She took extensive measurements of the keeper's cottage, boathouse, barn and sundry outbuildings—then inventoried deteriorations so she could consult with the Maine Historic Preservation Office about restoring the properties to their original condition.
She sat down and created a set of 25 computerized documents, with photographs and scanned drawings, that map out every joist, window and doorway. She then turned her attention to a 2x2 ˝–foot scaled cardboard model of the entire property—octagonal lighthouse and all.
"At first, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing," chuckles Hancock, who worked on the project with faculty mentor architect Wiebke Theodore, visiting associate professor of visual art. "But once I was able to get my hands on the old master plans of the house and got tours of other lighthouses, it all started to come together. It came together literally piece by piece."
An exhibition of her drawings, photographs and the scale model are on display at the Visual Arts Center August 15-29, 2008.
"It's been an unbelievable learning experience," says Hancock, "beyond anything I've ever done. It's so fun to be working with people, doing something where you know your work will matter eventually."
The real work has yet to begin. The planned restoration will require extensive community fundraising, but Hancock even has a plan for that. She worked with the community group Citizens for Squirrel Point to develop a fundraising brochure and created onsite signage that gives a timeline of the property's history. ("That will help raise awareness once you are at the property," she says.)
Now, just maybe, the rising junior can kick back and enjoy the last weeks of summer before gearing up for a fall Off-Campus Study program in Copenhagen, where she'll be studying architecture.
"You should see this at sunset," she says, gazing across the river at Phippsburg, where a white church steeple rises above the trees. "The light glows off the western façade of the tower and house. You can smell the saltwater from Popham Beach. Everything is so secluded. It's really gorgeous."
It's a place, and a time, she will probably remember for the rest of her life.