CAPE VINCENT — The town of Cape Vincent is looking to do more with the Tibbetts Point Lighthouse.
In the next month or so, town councilman Daniel A. Wiley said he expects the town will be ready to submit an application to the U.S. National Park Service to reclassify the lighthouse as historical surplus property.
The councilman said the town is hoping, with fewer restrictions on how the property can be used, it will be able to generate the money necessary to properly maintain the 194-year-old lighthouse and ancillary buildings.
“The bottom line is, we’re a small township, we have ownership and control of that property, it’s due for some major renovations, updates, and upkeep, and it’s a large budget item.”
The town doesn’t maintain a separate budget entry for what it spends at the lighthouse. Mr. Wiley said the town has about $110,000 in funding set aside for the lighthouse property that is tapped when needed, and is seeking an additional $75,000 in grant money from the Dormitory Authority of New York State, which provides construction and financial services for local and state government projects.
Michael Cougler, president of the Tibbetts Point Lighthouse Historical Society, said the facility needs about $250,000 to $300,000 worth of maintenance.
“That’s just to bring it up to minimal standards,” he said.
There’s peeling paint inside, the windows should be redone soon, and the siding needs to be replaced with higher-quality materials. On nearly 200-year-old walls, repainting involves more than a pail of Sherwin Williams and some $5 brushes — all repairs have to be done with historically accurate formulations of paint, plaster and brick.
Tibbetts Point Lighthouse was formerly property of the U.S. National Park Service, and was taken over by the town of Cape Vincent through the Federal Lands to Parks Program in 1991. The town took over the maintenance and operations of the facility as a town park, but are currently barred from running any money-making enterprises on the site.
The lighthouse and surrounding historical buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, and must be maintained in a historically accurate way, with the same materials and methods as they would have been done in the year the building was constructed. That makes maintenance very expensive; specialized labor must be found, and historically-accurate materials must be used to make repairs.
If this application is approved, the facility will become historic surplus property, fully under the town’s control. It would still remain on the National Register of Historic Places.
“What this application will really allow us to do is to explore different avenues for revenue streams that are less restrictive under the current guidelines than what we have under Federal Lands to Parks,” Mr. Wiley said.
Mr. Wiley said he and a committee are working to come up with any and all ideas on how they could use the lighthouse and its surrounding buildings, and how those uses would generate revenue. He said they plan to meet with town and village leadership, the local Lions Club, taxpayers, local churches, the lighthouse historical society and anyone else who may have an interest in using or supporting the facility.
“We’re going to collaboratively and collectively come up with 10 ideas, narrowed down to one eventually, so everyone is involved in that decision,” he said.
Mr. Cougler said the historical society is excited to see the new developments that could come to the lighthouse, which has been an attraction for visitors across the country for years. It once housed a youth hostel, which Mr. Cougler said he stayed in as a child when his parents worked as hostel managers over the summers.
The hostel closed in 2018, but the historical society still runs a small visitors center, gift shop and museum on the site, staffed with volunteers during the summers. Overall, the society is spending $40,000 this year on maintenance, on top of the costs of running the visitors center and shops.
“It can get expensive,” he said.
Mr. Cougler said the historical society members all agree that the new classification, and the opportunities it could provide to restore and preserve the lighthouse for many more years, are all good things. He said the society is excited to work on the application process, and will ensure that the facility retains its originality throughout the process.
“We want it to stay historical, it has to under the new agreement,” he said. “It has to be taken care of, and the original spirit of the property has to be kept.”
Mr. Wiley said the application will be ready to submit after final drafting and a proofreading process, and the decision from the National Parks Service could take up to a year.
“With all the contact and the meetings and discussion we’ve had, we hope it doesn’t take quite as long as a year,” Mr. Wiley said. “We’re hoping for an answer by early next spring at the very latest.”