The Sheldon Museum has been awarded a “historic license” to restore, maintain and operate the Eldred Rock lighthouse as a historic project.
Recent notification from the U.S. Coast Guard that the museum won preservation rights to the Lynn Canal landmark ends a 16-year effort by the museum, said Pam Randles, chair of the museum’s Eldred Rock Committee.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Randles said. “Our dream is to restore it and protect it from further degradation.” Plans include creating a small, maritime museum, and establishing a tour site and kayak hostel there, as well as possibly housing an artists-in-residence project. “We’d like to offer people the opportunity to stop and check it out and stay overnight.”
On May 11, 28 Haines residents, as well as officials from the Coast Guard and Marine Exchange of Alaska in Juneau, will make a trip to the 108-year-old structure on remote Eldred Rock to do a “full-scale assessment.” The assessment will serve as the basis for a restoration plan, Randles said, and aims at determining costs of renovation.
Under federal guidelines, the museum, in consultation with the state historic preservation office, has four months to develop detailed restoration plans. If approved by the office, the Coast Guard will offer a license to the museum for a five-year term.
The museum’s first goal will be preserving the historic structure, followed by improvements to the site, Randles said. Deterioration in the past decade includes a leaky roof, doors coming off hinges and failed seals around windows.
The Coast Guard will remove hazardous materials there, including lead-based paint and soil contaminated with fuel.
The Coast Guard’s sanction is important for providing access to funding sources not previously accessible to the museum, including federal and private lighthouse restorating funds, Randles said. “That’s why this is huge.” The group will be launching a non-profit in order to accept such funding, she said.
The Marine Exchange is a non-profit group seeking to track boats and ships statewide, including by high-tech gear. Its interest is in stationing tracking gear on the island, but it also has helped restore lighthouses elsewhere in the region. The group, staffed heavily with former Coast Guard employees, has dedicated $10,000 per year cash plus labor toward restoration efforts, a critical contribution which could help fund grant-writing efforts and insurance for trips to Eldred Rock, Randles said.
Participation by the Marine Exchange is helpful for establishing the restoration group’s credibility, she said. “They’re providing basic functioning money. They’re covering our operations costs as we get set up, and they have the expertise.”
Randles said the museum will be required to restore the building to federal standards for historic preservation, and would be working with the state historic preservation office, which would oversee the work.
She described the lighthouse, built with California redwood, as the only “original” lighthouse in Southeast. “It hasn’t been renovated since it was built. It’s been kept up and maintained, but it hasn’t been changed.”
Outgoing museum director Jerrie Clarke said she was optimistic about the effort. “There are so many people involved. Marine Exchange of Alaska has become a major partner with cash and in-kind donations. It will be slow going but I think it will be pretty feasible now,” Clarke said.
Eldred Rock is a 2.4-acre island 20 miles south of Haines in Lynn Canal. Besides an octagonal, three-story lighthouse building 52 feet in diameter, the site includes a boathouse, carpenter shop and helicopter pad.
Improvements may include a new dock at the site, as visitors now come ashore at the island’s south shore and must scramble over rocks to reach the structures.
A seasonal floating dock may be the most economical, Randles said.
The Coast Guard will continue to maintain the light, which sits in a cupola atop the house. The light was automated in 1973.