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  November 10, 2003

Feds To Help Restore Avery Point Lighthouse

U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, R-2nd District, last week announced that the federal Save America's Treasures program had agreed to give the Avery Point Lighthouse Society $100,000 to help refurbish the historic lighthouse on the grounds of UConn's Avery Point campus.

About $230,000 had already been raised for the restoration project.

"We've had individual contributions, then the city and state and now the federal government has come through," said Jim Streeter, co-chairman and co-founder of the lighthouse society. "We are all part of the restoration. The lighthouse is going to be saved, there's no doubt now."

Simmons said the lighthouse restoration is both a personal and professional issue for him. "I was born in 1943, the year the lighthouse was built," he said. "In addition, my father was the architect for the Coast Guard training site and the Coast Guard built the lighthouse, so I have a family connection."

He said when he became aware of the community's hard work and contributions toward restoring the lighthouse, that "reinvigorated" his efforts to get funds from Washington.

The crumbling sandstone structure is one of only 23 lighthouses remaining in Connecticut, and it was the last of those to be built. Not used since 1967, the light is one of three at the mouth of the Thames River.

The lighthouse was built when the Coast Guard developed a training station at the site, a 72-acre estate once owned by industrialist Morton F. Plant. In 1938, two decades after Plant's death, the estate was sold to the state. Four years later, the state sold the property to the federal government, and the Coast Guard took over the site in 1942. In 1967, when the Coast Guard moved all but its research and development program from the area, the state acquired the property again and it became home to UConn's Avery Point campus.

Ultimately, says Streeter, members of the Avery Point Lighthouse Society would like to open the restored lighthouse to the public, with a small museum on the ground floor reflecting the story of the lighthouse, and the history of the Avery Point property, the Coast Guard, and the University's presence there.

Larry Schilling, University architect, said the grant, combined with some funding from the state Department of Environmental Protection and state bonding funds, will provide nearly all the funding necessary to finish the job. Using funding already available, Schilling said, workers have already begun restoring the lighthouse.