- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2007

NORTH EAST, Md. — Visitors to Turkey Point Lighthouse soon could be able to climb to the top of the 174-year-old structure, thanks to completion this week of a solid-oak spiral staircase.

Carpenters Michael Motta and Larry Kline of North East replaced the exterior wainscoting and painted it, patched a hole in the copper roof and built the new staircase inside. The two work for Ross Gibson, a local restoration specialist contracted by Turkey Point Light Station Inc.

Mr. Gibson stopped by Tuesday to check on their progress as they finished up the project.

“Today is our last day here,” Mr. Motta said, with a touch of regret in his voice.

“This has got to be the best location I’ve ever worked on. Just look at that view,” he said, pointing to the Chesapeake Bay at the convergence of the Elk and Northeast rivers.

The lighthouse occupies 4 acres atop a 100-foot bluff at the end of Elk Neck Peninsula, 12 miles south of downtown North East.

“It’s great working on this project,” Mr. Motta said, while his partner, Mr. Kline, applied linseed oil to the bottom of each stair tread.

The two men enjoyed working on the lighthouse so much that they volunteered to do a little extra work that was not part of their contract.

Mr. Kline replaced bricks along the newly completed staircase. This included $235 of exterior white paint and three men to put a fresh coat on the outside of the tower.

“It was a blessing to be able to help them out,” Mr. Motta said of Turkey Point Light Station Inc., the volunteer citizen group organized 12 years ago by North East area resident Dean Rice.

Mr. Rice, 82, retired from teaching industrial arts at North East High School. He first got interested in the lighthouse after volunteering to help paint it back in the early 1990s.

“North East Lions Club members Robert Crouch and Doug Dunston asked me to help them paint it at the request of the U.S. Coast Guard that owned it back then,” Mr. Rice said.

That’s when Mr. Rice first learned about the existence of a keeper’s house that stood next to the lighthouse. It was abandoned in 1948 when the last keeper, Fannie Mae Salter, retired and moved out. The empty house fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1971.

Mr. Rice has been on a mission to restore the keeper’s house since he first heard about it. With the help of reliable volunteers, Mr. Rice incorporated the nonprofit organization in 1995 that now co-owns the lighthouse with the state.

Mr. Rice has never lost sight of his goal to raise enough money to rebuild the keeper’s house and include a museum to display all of the artifacts they’ve collected over the years.

Progress has been slow and bumpy at times. The group originally was told that it would need about $150,000 to rebuild. Now the estimate is closer to $400,000, not including the cost of electricity, a well and a septic system.

Volunteers have raised about $94,000, but the decision to renovate the lighthouse has put them back about $40,000.

“We think opening up the lighthouse to public tours will allow us to raise more money faster,” Mr. Rice said. “That’s our hope.”

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