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After careful restoration, Jupiter Lighthouse shines again
The town's trademark 140-year-old beacon sprang to life at 8 p.m. Friday, like a giant awakening from a long slumber.
More than 5,000 people turned out to greet it like an old friend and celebrate the end of six months during which "something wasn't quite right," in the words of longtime resident Pat Tuning-Hartig.
"It was very strange to drive by while it was out," Tuning-Hartig, an artist, said.
On Aug. 21, the historic lamp was dismantled for the first time since the Civil War, so that it could be carefully and accurately restored. Scaffolding enveloped the tower like a cocoon in early October and remained throughout the $856,000 project, which involved applying 500 gallons of paint in three coats to return the landmark to its original muted, brick-red color.
The recent fire-engine red shade was introduced in 1974, to the dismay of some residents. "Gaudy," scoffed Bill Taylor, a nursery owner who arrived in Jupiter in 1968 at the age of 12.
Bob Boyd, who coordinated the restoration project for the Florida History Center and Museum, said the new paint was a special order from the same company in Kime, Germany, that produced the first batch.
Mayor Karen Golonka said the county's oldest structure emerged from the renovation "sturdy, not too flashy, and enduring -- like the folks here in Jupiter and Tequesta."
Hartig agreed. Like most town natives, Tuning-Hartig said many of her memories are connected with the 108-foot structure, which has withstood an earthquake and numerous hurricanes.
"When we were kids, we would climb it every weekend and just watch the world go by," the 30-year resident said. "I learned to smoke up there."
Mark Jarrett, who moved to Jupiter as a toddler in 1956, said the lighthouse has always been a welcoming sight for him.
"We'd be out fishing, but you could always tell when you were home," Jarrett said. "You'd always come home to the lighthouse."
Jarrett said he wouldn't have missed the relighting ceremony "for anything" -- after all, it only happens about once a century.
Construction of the lighthouse began in 1855 and was completed in 1860, when the light shone for the first time, helping seafarers to navigate the region's often-treacherous waters.
Confederate sympathizers hid the lamp in 1861, extinguishing the light for the duration of the Civil War. But it was relighted in 1866.
Although its fuel changed from lard oil to kerosene, then electric bulbs, the lighthouse shone nightly for the next 133 years.
Town leaders knew the sentinel's return to duty merited a big bash, but they underestimated the depth of residents' attachment to the lighthouse. Marianne Kollmer, president of the board of the Florida History Center and Museum, said organizers expected 1,000 to 1,500 people. "This is unbelievable," she said.
Volunteers at the park entrance "clicked" more than 4,500 people. But many more arrived by boat or set up lawn chairs hours in advance of the speeches, barbecue and fireworks.
During the renovation, craftsmen replaced aged wood, roofing, steps and fixtures with historically accurate replicas. But one thing that wasn't changed were the tower's four ground-glass lenses, made in Paris in 1835 for another lighthouse.
The bull's-eye-shaped lenses -- which project the light of a single 1,000-watt bulb to ships up to 24 miles away -- were polished, recaulked and reinstalled. One of the lenses is still cracked from the hurricane of 1928.
The project was finished two months early and $60,000 under budget. Boyd said the museum used the savings to make it wheelchair accessible, install a water fountain and sprinkler system, add landscaping, and restore the "oil house" so artifacts can be stored there.
For more information, call 561-747-6639.
Cindy Glover can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-243-6603.