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Aging Lighthouse Gets Fresh Coat

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

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At 186 years old, Michigan's oldest operating lighthouse has recently received a facelift.

Nearly surrounded by four of the Great Lakes, the state is reported to have the most lighthouses of any state in the U.S.

The 82-foot-tall Fort Gratiot Lighthouse received a new coat of white paint on Oct. 12, the Times Herald reported, in an ongoing maintenance effort to keep the tower in working order and open to tourists.

"We're trying to be proactive and keep up with the maintenance so we don't have any damage to the masonry," Mark Brochu, St. Clair County Parks and Recreation director told the newspaper.

This preemptive maintenance follows fast on the heels of a major renovation the lighthouse underwent just four years ago.

Keeping the Light On

Contractors from RJ Hill Painting of Marysville, MI, undertook the most recent paint job. The team was hired to spray apply a white coating onto the lighthouse exterior in order to keep moisture out of the brick.

Ray Hill, owner of the firm, said in a phone call Friday that this was purely a maintenance job to preserve the brickwork.

Some light scraping was required before beginning, but the brick and mortar joints were still in good condition from the 2011 major renovation, Hill said.

The painters used a Breathable Masonry Coating II (BMCII) masonry specialty coating produced by Prosoco. According to the manufacturer, the protective coating is a breathable water repellent that lets water vapor escape from masonry while stopping destructive liquid water from entering.

They were required to follow strict paint specifications and certain guidelines, provided by the Port Huron Museum, which operates the property. This is not unusual when working with museums and historical sites, Hill said.

Windy Project

The only real challenge the crew encountered, he said, was from the high winds on site. Although the plan was to spray the paint onto the structure, 90 percent of the paint job was done by hand in the end.

“The winds were just too much,” Hill said.

Still, “All things considered, it went on rather easy,” he added.

James Marvin Phelps / CC By 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Although the plan was to spray the paint onto the structure, shown here in 2004 prior to its major renovation, 90 percent of the paint job was done by hand due to high winds on site.

According to Hill, the museum has plans to do additional work next year. He said his team will be back on site to paint the exterior peak and that the museum wants to do the interior as well.

Preserving History

Although this paint job cost less than $5,000, according to Brochu, the 2011 work came in at $555,630. (RJ Hill was not the contractor during this restoration, Hill said.)

At that time, the Port Huron U.S. Coast Guard, which established a station nearby in 2004, had deemed the site unsafe for public access. The site was closed in August 2008 because bricks had begun to fall from the exterior. 

The extensive renovations began after St. Clair County secured the deed for the property from the federal government in the fall of 2010. (Lighthouses, once deemed a technological marvel, have been transferred or auctioned off at record rates by the U.S. government since 2000.)

The revamp allowed the site to reopen to visitors for guided tours in May 2012.

Brochu told the newspaper that it’s satisfying to see tourist traffic at the once-dilapidated site.

"It's fun to see," he said. "It's part of why Port Huron and St. Clair County are here, because of the connection to the waterways."

The lighthouse, which sits at the entrance to the St. Clair River from Lake Huron, was built in 1829.


Tagged categories: Brick; Historic Preservation; Historic Structures; Maintenance + Renovation; Masonry coatings; Masonry waterproofing; North America; Paint application; Protective Coatings; Spray systems

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