Above: Former lighthouse keepers Lorraine and Randall Anderson with 2015 keepers Mary Hillery and Greg Guckenburg. /COURTESY PHOTOS
By Shelley A. Sackett / firstname.lastname@example.org
On Labor Day, the Naumkeag departed from the Salem Ferry dock at 10 Blaney St. and travelled the five miles to Bakers Island for the last time of the 2015 season. It carried the island’s 1,017th visitor this summer.
It was just about a year ago when 40 people took the same trip, their landing at Bakers Island’s rocky coast symbolic of the rocky start of the relationship between the fiercely private summer island residents and the Essex National Heritage Commission.
The 2014 visitors included a uniformed Coast Guard rear admiral, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll and Annie Harris, chief executive of Essex Heritage. They were aboard to celebrate the official handover of the Bakers Island Light Station from the Coast Guard to Essex Heritage, a nonprofit management organization for the hundreds of historic, cultural and natural places in Essex County.
Bakers Island is a 60-acre island in Salem Sound with a fiercely private summer colony of about 55 cottages. Its 100 or so residents tried for years to win control of the masonry lighthouse — and the 10-acre property where it sits alongside two keeper’s houses — from the federal government, which has owned and operated it since 1798.
The residents lost their battle and on Aug. 27, 2014, the deed was transferred to Essex Heritage. The organization got right to work raising money to fund restoration of the lighthouse, keeper’s houses, and the lantern and oil buildings.
“We obtained a substantial $10,000 grant from the Daughters of the American Revolution which gave us the initial ‘boost’ to take on the renovation of the lighthouse tower,” said Harris. Essex Heritage also started a Kickstarter campaign, which, owing to the generosity of the many “Bakers Backers,” exceeded its $30,000 fundraising goal and gave the project great visibility.
“Thanks to mason Marty Nally and his crew, the lighthouse project was completed on time and on budget,” said Harris.
Restoration of the lighthouse was extensive and labor intensive. Essex Heritage also made substantial progress on the renovations of the assistant keeper’s house and restored some of the original pathways on the west side of the property, cutting through bittersweet and sumac to open up some good water views.
The renovated lighthouse had a constant flow of visitors this summer, at $35 a ticket. Annie Harris was pleased. “The summer went extremely well,” she said. “Our volunteer couple Greg Guckenburg and Mary Hillery – and their black lab Mitch – were super. Not only did they accomplish a lot of work on both the exterior grounds and interior renovation of the assistant keeper’s house, they also were very hospitable and welcoming to the visitors. Mary studied the history of the light station and was a very gracious and enthusiastic hostess. She greeted every boat tour.”
Peter Golden, president of the Bakers Island Wharf Company, which functions as the residents’ association, echoed Harris’ assessment of how the island’s first summer being open to the public went. “Overall we were very pleased at how smoothly the tours went this summer, and we look forward to continued cooperation with Essex Heritage,” he said.
There is a lot to do to “put the property to bed” for the winter and then gear up again in the spring. The plumbing needs to be drained, boats put away and equipment stored. Harris has identified an energetic volunteer couple for next summer and will work with them over the winter to create the work plan for next summer.
Essex Heritage plans to apply for another grant soon. There will not be another Kickstarter campaign just yet, even though the first one was so successful financially. “It was a great experience – not only because of the money we raised, but also because of the excellent publicity and lots of new friends who support the Bakers Light Station,” Harris said.
For now, she is delighted to have been instrumental in gaining access to an Essex County treasure for the 1,017 visitors. “I’ve seen the light,” she said with a twinkle in her voice. “Have you?”