Lighthouse history buffs take note: Tonight at 6 p.m. the Montauk Lighthouse will re-illuminate their original Fresnel lens in the lighthouse tower after its removal over 25 years ago.
The light that’s shone from the Turtle Bluff up until now has been a modern-style VRB-25 lens, invented in the the late twentieth century by the New Zealand-based manufacturer, Vega, with guidance from the U.S. Coast Guard. The purpose was to create a lower-maintenance type of light for lighthouse use, as the Coast Guard is responsible for their maintenance and upkeep in lighthouses across the United States.
According to Mia Certic, executive director for the Montauk Historical Society, the original Fresnel lens was retired in the late ’80s, and has been on view in the Montauk Lighthouse’s museum.
“We will be officially relighting the 3-1/2 order Fresnel lens that served our lighthouse from 1903 to 1987, when it was removed by the Coast Guard,” said Certic in an email. “The Coast Guard is now allowing us to return it to service as part of a two-year pilot program to determine the feasibility of the Fresnel lenses in active use.”
Dubbed “the invention that saved a million ships,” the Fresnel light was invented by French physicist Augustine-Jean Fresnel around the turn of the nineteenth century, whose internal reflection capabilities that glowed through its ridged outer prismatic shape was able to create a beam of light that shown further into the distance, and thus allowing ships to use the distant beacons as reliable sources to navigate home in dark, stormy weather.
Back in the spring when we spoke with lighthouse keeper and president of the Montauk Historical Society Joseph Gaviola for our story on the revetment and refresh of the lighthouse, re-installation of the Fresnel was still in the dream-stage.
“It’s been something we’ve been working on for probably 15 years. We’d love to take that Vega beacon down and put this gorgeous, three and a half order lens back up, and we’re currently working with the Coast Guard. We’re hopeful!” he said. “The reason [the Coast Guard] took it down was because of maintenance and manning, and all those issues. We have to have a very good reason and a very capable team to put it back up. For us, it’s a gorgeous sweeping beam that we would love, as a historical society, to put back up.”
After years of careful and patient work, it seems tonight their wish will be granted.
“It’s so much brighter than the little lens we’ve had for the past few years,” writes Certic. “and it has this lovely loom as it sweeps across the sky.”
If you can make it out to the lighthouse this evening, the short re-lighting ceremony — an exciting moment in the lighthouse’s storied history — will take place at 6 p.m.