Keeping the past alive
Visitors can see how the volunteers have expanded the museum from three rooms to 10. They can explore the new interactive exhibits and marvel at the buildings that have been meticulously restored — everything from catwalks and railings to windows and floors.
According to the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association, the extensive work has enhanced the museum’s profile, but it has been costly, totaling upwards of $500,000 in the last decade.
The restoration, however, has prevented the nonprofit organization from establishing a sustainable endowment to protect the museum’s future. Jamestown historian Jim Buttrick is eager to do something about that to aid the historic site.
The association is preparing a massive fundraiser with the sole purpose of establishing an endowment to preserve the Beavertail buildings. Buttrick has pledged to match any donation dollar-for-dollar up to $500,000.
“If they had not done what they’ve done, I wouldn’t be so impressed to think these gains have to be consolidated,” Buttrick said. “We’ve got to be thinking toward the future, especially since they’ve gotten past what I think is the hardest part, taking care of all the basics.”
Every dollar raised would go toward a permanent fund. The endowment would show a longterm commitment to the museum’s mission while providing a way to pay for some operational costs, programs and unanticipated needs. The key motivation, however, is preservation.
“We are constantly fighting to find ways to raise money,” said Stew Morgan, vice president of the museum’s board of directors. “Now that we’ve expanded, the challenges are like living in a 150-year-old house. Anyone who has ever lived in an old house knows the challenges that come with it.”
The work at Beavertail has been ongoing and significant. In 2010, the association was recognized by the Rhode Island Historic Preservation & Heritage Commission for executing its preservation plan. Using the plan as a road map, the association spent a year completing electrical work, internal restoration, external woodworking and masonry projects. Also, workers installed mortar that matched the original coating applied to the tower and buildings.
This $327,000 project was followed by renovations to the oil storage building, the foundation, the keeper’s house and the fog signal building.
“It’s sort of crept project by project, and I don’t think people generally realize the overall scope of the work,” Buttrick said. “If you drive by and look at the waves but haven’t been inside in five years, you might think it’s the same museum. It isn’t.”
An endowment also will make it easier for the association to continue carrying out its two missions, which are to preserve the site for future generations and to provide educational and historical experiences to its visitors. Specifically, establishing an endowment would allow the nonprofit to expand the educational component of the mission.
“If we’re not constantly scrambling for funds to do unexpected repairs, we can improve our educational mission,” Morgan said.
In recent years, the association has installed QR codes that link visitors to the organization’s website, where they can find interpretive information on subjects of local interest. They’ve also launched a comprehensive and interactive shipwreck database that includes a list of maritime accidents that have taken place off Rhode Island’s coast.
The improvements have been well received, said Varoujan Karentz, a member of the board of directors who has spearheaded many of the projects. The museum used to attract between 18,000 and 20,000 visitors annually, he said. That number has ballooned to nearly 30,000, with the board reporting a record number of visitors in its 2015 newsletter. The endowment would allow the association to continue building on the momentum.
“The opportunity here almost sells itself,” Karentz said. “This would allow for a permanent way to make sure these buildings can be sustained for the future.”
How to help
To donate to the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association’s endowment, call Nicole Contino at 860- 912-5720 or send checks to Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association, P.O. Box 83, Jamestown, RI 02835.