2017-07-27 / Front Page

HITTING THE HOMESTRETCH

Museum hopes new effort helps it reach $1M goal
BY TIM RIEL


Beavertail stewards believe the view from atop of the lighthouse, which has navigated mariners into Narragansett Bay since 1749, is worth protecting. Beavertail stewards believe the view from atop of the lighthouse, which has navigated mariners into Narragansett Bay since 1749, is worth protecting. With a neighbor’s promise to match $500,000 in donations, stewards of the Beavertail Lighthouse are in the midst of a bold capital campaign to raise $1 million by the end of 2017 for its perpetual endowment to maintain its buildings.

Without second thoughts, the town unanimously agreed to contribute.

“There’s enough reserve kicking around here,” said Republican Councilman Blake Dickinson, a self-described budget hawk. “The lighthouse is one of our largest marketing tools.”

Varoujan Karentz, board member of the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association, presented the plea to the town councilors at their July 17 meeting. He said the stewards were asking for $25,000, the same amount the town contributed during the lighthouse’s 2006 campaign.


Varoujan Karentz, left, and Jim Buttrick at the trumpet foghorns on the Beavertail signal building. The replicas, which were built to dimensions from original U.S. Coast Guard engineering drawings, were installed in summer 2014. 
PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Varoujan Karentz, left, and Jim Buttrick at the trumpet foghorns on the Beavertail signal building. The replicas, which were built to dimensions from original U.S. Coast Guard engineering drawings, were installed in summer 2014. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN According to Karentz, that’s when the lighthouse complex was a two-room museum operating in the assistant keeper’s quarters with a meager gift shop. That capital campaign 11 years ago, however, has turned the landmark into a booming tourist destination. The town’s contribution, coupled with private donations and grants totaling nearly $150,000, financed the museum that stands today, showcased with 20th century interactive displays with year-round docents. The association also took control of the oil house, which was a shed for the state’s gardening equipment.

“We turned that into an exhibit that is absolutely outstanding,” Karentz said.

Because of the improvements, the museum welcomes roughly 32,000 visitors annually, up from 18,000 in 2004.

During his plea, Karentz referenced a surprise visit earlier this month from the U.S. Coast Guard’s Northeast district, which oversees the shoreline from Maine to Long Island. Following the stopover, the museum association received a glowing letter from the agency’s administration.

“We were so surprised to see how much Beavertail offers,” the letter said. “Truly it’s unbelievable to see the history, the presentation and the passion. What you’re doing at Beavertail sets the bar for all maritime museums.”

The Coast Guard also credited the stewards for “skillfully blending” preservation with exhibits that are fun and educational.

A follow-up letter with similar praise was received days later by the parks division at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.

“It gives you a feeling of how well this thing is going,” Karentz said.

According to Suzi Andrews, president of the museum association, money from this endowment will be used strictly to protect the six structures at Beavertail Point, including the iconic lighthouse, which originally was erected in 1749. Although the beacon that stands today was built in 1853, the site is home to the third oldest lighthouse in the Colonies.

“Beavertail is in a harsh environment,” Karentz said. “It couldn’t be any worse. Saltwater, wind, rain, corrosion.”

This environment, he said, has caused sagging floors, wet basements and leaky roofs. “Moisture is our biggest problem. It’s a constant battle to maintain the buildings. And it’s getting worse.”

The museum has been soliciting donations through private fundraisers, but Karentz’s plea to the town was delivered in concert with a public GoFundMe campaign. The association hopes the online donations can match the town’s contribution of $25,000. As of Wednesday morning, money from the GoFundMe site totaled $1,280 from 21 donors.

Along with the town’s contribution and the online campaign, the association already has cashed checks worth $172,000 from its supporters. All of these donations will be matched by Prudence Road’s Jim Buttrick, a lifelong summer resident closely connected to the historical society.

Because the 2017-18 budget has been enacted, the town will now decide where to get the money before the deadline, which is the end of the calendar year. That is when Buttrick’s offer expires.

“We’ll make it happen,” Town Administrator Andy Nota said.

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