Lighthouse lens displayed at museum

  • Saturday, August 2, 2014

Clayton Stairs/South Strand News Members of the U.S. Coast Guard, including Chief Boatswain David Brown ANT Georgetown, far right, stand with, from left, Lee Talbot and Mack McAlister who were instrumental in bringing the historic lens to the S.C. Maritime Museum in Georgetown.

A lighthouse lens that guided thousands of ships into Winyah Bay and the Georgetown Harbor for more than 100 years is back home and on display for the public.

The S.C. Maritime Museum in Georgetown held a homecoming celebration July 31 for the lens.

This fifth order Fresnel lens lit the Georgetown Lighthouse on North Island from 1870 to 1986, according to Mack McAlister, a museum board member who led efforts to return the lens to Georgetown with help from the U.S. Coast Guard, Susan Sanders, board member and former museum director, and Lee Talbot. Talbot helped design the display case.

“It is very exciting to get it back because it belongs here,” McAlister said.

“For 116 years, this lens was in continuous use. It withstood hurricanes and welcomed ships throughout Georgetown’s lumber boom in Georgetown from 1890 to 1925.”

The highlight of the event was the lighting of the lens – housed in a large glass case resembling the top of a lighthouse – showing guests how light shines through this historic artifact.

Built in 1811, the Georgetown Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse still in operation in South Carolina and one of the oldest in the country, McAlister said.

The lens, created in Paris, was designed as a magnifying glass and surrounded by rings of glass prisms to bend light.

It was fueled originally by whale oil, but later by kerosene.

McAlister explained that the lens was stationary and illuminated 360 degrees, bright enough to see 15 miles out to sea.

The lens will be on loan to the museum for a 10-year period, which is renewable.

Chief Boatswain David Brown ANT Georgetown of the Coast Guard, conducted the property transfer from the Coast Guard headquarters station in Miami (where the lens was being displayed) to Georgetown.

He said he promised McAlister he would bring the lens to Georgetown if everything was approved.

“It was an honor to follow through on our end,” Brown said during the event.

“It was a group effort.”

Johnny Weaver, president of the museum board, said during the event that the cost for bringing the lens to Georgetown was about $14,500 and insurance for $250,000, required by the Coast Guard, will cost the museum $10,000 each year.

In addition to paperwork, the museum had to build the glass display case and hire a professional to clean the lens.

He said the board has raised about $4,500 and it is accepting donations to help cover costs.

“There is a group helping raise funds called Friends of the Lens,” Weaver said.

“They are selling T-shirts and videos here at the museum.”

Donations are welcome to help cover costs accrued by the museum for this project.

Ways to donate

All contributions will be recognized on the Friends of the Lens donor page.

Donations can be made through PayPal without having a PayPal account.

Send a donation payable to the SC Maritime Museum to:

The SC Maritime Museum

P.O. Box 2228

Georgetown, SC 29442

The S.C. Maritime Museum is operated by the Harbor Historical Association, a tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization.

For more information on these lenses, visit the following link: http://coastguard.dodlive.mil/2009/09/history-fresnel-lenses/.

For more information contact Coast Guard 7th District Public Affairs Detachment Jacksonville at 305-318-1864.

The S.C. Maritime Museum is located at 729 Front St. in Georgetown.

Call the museum at 843-520-0111, or visit the website at www.scmaritimemuseum.org.

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