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Volunteers work to restore, preserve and share historic Juneau lighthouse

An abandoned lighthouse that’s been standing alone in Alaska’s Lynn Canal for almost 50 years is on track for a make-over and could soon host visitors and lighthouse enthusiasts from around the world.

Built in 1905 and placed into service in 1906 on Eldred Rock, the keeper and crew steered ships around navigational hazards and ensured safe passage for generations of mariners. Automation replaced the purpose of the lighthouse crew, and in 1973 the site was decommissioned. Now, a group of Juneau-area volunteers is working to restore it and preserve this piece of maritime history.

According to the Eldred Rock Lighthouse Preservation Association’s website, the structure is the oldest surviving octagonal frame original lighthouse in the state, enduring through a 1930s-era revamp of other Alaskan lighthouses thanks to a solid concrete base.

Today, the lighthouse is one of the top 10 most endangered historic properties in the state.

“We have lots of encouragement. Lots of people go past it on the ferry on the way to Haines and Skagway, not to mention all the people who pass it on the cruise lines,” said Sue York, executive director of the Eldred Rock Lighthouse Preservation Association.

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York said that donations and grants have enabled work to move along quickly, reversing decades of damage caused by the weather and neglect.

“A lot of repairs have begun,” she said, citing a summer project to remediate all asbestos from the kitchen and bathroom and remove lead paint.

York said concrete repair is on tap for next summer, along with repairs to the lantern room. Eventually, interpretative signs will share the history of the building and the crews that lived and worked there.

York said the group’s goal is to have the lighthouse ready for visitors in 2023, a full 50 years after it was abandoned and left to stand alone.

“Our mission is to restore, preserve and share,” she said. “We hope to be able to rent it out and give tours.”

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York said that financial support from the Marine Exchange of Alaska, Rasmuson Foundation, Coeur Alaska Kensington Mine, Dahlberg Design, Home Depot, Sherwin Williams, Coastal Helicopters, Mercury Contracting, the U.S. Lighthouse Society, Chilkat Valley Community Foundation, Alaska Association for Historic Preservation along with support from members of the Eldred Rock Lighthouse Preservation Association, make progress possible.

She said that fundraising is underway to pay for the concrete repairs, which are likely to cost $165,000.

In addition, the group is hoping to fund a boat to keep in Haines — which is only 17 miles from the lighthouse — that will make it easier to reach the site.

“We made 19 trips by boat and helicopter this summer,” York said, noting that it takes about two hours to travel the 55 miles between Juneau and the lighthouse by sea. She said that 18 volunteers are trained and ready to work on the site and the boat will make transportation easier.

York said that representatives of the organization will be available at Juneau Public Market Nov. 26 to 28 and that the group is organizing a virtual fundraising 5K race that is scheduled for the first week of January.

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