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The perseverance of a local citizens' group finally paid off with title to one of the Lowcountry's most important landmarks: the Morris Island Lighthouse. The willingness of Save the Light Inc. to buy the lighthouse removes the initial stumbling block to its preservation.
But purchase of the 127-year-old structure only begins the campaign for its restoration. Spokesmen for the group say that public and private contributions will be required to pay off the $75,000 loan required to buy it; stabilize the lighthouse, which is surrounded by the sea; and follow with the necessary repairs to the structure itself. It is a challenging project that deserves the enthusiastic support of citizens and government.
Save the Light takes the position that the lighthouse now belongs to the people of South Carolina. It is the intent of the group to formally turn over ownership to the state after plans are further developed for its restoration.
The group plans a membership and fund-raising drive, and artist Jim Booth, who has made the lighthouse the subject of many paintings, will prepare a special "Save the Lighthouse" print, with the proceeds of its sale going to the project. Mr. Booth and Robert New, a former school board chairman and owner of a ships' supply company, guaranteed the loan for its purchase.
Meanwhile, Rep. Lynn Seithel, R-Charleston, has submitted legislation that authorizes state ownership and would provide state assistance for its restoration. If approved, the $1 million allocation will go a long way to achieve the goal of long-term preservation.
Non-profit ownership of the lighthouse will enable the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to assist in the preparation of preservation plans. Turning over title to the state could provide for additional federal assistance, as well as state aid. Congress, for example, approved $8 million last year to move and stabilize the historic Hatteras Island Lighthouse, which is in danger of falling to the ocean waves.
There are no such plans to move the Morris Island Lighthouse. Studies show that it can be stabilized at its present location. The lighthouse is in surprisingly good shape, but needs structural work around its base to forestall the damage from waves and to ensure it can withstand a hurricane.
The lighthouse is one of Charleston's best known and most beloved landmarks, and the public owes a debt of gratitude to Save the Light for its willingness to deal with the frustrating title issue and to make the significant investment for its purchase. "We never gave up," says Barbara Schoch, a founder of the citizens' group. The local community and the state should help complete the job it has started.