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Lighthouse Annexed to Folly Beach
By Janice Shumake  —  Charleston Post and Courier

The Morris Island lighthouse is now a resident of Folly Beach. Built in 1876, the light kept ships from running aground. Now the lighthouse is besieged by the ocean, as waves pound its base relentlessly.

Save the Light, a committee that owns the lighthouse, sought annexation of the property into Folly Beach, and City Council approved the request last month.

The action won't move an ocean but could make a difference.

"It gives it a home, I guess, so to speak, but it's more a symbolic gesture for us on the committee", said Robert New, Save the Light co-chairman.

The committee always felt that Folly Beach was the appropriate jurisdiction for the lighthouse, which is located at the east end of the island, he said.

"Certainly, even when our group started, which is now 2-1/2 years ago, there was some indication that Folly Beach very much wanted the lighthouse. Very few jurisdictions can state they have a lighthouse within their jurisdiction" New said.

"It's more of a prestige thing than anything else", Folly Beach Mayor Vernon Knox said.

"It's a well-known landmark. People have been coming out to photograph it and view it and paint it for years and years", he said.

While the town doesn't expect to generate any revenue from the lighthouse, "we're just proud to have it in the city. We felt very honored", Knox added.

New said having the lighthouse within the city enhances Folly's image.

Save the Light has raised more than $100,000 in contributions, with $75,000 used to buy the lighthouse from a Columbia businessman.

The town contributed $20,000 toward the lighthouse's preservation.

"We will shortly have a mortgage burning", New said.

Solicitation of funds continues to aid preservation and restoration, which he estimates could cost $2 million to $3 million.

"It's the ultimate fixer-upper", said New.

T-shirts, posters, decals and bumper stickers soon will be available to raise funds for preservation, a campaign seeded with about $25,000 left in the coffers after the property's purchase.

Public interest has been high, and donations have come from all over the United States and as far away as Switzerland.

"What's been amazing to us is the interest in the lighthouse. We've been absolutely stunned and flabbergasted about the community interest in the lighthouse.

"Anybody who has visited the area who has taken that quiet walk along the beach and looked up at the magnificent structure, it has hit a nerve", New said. "There's a mystery about it. There is a mystery shrouded in all the stories about the seamen, the lighthouse keepers and the stories of the sea".

The committee intends to donate Morris Island to the state when arrangements can be worked out, but it will continue to raise funds for restoration. New said there will be a partnership between the Army Corps of Engineers, the state and the community.

Knox said he favors the lighthouse being in public hands.

"There's less chance of it being some sort of boat excursion for tourists. The corps can't do anything if it's not a public entity", he said.

The Corps of Engineers is evaluating the lighthouse with an eye to preserving the foundation and base. The evaluation is expected to cost about $40,000.

The corps' initial testing shows that the lighthouse is listing slightly and that the foundation is in good shape, New said. Other evaluations, such as soil-bearing tests, remain to be done.

Backers hope the foundation and base protection can be funded by a matching grant from the corps and the state, and that a work contract can be signed within a year. Tentative estimates for a grant range from $850,000 to $1.5 million.

"We're certainly hoping to have a saving of the lighthouse within the next 24 months. That might be a bit optimistic, but it's certainly possible", New said.

Opinions vary on the degree to which the lighthouse should be restored. Some people want the foundation and base saved to ensure the lighthouse is secure for several generations to come, he said. Others want to renovate the entire lighthouse, and some want to go as far as relighting it, which New thinks is extremely improbable.

While the committee wants the lighthouse to be an educational feature and would like to have a display about it on the old Coast Guard property overlooking the lighthouse property, access would be limited.

"Access there might never be complete and total. Obviously, its location makes access difficult".

The owners don't want to encourage anyone to try to get there now, and the lighthouse probably will be sealed off until restoration is accomplished.

"To get to it now is immensely treacherous and dangerous. If anything, we're trying to discourage people because it is dangerous".

The lighthouse has been vandalized, and the committee is securing the door so people can't enter.

"It's sad in a way because you see what people have done, and when you go up to that lighthouse and see the view, you have to be respectful", New said.

Thieves and vandals have taken everything of value, ripped out metal, broken windows and spray-painted graffiti inside. Even a commemorative metal plate engraved with the lighthouse's name and date of origin was stolen.

"It's a shame, because some of that is a history of the lighthouse", New said.

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