A rare and valuable lighthouse lens that was in the care of the town of Cape Elizabeth for nearly two decades won’t go to a government warehouse in Boston after all.
The Maine Maritime Museum, on the Kennebec River in Bath, has agreed to display the lens that once was used at Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth, overlooking Casco Bay.
The 1,800-pound Fresnel lens will be delivered to Bath next week, then reassembled and put on permanent display.
The lens, which was installed in 1874, operated in the east tower of Two Lights until 1994, when it was replaced with state-of-the-art lighting equipment.
The Fresnel lens was displayed in the lobby of Town Hall for the past 18 years. The town paid $2,500 a year to insure the lens, which is valued at $2.5 million.
It was dismantled and put in crates at the end of July.
Town Manager Michael McGovern said there is some sadness about the loss of a historic artifact, but most people have told him they are glad the lens is going to an appropriate setting.
“The good news is that it will be seen by a lot of people,” McGovern said.
In 1995, the Coast Guard agreed to loan the lens to Cape Elizabeth for 10 years as part of the town’s Portland Head Light collection. The agreement stipulated that the town would be responsible for disassembling, packaging and shipping the lens back to the Coast Guard at the end of the lease.
McGovern said the agreement expired and no action was taken until this year, when the town decided to renovate its municipal building.
When the town approached the Coast Guard about moving the lens to another part of Town Hall, it became clear that such a move would not be feasible, McGovern said.
The town was told that a professional lampist would have to be hired to dismantle and reassemble the lens, that the lens would have to be reglazed, and that it would have to be protected from ultraviolet light. And visitors would not be allowed to touch it.
McGovern estimated that the cost of keeping the lens in Cape Elizabeth could reach $7,500 a year. He recommended that the lens be returned to the Coast Guard.
In April, town councilors, who serve as directors of the Museum at Portland Head Light, decided to return the lens to the Coast Guard.
Cape Elizabeth paid $9,000 to have two Coast Guard lampists disassemble the lens and put it in crates in July, McGovern said.
McGovern said the artifact was about to be shipped to a government warehouse in Boston when the Maine Maritime Museum offered to take it.
Museum officials said they were contacted in mid-July by Arlyn Danielson, a Coast Guard curator, who asked whether the maritime museum might be willing to display the lens.
“We said we can’t let this piece go into storage forever,” said Amy Lent, the museum’s executive director.
Lent said museum officials realize that they are taking on a big obligation. It will cost more than $9,000 to set up a display, so the museum will have to hold a fundraiser to support the exhibit.
“These lenses are huge and they are very fragile,” Lent said. “There’s a lot of care around them.”
But Lent said the museum in Bath, which merged with the Portland Harbor Museum in 2011, is grateful for the opportunity to bring the lens’ history to life.
She said, “We hope to collaborate with the community to ensure this part of Maine’s heritage is accessible to all visitors who have a fondness for lighthouses in general and the Cape Elizabeth light in particular.”
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]