Anthony Houllis stood at the base of the St. Simons Lighthouse, looking up 104 feet — and looking back 145 years.
“This one’s been maintained really well,” Houllis quipped Thursday morning. “This structure’s in really good shape.”
“We want it in excellent shape,” said Mimi Rogers referring to the historic structure.
Which is precisely why Rogers and the Coastal Georgia Historical Society recruited Houllis all the way from Tampa, Fla., to perform “essential maintenance” on the storied local lighthouse. Houllis and his crew with Razorback, LLC, company began work Wednesday to ensure the integrity of the lighthouse’s original wrought iron decking, windowsills, lens room framework and other details.
“We have to answer to the National Park Service,” said Rogers, curator for the historical society, which is based at the St. Simons Lighthouse Museum. “Plus, we want to keep the lighthouse in shipshape condition.”
The project is in keeping with standards established by the National Historic Landmark Preservation Act of 2004, Rogers said. The recommended maintenance work resulted from a report conducted by Jacksonville architect Ken Smith. Smith also recommended Houllis. The young man’s main focus is contemporary bridges and water towers, but he has been doing historic lighthouse preservation work for several years now.
Houllis’ previous projects include work on the lighthouses on Gasparilla and Sanibel islands in Florida. This is his first visit to the St. Simons Lighthouse, built in 1872 by Georgia architect Charles Clusky.
The lighthouse has served as a guiding beacon for incoming ships to the Port of Brunswick ever since, and remains a viable navigational source still today. The lighthouse also attracts some 40,000 visitors annually, who ascend its 129 steps to attain perhaps the best vista on the entire Georgia Coast.
It is the wrought iron on the underside of that observation deck where Houllis will focus much of his work. The area’s stew of salt air and humidity naturally creates little stalactites of rust underneath. “All that salt gathering, and just sitting here, eventually causes the rust blooms everywhere,” Houllis said. “Underneath is where the rust really settles.”
In many ways, the wrought iron used in the 19th century is more sturdy than today’s steel, Houllis said. However, in other ways it less forgiving than today’s steel.
“It holds up better as far as rust and corrosion, but the challenge is that it is much more brittle,” Houllis said. “Steel will bend, with this you have to be cautious.”
Houllis and his crew reach the decking underneath by rising up on scaffolding attached to a complicated rigging of ropes and pulleys. In addition to a good pressure washing, the Cuskey’s wrought iron works will be sealed in coats of zinc and epoxy, as well as eurothane this and polymer that.
And in the end, the old St. Simons Lighthouse will be preserved for new generations to discover.
“After working on these and really understanding the history behind them I’ve gained a deeper appreciation of the past that goes along with them,” Houllis said. “These were the really big structures of their day. Everything depended on shipping and shipping depended on these lighthouses.”