Between damages to Pemaquid Beach and structures within Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Park, Bristol Parks and Recreation Director Shelley Gallagher said the initial estimate to repair destruction from back-to-back January storms could be even higher than $1 million.
The bell house, located at the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Park had its eastern, ocean-facing wall knocked in by a wave that struck overnight on Tuesday, Jan. 9 into Wednesday, Jan. 10 with no witnesses, according to Gallagher.
However, according to the readings of the lighthouse weather station, Gallagher said it’s possible the wave hit during one of two notable gusts of 70 mph winds that occurred between 4-5 a.m. Wednesday.
“The waves were coming in so hard, it just knocked everything in,” Gallagher said.
In a stroke of luck and good timing, the bell, which has historically hung outside of the eastern wall, was taken down in early August because its support beam was rotting, which likely kept it from getting swept away.
“Having it down and inside the building actually protected the bell and it’s in great shape,” Gallagher said.
The same can’t be said for the bell house. Despite faring better in the second storm on Saturday, Jan. 13, Gallagher predicts that due to the damage in the first storm, it will need to be completely rebuilt.
“Even the walls that are still there, we were hoping to keep, but it looks like they shifted in the storm,” she said. “I don’t know if it’ll be torn down or if we can do it in pieces, we don’t know.”
Gallagher said they’re hoping to have repairs done before the tourist season starts in mid-May, but since the bell house is on the national historic registry, repairs will take awhile.
The bell house was originally built in 1897 on the south side of the lighthouse to accommodate a hand-operated fog bell. The bell was used by lighthouse keepers in weather with poor visibility to alert mariners of the shore, according to Gallagher.
The bell operated with what is known as a Stevens striking machine: a mechanism utilizing a series of weights that rise and fall in the white tower adjacent to the bell house. This rang the bell at regular intervals for six to eight hours as the weights slowly descended, similar to a cuckoo clock.
According to Lincoln County News archives, this isn’t the first time the bell house has sustained significant damage.
The white weight tower and the roof of the bell house were badly damaged in storms in April 1991. However, when Hurricane Bob hit the coast of Maine in August of that same year, the tower and bell house were completely destroyed. Both structures were rebuilt in 1992.
The lighthouse building, where The Fishermen’s Museum is housed, took a beating as well, according to Gallagher.
The fencing on the south side of the museum was yanked up by waves and wind and, with their cement anchors still attached, thrown against the building, damaging the outside.
Initial estimates for the damage caused to the structures in Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Park hover around $800,000 due to the amount of damage and the nature of the damage.
According to Gallagher, both the bell house and lighthouse building are on the National Register of Historic Places, which means they there are stricter guidelines in order to rebuild.
Pemaquid Beach Park sustained damage too, losing 25 feet of dunes in the dune restoration project, a few notable trees on the shoreline, and a section of the boardwalk that connects the beach pavilion to the shore.
“The beach was also trashed,” Gallagher said.
While the debris is notable and evident along the beach, Gallagher said the most important thing for the public to do right now is to resist the urge to clean up.
“Picking up trash is fine,” Gallagher said. “But as far as seaweed, wood, or construction debris, we don’t want them doing that.”
Gallagher said it’s important to leave the beach in its current state so that the parks department can properly document the damage to receive insurance money and funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“We absolutely appreciate it, and we’ll let everyone know when the time is right,” Gallagher said. “And it will be a big cleanup, but now isn’t the time.”
Gallagher said the initial estimates for damages at the beach hover around $300,000 and $350,000.
According to Gallagher, the burden of the cost of repairs isn’t on the town, but she’s submitting the damage to Bristol’s insurance company as well as to FEMA to hopefully cover a lot of the cost.
“(The) parks and recreation department will be covering the rest of the costs, and that is where any donations made for the lighthouse will be used,” she said. “Obviously parks is part of the town so they will step in to assist if it is needed, but with all of the damage to the rest of the town that is where they need to focus. We feel like we will be able to handle all of the parks costs so the town can focus on everything else.”
Despite all the damage to the Bristol Parks’ properties, Gallagher said the department was lucky and is grateful that it wasn’t worse.
“It did damage to us, but we didn’t lose out livelihood,” she said. “We have time to rebuild, unlike some of the fishermen. As bad as this all looks, we are actually lucky compared to some of the damage done in town.”
For updates on the cleanup, find Bristol Parks and Recreation on Facebook. To donate money for repairs to the properties, call the Bristol town office at 563-5270.