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Nauset Light

A postcard image of Nauset Light in Eastham prior to its big move in 1996. Cape Cod Life Archives

International Chimney was founded about 80 years ago to build smokestacks for steel mills along the Great Lakes. The company still specializes in industrial chimneys and stacks, but has carved out quite a niche in moving historic structures, including lighthouses. In addition to the Highland and Nauset lights, the company also relocated the Southeast Light on Block Island, the Cape Hatteras Light in North Carolina, the Sankaty Head Light on Nantucket in 2007, and Gay Head Light on Martha’s Vineyard in 2015.

“Historical structure moves and restorations are about 20 percent of the business of International Chimney, but 100 percent of the fun,” said Joseph J. Jakubik, manager of the company’s historical preservation division. While a lighthouse has few doors and windows—which are typically the weak links in a building move—its vertical shape creates a concentrated load, that is, more pounds per square foot of pressure, Jakubik explains.

Highland Light was by far the heavier of the two lights, with an estimated weight of between 400 and 500 tons to Nauset’s 90 tons. Work began in June of 1996. After the lighthouse was braced and reinforced—a process Jakubik likened to “putting it in a girdle”—the ground around the light was excavated. The staircase was suspended from above and the floor removed. Then holes were cut into the foundation, steel lift beams were inserted, hydraulic jacks were installed, and the light was lifted. Roll beams and rollers were slipped underneath, and large pneumatic jacks began to slowly push the structure forward.

According to North Truro resident Dave Spang, the process was painstakingly slow. Spang is a former Cape Cod National Seashore interpreter who was occasionally assigned to work at the site during the move to explain to visitors what was going on. “Visitors would ask, ‘When is it going to move?’ and I’d tell them, ‘It’s moving now.’ It was like watching grass grow.”

One of Spang’s most vivid memories is of workers lubricating the steel beams with Ivory soap; they went through “cases and cases” of the stuff. “Each time they pushed it would only go 5 or 6 feet,” Spang says, “The workers would get down and rub the I-beams with Ivory soap.”

The all-masonry structure was very unbalanced because of the attached lightkeeper’s quarters, Jakubik says. “The keeper’s quarters had a light footprint and the tower had a heavy footprint. The trick was to keep everything level while it was moving.” Also, due to the weight and the type of rollers used, the lighthouse could only be moved in a straight line. “Right off the bat, we had to aim it where it was going,” Jakubik says. “There was no steering involved.”

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