The Remaking of a Maine Landmark and Community Treasure
First built in 1908, the Wood Island Life Saving Station has become an integral part of history. Initially used as a base for mariners in distress, the service was later incorporated into the United States Coast Guard and used for harbor defenses during WW2. Shortly after the war, the property was decommissioned and given to the Town of Kittery. When Kittery began considering how they could turn over the unmaintained property, the non-profit Wood Island Life Saving Station Association (WILSSA) arose in 2011 and made the push to keep the station alive. The revitalized Wood Island Life Saving Station is now seen as a community treasure with a prestigious seat on the National Register of Historic Places expected soon.
Path to Restoration
WILSSA’s pledge to rehabilitation include the original station building, seawall and waterfront improvement, dock and marine railway for lifeboats. WILSSA also plans to establish a public maritime museum at the fully renovated station and offer tours to seacoast visitors who enjoy boating. Other plans include building a replica life boat and launching it from the station’s marine railway.
Tighe & Bond provided seawall assessments for this project in 2012, which subsequently turned into full permitting and design for all the waterfront restorations. This includes the north and south seawalls, an ADA accessible dock for large tour boats, and a historically accurate marine railway replacement. These elements have been designed and permitted, with the construction of the north seawall completed in June 2018.
With the close collaboration of WILSSA, the Maine National Guard and Tighe & Bond, the technical challenges of working on a small island (such as shipping equipment and supplies, timing the tides and adhering to tight schedules) were ultimately overcome to bring this waterfront project to success.
Maine National Guard & Funding to the Rescue
The Maine National Guard’s services were instrumental to the rapid north seawall construction. Approximately 60 members of the Maine Army National Guard’s 136th Engineer Company spent the month of June 2018 participating in an Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) to provide cost-free construction services for the seawall project. The guardsman set up a temporary camp at nearby Fort Foster and worked seven days a week to donate approximately $500,000 in wage labor. Besides rebuilding the seawall and importing 600 tons of rock fill, they also rebuilt the historic shed and installed rough electrical and plumbing throughout the station. This, along with WILSSA raising more than $2 million for the project, has helped keep costs down and spurred further community interest in the station.
Numerous other photos that tell this great story can be found on WILSSA’s Instagram site: https://www.instagram.com/woodislandlifesaving/.