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The Lighthouse Lens Project – 2024
2024 Keystone Project

The Restoration of the 1875 Fresnel Lens and Exhibit 

housing to be built on Lighthouse Complex


Background and Need

The South Carolina Parks, Recreation and Tourism (PRT) Department has secured funding for an extensive restoration of the Hunting Island Lighthouse on Hunting Island State Park. This iconic structure is the centerpiece of the Hunting Island State Park, the most visited park in the South Carolina State Park System.

Currently displayed in the base of the lighthouse is a classic Fresnel Lens of the largest 1st Order size. (Photo attached) The lens is about 12 feet high and 6 feet in diameter. The lens was received by the State of South Carolina from the U. S. Coast Guard in 1962 and has been on display in the lighthouse since. Although missing some parts over the years, it continues to be a centerpiece of the lighthouse experience for visitors to the park.

The lens was originally installed in the Charleston Lighthouse on Morris Island at the entrance to Charleston Harbor. In 1938, the lens was removed and stored at the Bureau of Lighthouses Lighthouse Depot in Charleston. The lighthouse was downgraded due to the erosion of Morris Island so the island could no longer support a lighthouse keeper staff. The lighthouse was now automated with a smaller light requiring no keeper staff. When the U. S. Coast Guard assumed responsibility for all U. S. lighthouses in 1939, the lens passed to the Coast Guard along with the Charleston Depot. In 1962, the State of South Carolina acquired the lens from the U. S. Coast Guard and placed it on display in the base of the Hunting Island Lighthouse.


Host Building for Fresnel Lens 

Develop a plan for the construction of a small additional building on the Hunting Island Light Station to house the lens itself, possibly additional related artifacts and displays, and illustrations and text. This building will have additional space for this expanded lens exhibit and will also be ADA accessible, which the base of the lighthouse is not. The building will also be capable of some limited climate control also which the base of the lighthouse is not. This will help to preserve the lens according to recommendations from the consulted lens expert.

This “new” building will not, in fact, be new to the light station as the recent discovery of a photograph of the light station c.1894 clearly shows that just such a small building existed on the light station (Original 1894 photograph attached). Since the light station of today is somewhat smaller than in 1894, the new building will have to be in a different location on the Lighthouse Complex. The design of this building will begin immediately as this will be done by Friends of Hunting Island (FOHI) volunteers from the Construction and Lighthouse Committees. 

Once a basic design and a possible location are determined, an approval process will be necessary from South Carolina Parks, Recreation and Tourism (SCPRT) as well as the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) as the Hunting Island Light Station is on the National Register of Historic Sites. 

With the approvals obtained and the ATax grant secured, the construction of the small lens exhibit building can begin, likely in early 2024. (sketch of proposed building and location on complex attached) This will allow at least a year to complete this first element. When feasible and appropriate, work will be done by FOHI volunteers


Fabrication of new Frame and Base

A lens of the 1st Order size included, in addition to the bronze frame that directly supports the glass elements, an iron support frame which supported the several bronze frame parts. Due to the proximity of the salt ocean environment and the bi-metallic corrosion of the iron and bronze in contact, constant maintenance of the support frame is needed to prevent its rusting (2022 Photo of lens, frame and base is attached). Of course, post 1962, this was not done, so the support frame is now completely rusted away and useless. In the early 2000’s the State Park was required to add a temporary timber support structure to the lens to prevent its collapse. When the lens is disassembled in October 2023, the remains of the original iron support frame will likely disintegrate so a new support frame will be needed when the lens components are reassembled later when the building discussed in Element 1 above has been completed. 

It is the design and fabrication of this new support frame that is the subject of this element. The design will be the task of a specialist in the design of lens structures. He may need access to the lens prior to its disassembly in October. This will be arranged. The design will specify modern materials (for example marine grade stainless steel) that will greatly reduce or eliminate the need for maintenance to maintain it. Of course, the ugly timber support structure that greatly detracts from the lens’ inherent beauty will be eliminated. 

With a design completed, the Friends of Hunting Island will look to engage a local steel fabrication firm to construct the frame. The advantage of this is that the proximity of the work will allow the Friends of Hunting Island to observe the work and quickly answer questions that may arise. It also gives the opportunity for community involvement in the progress of the work at the Hunting Island Light House. 

With a new support frame and a new exhibit building to put the lens in, the reassembly of the lens can proceed. How this final phase of the Hunting Island lens project will take place will be a subject of future discussions between South Carolina Parks, Recreation and Tourism and the Friends of Hunting Island. 

Design and Frame Concept February, 2024

On January 20, 2024, a meeting was held at Artworks in Florida by FOHI Lighthouse Director, Ted Panayotoff and Dan Spinella, Frame Restorationist, to discuss the frame design. One of the existing vertical frame members was brought to the firm so the final measurements could be checked against the original. 


As a result of that visit, the lens frame design is well under way and preliminary drawings have been submitted to Pender Brothers, Port Royal, SC, for their review and comments. The drawings shown here are computer aided design drawings of the completed frame. The details of the computer aided design will serve as the basis for the water jet cutting out of the frame components. 


The next phase will be with Pender Brothers who will begin preparation for frame assembly.  

Fresnal lens


Fresnel Lens, Current condition–August, 2023

Receiving fresnel lens 1960.


Receiving the Fresnel Lens at Hunting Island – circa. 1960 Photo –SCPRT

Hunting Island Lighthouse station 1894


Hunting Island Lighthouse Station c. 1894

Heritage Library, Hilton Head Island

Dan Spinella, frame restorationist.


Dan Spinella, Frame Restorationist 10/24/2023

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