Like the Zakim Bridge is to Boston, like the Kennedy Compound is to Hyannisport, and like the bridges are to Bourne, the lighthouse and nearby cape-style home at Nobska create an image that is an enduring symbol of Falmouth.
Although others come close: The Village Green, a packed Road Race finish line at Falmouth Heights Beach (which of course runs by Nobska), and our thriving Falmouth Village and Main Street all provide easily recognizable and enjoyable images of this great community, but the go-to image is clearly and unequivocally the lighthouse on the hill. It acts as a beacon of light for vessels in Vineyard Sound, but as a beacon of community spirit for us all.
The recent news that the U.S. Coast Guard, the owner and caretaker of this local landmark, is looking to divest itself of the responsibility for care and maintenance has understandably sparked some interest. The Woods Hole Community Association is providing a public service by sponsoring a community discussion on the issue to try and gather ideas and input. This is indeed an issue of significance to our entire community and deserves – perhaps demands – our collective input and creativity.
Many models exist for this impending transition. The Scituate Light House, which stands as a similar beacon and symbol for our maritime cousin to the North, has been managed for more than 40 years by the Scituate Historical Society. They award residence to a caretaker and keep the property well maintained and viable for visitors. Our Historical Society and Museums on the Green have proven that they are able caretakers of our rich history; their stewardship of Nobska would be a great continuance of that local legacy. Other regional landmarks, like the Custom House Tower in Boston, are privately owned and managed, but in a way that is both respectful and reverent of the rich history.
The key to implementing any of these options is to secure the property and its future. That is why the first step should be acquisition by the Town. Much like we did when we stepped in to prevent Highfield Hall from certain destruction, the legal clout, financial viability, and political practicability of the Town of Falmouth taking the lead on this not only makes sense, it is the most sensible option. Once the property is secure and restored, then a discussion on how best to preserve and protect it for generations can responsibly occur. Again, Highfield presents a model for us to follow. When Pat Flynn, Peter Boyer and I participated in intense and sometimes contentious negotiations with the owners of the property, we held firm to the notion that the loss of this landmark would be a blow to the soul of our community. We succeeded and saved that landmark and some amazing Falmouthites took it from there and created a community jewel. Today’s effort is even more significant. The loss of Nobska would alter our community forever.
Two articles in Tuesday’s paper presented a perfect juxtaposition and a clear path for proceeding. On one side of the front page, the news of a community forum sponsored by the Woods Hole Community Association on this topic was provided. On the other, an article discussing the thoughtful and responsible planning of the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) for spending their allocation of the public’s money was described. Both were well written and present the opportunity for a positive project and purpose for these diverse groups.
There can be no more important expense of community preservation funds that the restoration of this historic and cherished landmark. I hope that the CPC is also invited to the table for this all-important forum and that the town itself is a major player, because the town can work directly with the U.S. Coast Guard for direct acquisition of the property. It can then be leased to a community group, a private interest, or even and educational institution, but its preservation will be assured.
So many of our local challenges do not have clear solutions. This one does. I challenge the Town to make it happen. Now.