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Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - 12:49pm

Group Raises Funds For Lighthouse

Georgia's Cockspur Island Lighthouse has stood witness to Civil War cannon fire, raging waves from Atlantic hurricanes and 175 years of commerce in the busy Savannah River shipping channel.

Lately, however, it's faced a challenge to its very existence. In 2008, the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation put the lighthouse on its annual list of 10 "Places in Peril" because of ongoing threats of tidal erosion, wave action and a shipworm infestation in the structure’s wooden support timbers.

This week on Wednesday, a non-profit organization dedicated to the lighthouse's restoration and preservation announced a major effort to restore the squat, 46 foot tall structure.

Members of the group, Friends of the Cockspur Island Lighthouse, gathered steps from the lighthouse at Ft. Pulaski National Monument to announce a two-phase plan to stabilize and protect the structure.

The first phase is a wall. The US Army Corp of Engineers has set aside funds to build a retaining structure around the lighthouse. The wall will cost about $1 million and will block waves from increasingly larger ships.

The second phase is the lighthouse itself. A retired judge, Mike McKinley, has given $25,000 for maintenance and repairs. Chatham County officials also have set aside funds. The entire effort could cost upwards of $2 million, including the wall.

"It's a noted treasure," says Harvey Ferrelle, President of the Friends group. "We're very proud with what we've done".

The lighthouse was built in 1837. It was undamaged in 1862 when Union soldiers opened fire on Ft. Pulaski. It was decommissioned as an aid to navigation in 1908. The land on which it sits is now part of the National Monument.

"If it could speak to us it could really tell us some stories," Ferrelle says. "This lighthouse has made a substantial contribution to the growth and development of this area as it guided merchant ships."

Ferrelle hopes the restoration will begin within a year's time.

Dodd Ferrelle, Harvey's son, wrote the song "Turn on your Light," which was played at a 2007 relighting ceremony and helps raise funds for the restoration.