If you visit Montauk Point Lighthouse on the end of Long Island, New York, you’ll find it hard to believe the lighthouse was almost abandoned, either to be destroyed or allowed to fall into the sea by the encroaching waves.
But that is exactly what almost happened. The 110-foot tower, commissioned by George Washington in 1792, was constructed in 1796 and sat 297 feet from the edge of the cliff. By 1967, however, the sturdy tower that Washington predicted would last 200 years, was 55 feet from the edge as a result of wind and wave erosion at the rate of two feet a year. The lighthouse was doomed to fall into the Atlantic Ocean.
During this same period of time, the U.S. Coast Guard was de-manning nearly two-thirds of lighthouses along the eastern seaboard for budgetary reasons. These old lighthouses could be replaced by new steel towers with lights on top, operated from a nearby Coast Guard station by remote control. The situation of the Montauk Lighthouse could be resolved the same way. The order was given to find a new site farther inland on which to build the replacement tower, then abandon the Montauk Lighthouse. Before allowing the elements to eventually take the old lighthouse, however, the Coast Guard planned to blow it up to prevent vandalism and insurance problems, a practice that had been carried out at other lighthouses deemed unnecessary.
Discovering this plan, local newspaper writer Dan Rattiner, wrote an article about the plans for the lighthouse and garnered public support in favor of saving it. In 1969, the Coast Guard rescinded their order and the lighthouse was saved. But no one knew what to do about the erosion.
Shortly afterwards, a small retired woman named Giorgina Reid and her husband Donald appeared in the writer’s office, and Mrs. Reid announced they had a plan to stop the erosion. According to the couple, they had faced the same problem after buying a cottage near the sea. But when Giorgina read about how Japanese had used grasses and terraced land to stop erosion, she decided to try the method on their own property which proved successful. Mrs. Reid believed the same method could be used to save the cliff at Montauk.
Nothing else had worked, so the four-foot, ten inch woman was given the go-ahead to start working at Montauk. For fifteen years, the Reids and a few student volunteers from Stony Brook University went to the lighthouse, built terraces in the bank and planted them with wild grasses to hold the dirt in place. The huge cliff face was eighty feet high and a quarter mile in length. Concentrating on one 10 by 20-foot patch at a time, the Reids succeeded in stabilizing the soil, refusing the help of the Coast Guard during the process, except for furnishing supplies and hauling things up and down.
Since then, the soil has held, the Montauk Lighthouse still stands, and the Coast Guard has taken over the protection of the cliff face now that the Reids have passed away. There’s a special room in the old keepers’ quarters, the Giorgina Reid Room of the Montauk Lighthouse Museum, run by the Montauk Historical Society.
Giorgina Reid’s story reminds me of the story of David and Goliath in the Bible, in the book of 1 Samuel, chapter 17. When the whole army had given up on defeating the giant Goliath, the little shepherd boy stepped up and volunteered to go against the enormous enemy. When no one believed he would succeed, he did. When others saw him as too small to handle such a big problem, he did. He rejected a soldier’s armor and weapons, choosing instead the gifts God had given him. And when others believed he would fail, he believed he would succeed. Like Mrs. Reid’s past experience proved to be successful, David’s past experience as a shepherd proved his faith in God’s ability to succeed.
“Everything is possible for one who believes.” Mark 9:23