How an iconic piece of Presque Isle was restored
ERIE, Pa. (AP) — A steel emergency intake gear tower, built in 1906, and removed in November 2017 from Presque Isle State Park’s Waterworks area, has been refurbished and reinstalled near its original ferry slip location.
The iconic 33-foot-high structure, which has been mistaken as a lighthouse by park visitors for decades, has undergone an $80,000 facelift in a project funded primarily by the Dan and Sallie Shipley Charitable Fund.
The Shipleys are Erie natives whose foundation is based in St. Louis. The Shipleys reside in Marthasville, Missouri, most of the year and spend their summers at their Millcreek Township home.
In the summer of 2017, the Shipleys took a water taxi to the peninsula’s Waterworks area and noticed the rusted, faded and deteriorating intake tower, which housed non-operational emergency water intake valve gear. The valve apparatus had not been operational for decades.
“I grew up here and in the 1950s, I saw the tower then and it didn’t look anything like it did a year ago,” Dan Shipley, 76, said. “I felt that sends a bad message to the world. There are more than 3 million visitors annually to the peninsula and they’re looking at that pile of rust, and what message does that send to our out-of-town folks? I was like ‘Let’s get it fixed.’ We had to do something here.”
The Shipleys contacted their friend, Pete Alex, owner of Erie-based Universal Metal Systems and Alex Roofing, to formulate a restoration plan.
The trio set in motion a team consisting of Alex’s companies, Donjon Shipbuilding & Repair, Erie Water Works, the Presque Isle Partnership, Lakeshore Towing Services Inc., Rog’s Inc., Presque Isle State Park, Schutte Woodworking, Weber Murphy Fox architecture firm, H&H Machined Products, Builders’ Hardware, American Tinning & Galvanizing, Friel Photography, Carboline, and Vogt Finishes.
“The emergency intake structure at Waterworks is really an iconic structure on Presque Isle State Park and really an iconic piece of the history of the Waterworks picnic area,” Presque Isle Partnership Executive Director Jon DeMarco said. “It’s maintaining and preserving that historic richness we have on the park. It will be exciting to see it restored to its former luster.”
The steel intake tower is made of curved ½-inch-thick bolted and riveted plates, and weighs about 22,000 pounds. The roof’s main slope is constructed of wood and coated metal. A cupola with glass windows is attached above the main slope, and a weather vane tops a small metal cone that adorns the top of the cupola.
The steel tower is 22 feet tall, its roof configuration adds another 7 feet to the structure, and its weather vane is 4 feet tall.
Erie resident Ray Halt has overseen the tower’s renovation and transformation as the project’s manager. Halt estimates he has invested more than 300 hours organizing and working on the undertaking since last fall.
“It’s a very historic thing,” Halt said. “For people from the area who have grown up with it, it is just part of the park. They wonder where it went. I get asked all the time. It’s going back. It would please me to see something historical get repaired and returned. It pleases people and it gives civic pride. When you do a big, expensive, complicated project, and it works, that’s what gives people civic pride.”
Shipley attributed much of the project’s success to Halt’s efforts. “When Pete Alex brought in Ray Halt, that’s really what it takes — someone who has the time and the natural inclination,” Shipley said. “Ray is a very detail-oriented guy and he has what I call an almost scientific interest in doing things by the book. He has a checklist probably three feet long.”
To get the project started a year ago, Erie Water Works donated the intake tower, which it owned, to the Presque Isle Partnership.
Erie Water Works’ board of directors has approved a resolution to transfer ownership of the renovated intake tower to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources at Presque Isle State Park, said Paul Vojtek, Erie Water Works’ executive director.
“We were looking at getting rid of it and just covering up that intake,” Vojtek said. “When the Shipleys stepped in to preserve a part of Erie history, it was like a godsend. When the tower was moved, we covered up that intake and everything is good. It’s a win-win for everybody. It’s a really good project.”
Crews removed the tower in November from the ferry slip near the Presque Isle Bay shoreline at the peninsula’s Waterworks area. The tower was taken on a Lakeshore Towing barge to Donjon Shipbuilding, while the roof was removed from the tower and taken to Universal Metal Systems.
Project officials have decided to re-install the refurbished intake tower on the other side of the ferry slip on land.
“When this project came along, there was an opportunity to do something very different, but totally for the community and the state park,” Halt said. “This has been here since 1906 and it’s going to be here for a long time. It’s a very worthy thing to do. I like complicated projects. I enjoy doing something that is a challenge, so I accepted the challenge when offered by Pete Alex.”
Alex and his crews at Universal Metal Systems spent the past several months repairing and renovating the roof.
On the sloped portion of the roof, crews replaced some deteriorated deck boards and installed a water shield membrane over the top of the deck boards, and then installed a new roof, Alex said.
New ornamental dental work was constructed around the undercarriage of the slope.
The cupola also got a makeover.
“The structure was stripped down to the deck boards and frames,” Alex said. “It was basically a skeleton. The glass came out, the window frames were deteriorated. The cupola had to be disassembled and the weather vane removed. So basically, from the weather vane down, it was all renovated.
“About 20 percent of the deck boards had to be replaced,? Alex said. “All the arched window frames were rotted and had to be custom built. We basically sanded it down and repainted the inside of the wood. The original cupola was made of wood frame and copper coated. It was a copper roof and painted red. We went back with a metal, pre-finished red roof.”
New cupola glass will be installed once the tower and roof have been installed at Presque Isle State Park.
Universal Metal Systems crews also cleaned and refurbished the tower’s original weather vane, which sits atop a newly made small metal cone.
Donjon Shipbuilding & Repair crews handled renovations on the steel tower, sandblasting and removing old paint, repairing spots of deteriorating steel and plugging holes and pitted rust areas with weld, mostly around bolt holes and three second-story portholes.
Crews also painted the structure with four coats of a marine-grade paint, a yellowish off-white color called bamboo. The first coat was an anti-corrosive, zinc-based primer. Two coats of marine-grade epoxy were then applied, followed by a coat of polyurethane to seal and protect it.
No steel plates had to be removed during renovations.
“The shell of the tower is intact,” Donjon Assistant General Manager Rick Hammer said. “There was no steelwork to be done there. We did modify some of the steel on the inside. It had an old wooden floor on the second floor and we took that out and we put in an expanded metal grating.
“We had to move some of the supports and we had to revise some of the miscellaneous clips,? he said. “We cut those off and they’re making new collars that fit into the rivet holes just to keep the same aesthetics as the original. All the work was done to try and keep as much of the existing structure there as possible. We tried to re-use the old stuff as much as possible.”
Schutte Woodworking employees installed two new doors — on the first and second floors — and new door frames.
“We’re making copies from the originals of the same doors and frames,” Halt said.
Full re-installation of the tower was expected to take a few days. The steel tower was to be placed on a Lakeshore Towing barge and taken to its Waterworks area site and the tower placed on a 4-foot-thick concrete pad. Alex Roofing crews then were expected to install the roof, the tower’s portholes, and the plaque that adorned the original tower will be affixed to the tower’s side.
“I think Erieites care about this, and I think we’ll have something unique for the next 100 years,” Shipley said.
Information from: Erie Times-News, http://www.goerie.com