by Scott Wheeler
Lighthouses typically light the way for boaters around obstacles. Early Wednesday morning a lighthouse was placed on the shores of Lake Memphremagog, not to light the way for boaters, but to light the way for a brighter future for downtown Newport.
“This is awesome,” Newport City Mayor Ellwood “Woody” Guyette repeated numerous times as he watched the replica of the old-fashioned light house being erected on the lower end of Main Street near the railroad bridge in the general area of what will become known as Steamboat Wharf (the name of a dock that once stood there). The lighthouse is a dream come true for Bill and Nancy Cook of Newport. In addition to having the lighthouse built, the couple are in the final stages of bringing the days of the tour boat back to the lake that stretches from Newport, Vermont, about 30 miles north to Magog, Quebec. Hopes are that the Newport Belle, a 70-passenger tour boat, will set sail on the lake in July. “This is just the beginning of the downtown revitalization,” Guyette said optimistically, commending the Cooks for making their dreams become reality while bettering the city.
“This is just what we need to help businesses believe in our city,” Bill Cook said proudly as he and his wife watched their dream become true on the shores of Newport’s crown jewel. The morning was a family affair for this milestone in the couple’s life. Their children and grandchildren were there to celebrate. State Police Sergeant Kevin Charboneau, their son-in-law, provided a police escort for the wide load to the site.
“Hopefully this is a turning point for our city,” Nancy Cook added. “Hopefully the city will no longer remain a secret. We are becoming a tourist attraction.”Marcel Fortin Builders built the lighthouse with the assistance of Brian Maxwell, Brian Cook, Brad Baraw, Paul Tetreault, and artwork by Shirley Nelson of Albany, Vermont.
The Cooks, who have proven that they are not idle “talkers”, but “doers”, noted that the Vermont end of the lake at one time had a number of lighthouses (only two, plain steel framed ones stand today). Their lighthouse is modeled in the likeness of the one that stood on Whipple Point (known to many locals as Strawberry Acres) between 1879 and 1906. According to the couple, the fixed white light of the former lighthouse was visible for 10 miles. A metal-framed lighthouse has replaced that lighthouse. They encourage people to contact them if they know more about the original lighthouse.Another lighthouse, the Whaft Light, which was also built in 1879, was located on the lakefront near where the parking lot for the Emory Hebert State Office Building is located today.
A third lighthouse, the Marshfield Point Lighthouse, was also located on the west side of the lake.These lighthouses were of a huge asset, especially in the following few decades after they were built. At that time the lake had a tremendous amount of boat traffic. Large tour boats plied the lake, and barges full of logs from lumbering grounds in Quebec, crept slowly toward Newport to feed the mills that dotted Newport’s lake shore. And during the Prohibition era the lighthouses likely provided navigational guidance to the smugglers who used the lake to smuggle alcohol from Quebec while trying to outwit the officers who prowled the waters and shores.Instead of guiding boaters around obstacles, Cook’s lighthouse will serve as a ticket booth and souvenir shop for the Newport Belle.
In addition to serving as the guest history columnist for the Newport Daily Express Scott Wheeler is the publisher of Vermont’s Northland Journal. He can be reached at (802) 334-5920 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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