THE BLOG
12/16/2014 04:43 pm ET Updated Feb 15, 2015

Partners in Preservation: Boston's Historic Nantucket Lightship/LV-112

Written by Timothy J. McClimon, president of American Express Foundation and vice president of corporate social responsibility, American Express

Nearly 80 years after it began safeguarding trans-Atlantic shipping lanes with its powerful light, radio beacon and foghorn, Nantucket Lightship/LV-112 will once again be illuminated in its homeport of Boston. The "Statue of Liberty of the Sea," as it's affectionately known, is a symbol of America's development. Anchored 100 miles off the U.S. mainland near the dangerous Nantucket Shoals from 1936-75, it was the last landmark seen by vessels departing the United States and the first beacon seen by many immigrants entering U.S. waters.

Now it's time for this former U.S. Coast Guard floating lighthouse to be fully restored, so that it can be accessible for future generations to better understand the vital lightship era of our nation's maritime history. Designated a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2012, the lightship will receive a $250,000 grant from American Express to rebuild its navigational light beacon, foghorn and on-board electrical systems. This project will restore the heart of the lightship, allowing it to shine for the first time in 40 years. The grant also will help the lightship to be more accessible to the public year round.

American Express knows that historic places, like the Nantucket Lightship/LV-112, contribute to a sense of national and local identity, and they play an important role in attracting visitors and revitalizing neighborhoods. Through the National Treasures program, American Express is assisting the National Trust in mounting campaigns to protect endangered sites across America, and we are making grants to support some sites with their preservation and restoration projects.

Working with a dedicated corps of volunteers, Bob Mannino is the lead caretaker for the Nantucket Lightship/LV-112, currently berthed in East Boston. With a lifelong passion for maritime history, Bob worked to establish the United States Lightship Museum in 2009 as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to saving and preserving the famous lightship. Back then, the Nantucket Lightship/LV-112 had been orphaned and on the verge of being dismantled.

When Bob and I discussed this restoration project, we recognized we shared a similar philosophy that saving historic places not only helps preserve the past, but can provide powerful educational opportunities for active learning and discovery for future generations. Here's a portion of that conversation:

McClimon: With a heritage of preserving historic sites around the world, American Express recognizes the power of nonprofit-business partnerships to save sites and rally communities. Have you seen the value?

Mannino: Partnerships with other nonprofit organizations and the business community can be absolutely transformational. Even though Nantucket/LV-112 is the largest and most famous lightship in American history, like many historic projects, we were facing funding challenges. We gained a tremendous boost when the National Trust selected Nantucket/LV-112 as a National Treasure, leading to this pivotal grant from your Foundation.

McClimon: Restoration work is underway right now to make the ship's navigational warning signals operational once again. Why was this step in restoration so important to you and the Museum?

Mannino: To fully tell its remarkable story, our lightship needed to restore its light beacon, a powerful navigational aid that once guided transoceanic ships through the treacherous waters around Nantucket Shoals, the most remote lightship station in the world and the only one located in international waters. Nantucket Lightship/LV-112's 500,000-candlepower light is symbolic of our new Candlepower Program, a hands-on educational opportunity in which schoolchildren visit our ship to learn why our nation needed lightships, the crew's courage during horrific storms and near-collisions, and the scientific data they collected to help scientists better understand our climate, oceanographic environment and weather. In additional to motivating children to learn and succeed, the course is designed to inspire them to become guiding lights -- "candlepower of the future" -- recognizing their key role in helping to preserve America's historic treasures for generations to come.

McClimon: After this phase of preservation is completed in 2015, I know there are some exciting public activities being planned; can you tell me what's in store?

Mannino: We are excited to be invited by the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Park Service to participate in the 2016 Tri-centennial Celebration of Boston Light, America's first and oldest lighthouse site. Joint planning is now underway to nationally promote this event, with our restored beacon shining forth as the pride of the lightship.

Every summer, we also participate in the annual International Lighthouse and Lightship Weekend, based in Scotland, with Nantucket/LV-112, one of more than 500 registered HAM radio stations that broadcast and receive voice and Morse code messages transmitted from lighthouses and lightships around the world. We invite everyone to LV-112 to participate in these events.

McClimon: We know that local community engagement is critical to sustaining historic places and your organization is proof of this with your entire staff being composed entirely of volunteers. Helping preserve local historic places doesn't have to be complicated. What are ways people can get involved at Nantucket Lightship or in their own community?

Mannino: The general public is fascinated by the story of lightships, which were anchored miles off the coast and largely out of sight. Now that Nantucket/LV-112 is berthed in its homeport of Boston in the heart of the harbor, it has unparalleled visibility and magnetism, drawing people of all ages from the local community as well as tourists from around the world to learn its story and admire its unique design and sturdy construction. Showing your support for historic places can be as simple as taking and sharing a photo of a site, going on a tour, or buying a souvenir from their gift shop. For those who really want to get involved, we continuously reach out to people from all walks of life to volunteer, and many are giving their time and skills to advance our project's mission.

With a long history of philanthropy, American Express is deeply committed to historic preservation, providing more than $50 million in grants to preserve historic places globally. As a partner of the National Trust for Historic, American Express has contributed $15 million in the past 10 years to help promote and enable the preservation of cultural and historic places like the Nantucket Lightship/LV-112. To learn more about National Treasures and nominate a historic place in your community, please visit SavingPlaces.org.