Kathleen Szmit Photo
LIGHTHOUSE MAN – Jim Walker relaxes for a moment in
his “Lighthouse Room” at home, surrounded by items that epitomize not
only the room’s namesake, but Walker’s passion as well. Walker has
overseen Race Point Lighthouse renovations since 1996.
By Kathleen Szmit
That Hyannis resident Jim Walker has an affinity
for lighthouses is a bit of an understatement. They adorn his yard, line
his shelves, and hang on his walls. There is one lighthouse in
particular, however, that holds a special place for Walker, having
become an integral aspect of his life.
Walker first ventured to Race Point Lighthouse in Provincetown while
working with the U.S. Coast Guard. After a six-year stint, he was hired
into a civilian position maintaining and repairing Cape lighthouses,
including Race Point, where he often ate lunch with the keepers.
It was Walker who oversaw Race Point’s automation in 1972, a process he
recalls with mixed emotion as it resulted in his putting the human light
keeper out of business – twice. “I automated Race Point in 1972 and then
Highland Light in Truro a year later,” Walker recalled. “I put the same
keeper out of a job two years in a row.” Thankfully, the two men still
Ten years ago Walker again returned to Race Point, dismayed to see his
beloved lighthouse in utter disrepair, having become ignored and
neglected for more than two decades.
It was then that Walker, with the help of two close friends, Bill
Collette and Bill Fiske, as well as his own family, embarked on what he
now calls his “labor of love,” restoring Race Point to a place of Cape
The project began inauspiciously, funded largely by whatever spare
change the three men could pool together. Walker was determined to
preserve what he believes is a vital link to the past of both Cape Cod
and the U.S. as well.
“It is an absolute important part of maritime history,” he said.
“Lighthouses made the shipping industry what it was, and allowed this
country to get ahead in the industrial age. This country wouldn’t be
where it was without the lighthouses ensuring safe passage for ships.”
Since that fateful day a decade ago Walker has personally overseen
restorations to each of the buildings on the property, from the Keeper’s
House, to the Light, and the newest addition, the Whistle house, which
was completed just a few weeks ago, ready for its first summer season.
Walker notes that all renovations are historically accurate, from the
lighthouse’s spiral staircase to the six-panel transom above the main
door of the Whistle house.
The Keeper’s house has three guest bedrooms, including the popular
“Yellow Room,” all for overnight stays, while the Whistle house can hold
up to eight people and is rented on a weekly basis. The rentals bring in
the revenues that help support Race Point.
Walker is pleased that Race Point gets its electricity largely through
solar panels and, new this year, wind energy through a small wind
turbine. In the past a fuel-powered generator was used to run the lights
and water pumps. “Nobody wants to listen to a diesel engine running all
the time,” said Walker. “We still have the backup generator but even
that uses bio-diesel now.”
Beyond green power and historic restorations, Walker says, what makes
Race Point so special is its location. “Race Point is two miles off of
paved roads,” he said. “Right now the whales are there, playing. It is
one of the few places on the East coast where the sun sets into the
While Walker admits that returning Race Point to a place of beauty has
been a long process, it is such characteristics that keep him motivated.
“At the end of the day with your feet up on the railing and a glass of
wine,” he said. “It makes it all worthwhile.”
For more information about Race Point
Lighthouse, visit www.racepointlighthouse.net .
Photo by Tom Kenworthy