First, it was a novelty—a decrepit, inhospitable lighthouse for sale in the Chesapeake Bay. Then, it was a sensation—a bidding war ensued for that weather-beaten lighthouse and it sold for $192,000 after weeks of no bids at all.
Now, the new owner of Hooper Island Light is revealing his identity and his dreams for the lighthouse.
Rich Cucé is the founder of an industrial painting and blast cleaning service company just south of Allentown, Pennsylvania. His company Blastco has served Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey since 1994, and its website says they will blast any manner of metal, fiberglass or hardwood item, from vehicles and trailers to dumpsters and fire hydrants. So why not a lighthouse?
Cucé says he’d been seeking a lighthouse as a unique, historic property to save—a challenge and an adventure. It’s not his first challenge: he lives in a 200-year-old timber frame barn he moved from miles away, then reassembled it and modernized it.
As for Hooper Island Light, Cucé is realistic about the time and money he’ll need to invest. “I’m looking for something more meaningful in my life right now than another investment property. I’m giving up my hobbies and taking time away from my business Blastco to make time for this huge commitment.”
Calling it a labor of love, Cucé says he plans to restore the 120-year-old lighthouse, then use it as an educational/environmental center for the community. He envisions a place “where people can meet to learn about and monitor the Bay and all the animals that live in it.” The mission proclaimed on the Hooper Island Light’s new website is to “Restore the Lighthouse, Restore the Bay.”
How will Cucé fund the lighthouse’s upkeep and usage? He plans to start a YouTube channel and film the restoration process, along with an educational video series that would be shot at the lighthouse.
Cucé feels the lighthouse is part of his American dream and says, “I really don’t mind hard work and dirty jobs.” But he admits the bidding process for Hooper Island Light and the buyers’ remorse immediately afterwards were nerve-wracking. When he won the auction at $192,000, he was thrilled. The next morning, he recalls thinking, ‘What did I just get myself into? This could be a complete disaster!’
In fact, four months after his winning bid, Cucé still hasn’t seen the lighthouse in person. He says he’s expecting the worst so he won’t be disappointed. He’ll draw upon his experience to clean and paint the cast-iron exterior and says the interior will need to be restored “just like any old neglected house” with the complicating factor that it’s 3.5 miles from shore, there’s a swift current, and the first deck is 18 feet above the water.
Cucé has taken a first step, buying a boat to reach his new acquisition. He says he doesn’t know anything about boating, though.
“We are planning on filming our first trip out there and sharing it with our followers because I’m sure it will be entertaining… we are going to show them everything even if it is a bit embarrassing.
Cucé has set up a website and social media accounts where you can follow along as work gets underway (embarrassing or not) on Facebook at @HooperIslandLighthouse and on Instagram @hooper_island_lighthouse.
Once it’s restored, Cucé’s wish is for the lighthouse to be accessible to everyone, even with a handicap-accessible dock. He says he’s been warmly welcomed by the close-knit Hoopers Island community.
“I have had offers from people around the area for places to stay while we are working, people wanting to meet, volunteers offering to help or use their boats, people telling me their stories related to Hooper Island Lighthouse or just wishing me well. That is what is really motivating me right now.”
Bay Bulletin will follow Cucé’s journey, too, and report on the lighthouse restoration’s progress.
-Meg Walburn Viviano