ASHLAND – Work began last week to restore one of the area’s most famous landmarks.
TJ Straight, assisted by Efrain “Nacho” Tejeda, began stripping the exterior of the Linoma Lighthouse on Aug. 20.
Straight is one of five local people who own the Linoma Beach resort and campground located on Highway 6 just over the Platte River four miles northeast of Ashland. The other owners are Dave Lutton and Chuck Neimeyer of Ashland and Jerry Otto and Gary Otto of Ceresco.
They purchased Linoma Beach in 2010 at a foreclosure auction and since then created a foundation to restore the lighthouse, one of their goals after taking over the property.
The foundation received enough donations to begin work on the exterior last week, according to Straight. He said it will take 30 to 60 days to complete the first phase of the project, which will focus on the exterior paneling between the observation decks on the second and ninth floors.
Straight and Tejeda are peeling off the 128 plywood sheets one at a time. They are replacing them with a layer of Zip board, followed by a layer of cement board. The end result will be an exterior that is much more solid and sturdy than the plywood sheets, which were often ripped off by high winds.
“This is going to be a pretty expensive restore here,” Straight said.
The effort will not only dress up the exterior, but also help preserve the structure.
“It’s going to be 100 percent water proof when we’re done,” said Straight.
Water has been an issue with the 74-year-old structure. As they began removing the plywood sheets, Straight said they found a lot of issues underneath. So they have been replacing the rotted two-by-four studs as needed.
“We’re repairing anything that’s got any rot,” said Jerry Otto, one of the owners.
After the new paneling is installed, sealed and painted, new letters will be attached. The steel letters are being made by S&S Welding of Greenwood. They will be powder-coated with paint to provide a durable coating that will last many years. The finished project will be noticeably different, Straight said.
“It will have a lot smoother and cleaner look to it,” he said.
The lighthouse was designed and built by Stanley Thornton. It was completed in 1939, during an era when highway travel was just beginning to reach its heyday and roadside attractions were common.
Linoma Beach resort owner Lawrence Simpson wanted to build a lighthouse similar to one he’d seen in the Caribbean. He announced plans to build the structure in 1933, but did not do so for a few years.
Simpson created Linoma Beach, a popular resort area, in 1924 with partner Harry Shellberg. The duo created the “pleasure resort” as part of their development company, Linoma Realty. They came up with the name “Linoma” because the property sits at a midway point between Lincoln and Omaha.
The lake was a byproduct of a sand and gravel operation by Shellberg’s company, Lyman Richey. After moving 30,000 cubic yards of sand to create the lake and beach area, they also added picnic and camping areas and recreational buildings. The area became very popular for swimming, dancing, eating and camping.
The lighthouse was originally used as a filling station. The wood frame has metal cable supports. A central spiral staircase leads from the basement to the upper observation deck. The original building was insulated and had heating and air conditioning plus a fire suppression system that was fed by 55-gallon barrels of water on the top floor. Those barrels are still there, Straight said. Plumbing was also run to every floor, Straight said. Only one bathroom was actually installed, on the second floor.
The first floor, or base of the lighthouse, will also get a makeover in the future. It was constructed with concrete block. On the east side, the block is covered with the same sandstone as the neighboring wall.
For many years, plywood has covered the original palladian windows that grace the base on five of the eight sides. Straight said they will restore the windows as well as two entrances to look like they did when originally built.
Straight said the owners plan to restore the interior of the building sometime down the road, as more funds come in to the foundation. For now, however, the focus is the exterior as an effort to save the structure from deterioration.
Once the siding has been completed, they will focus on the land around the lighthouse.
“Our next major project is to fix the wall and concrete,” said Straight.
A sandstone wall flanks the structure, at one time providing the entrance and exit for the resort. Over the years, chunks have fallen or been removed from the wall, Straight said. And the concrete that stretches from the highway to the wall has been undermined towards the lake, with some areas actually collapsing.
The final goal will be to light the lighthouse again. Stories have been told that the beacon was
Otto said the money used for the first phase came from donations to the foundation from the five owners, as well as proceeds raised by auctioning campsites. Donations to the Lighthouse Foundation are tax deductible, as the foundation has a 501c designation.
Donations of supplies and equipment are also helping the owners to restore the lighthouse. Straight said Builder’s Supply donated the Zip board, while the 80-foot lift they are using was provided at a reduced cost by NCS Equipment Rental. Work on the letters is also being donated, he said.
Otto said the owners are hoping to restore the lighthouse to its original glory. Through the years, the building has pointed the way not only to the resort and camping area, but also to the local communities nearby, including Ashland and Gretna.
But previous owners did not do the maintenance needed to keep the lighthouse in decent condition.
“It’s been neglected,” Otto said.
The lighthouse and the resort have strong ties to the local area. For many decades, Ashland families loaded up the car to spend the day in the sun. And many older Ashlanders learned to swim at the lake, before the local pool was built.
With their local ties, Linoma’s owners are intent on making the lighthouse the roadside attraction it once was.
“When it was built, it must have been quite a structure,” said Otto.