A Labor of Love
family finds adventure
in constructing a lighthouse
unique structure has taken them
a decade to complete
MILTON, Ky. (May 2012) Every construction project
has its glitches. But John Laffertys venture brings a whole new
meaning to the word challenging.
Begun as an in-laws quarters for his mother, Laffertys design
kept evolving until it took on a life of its own. Nearly a decade in
the making, his addition has become a monument to engineering ingenuity
and family dreams.
by Don Ward
Lafferty family hired Amish
builder Samuel Girod to complete
the decade-long project to build a
lighthouse on Hwy. 36 in Milton.
Drivers heading east on Hwy. 36 out of Milton toward Carrollton,
Ky., may soon notice the sun glinting through the trees off a copper
dome. As they round the bend, a lighthouse rises on their right. What
is a lighthouse doing in Kentucky?
John and his wife, Lisa, moved to Carrollton from Alabama, where he
had grown up living in beach houses. His mother, Myra Lafferty, also
came with them.
In Alabama, they had an in-laws quarters to give her privacy. After
the move, the Laffertys soon planned a new addition to their house for
her living area. As Lisa brought home decorations for the new space,
a pattern emerged. Lighthouse cookie jars. Lighthouse curtains. Lighthouse
wall hangings. John finally joked, Are you trying to tell me something?
Around the same time, Myra was diagnosed with cancer. As she began treatments
at Brown Cancer Center in Louisville, the Laffertys determined to give
Myra a space reminiscent of home her own beach house on
the banks of the Ohio River. John and his son, Johnathon, and a few
others began shaping the addition into a lighthouse. We started
with a few telephone poles and a bobcat, notes John. They soon
realized they would need help. So John hired a contractor. Then another.
The complexities of the lighthouse design proved too difficult for any
of the builders John tried, and progress on the lighthouse stalled.
Then Myra lost her battle with cancer. Her death drained the energy
and focus for the project. Finally, the family came to the conclusion
that they needed to either finish the lighthouse or tear it down. Their
daughter, Amber, suggested a new builder to her father Samuel
Girod. She had heard his construction company, G-Rye Construction, did
What can it hurt? she asked. John decided to give the lighthouse
one more try.
The complexities remained. Every wall, every window joins at an angle.
Theres not a straight cut on the entire house, notes
John. Further, the top of the lighthouse is a dome with an octagonal
base. None of the prior contractors could figure out how to bring the
base into a perfect dome.
Nevertheless, Girod took on the challenge. To make matters more complicated,
John travels throughout Louisiana and Alabama for his work and was available
for consultation only by telephone. Yet, Girod noted, We connected.
John would say what he wanted, and I could picture it perfectly. Once
I got the radius for the dome in my head, I was able to work backward
to build from the base and get the dome in place. Then, I could work
on the exterior walls.
It was amazing, notes John. I would think what I wanted,
and I didnt even know how to say it, but Samuel clicked with me.
After nearly 10 years of starts and stops, Girod began working this
past February and in only six weeks had the dome completed, the walls
connected, and the whole structure nearly completely sided. Standing
four stories tall, the family enjoys a beautiful view of the Ohio River
from the windows at the top of the lighthouse.
As the family climbs the temporary staircase, they share stories of
watching the river, the fireworks and the boats. They joke that extended
family members plan to come from Alabama and use the lighthouse as their
summer home. The Laffertys young granddaughter remains convinced
it is her personal, four-story playhouse. She tells all visitors that
the men are getting the lighthouse ready for her. She happily notes
that the copper roof will eventually turn green, My favorite color!
Now that the exterior has taken shape, energy for completing the inside
mounts. John envisions a spiral staircase leading to the top. Lisa describes
the addition as a separate apartment complete with full
kitchen. Though she isnt sure how the family will now use the
space, she looks forward to the possibilities.
We truly have to thank our neighbors, says John. They
didnt lose patience, and they didnt run us off. Hopefully,
once its finished, everyone will enjoy it. The neighbors
will wait just a little longer. The Milton-Madison Bridge weeklong closing
in late April delayed the work. Girod, who lives in Indiana, was kept
from working at the site until the bridge re-opened. Yet, the Laffertys
know that they will finish. Mostly, they rejoice that the dream that
began in honor of Myra lives on.
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