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A Labor of Love

Milton family finds adventure
in constructing a lighthouse

The unique structure has taken them
a decade to complete

Tess Worrell
Contributing Writer

MILTON, Ky. (May 2012) – Every construction project has its glitches. But John Lafferty’s venture brings a whole new meaning to the word “challenging.”
Begun as an in-laws quarters for his mother, Lafferty’s 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.

Lighthouse

Photo by Don Ward

The 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. 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 amazing work.
“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. “There’s 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 didn’t even know how to say it, but Samuel clicked with me. He understood.”
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 isn’t 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 didn’t lose patience, and they didn’t run us off. Hopefully, once it’s 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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