Author: A. Beacon
Kelly Carroll has no trouble remembering the inspiration that guided her life. It stands out like a beacon.
In fact, it was a beacon – the 1833 Buffalo Lighthouse, to be exact.
Back in Buffalo for a Fourth of July family holiday, Kelly finally got a chance to climb the tower that had inspired her love of lighthouses and launched a career in historic preservation more than two decades ago. “This,” she said as she stood in the doorway of the 185-year-old stone tower, “is a dream come true.”
Her first visit launched that dream. Kelly was about four years old at the time.
Her grandfather was one of the veterans who helped settle the cruiser USS Little Rock at a naval park near the foot of Main Street, and her mother, Suzanne Carroll, often took the family exploring on what was then a desolate industrial waterfront.
One of those trips took them to the Buffalo Lighthouse. And something inside Kelly clicked.
“I love lighthouses. It became an obsession,” she told lighthouse keeper Mike Vogel on her return visit. “I can remember going to the library when I was in first and second grade, checking out all these books on lighthouses.”
She also read everything she could about the Buffalo light, undoubtedly including things written by Vogel, a journalist and waterfront historian who had founded the Buffalo Lighthouse Association not too many years before her first visit. She has since visited every lighthouse in North Carolina, a lot near her current home in New York City and in New Jersey, and in a lot of other places including the Caribbean.
But her interest broadened. Her mother would show her were Buffalo’s streetcar tracks used to run. A family medicine cabinet had old pharmacy jars from long-gone Genesee Street pharmacies. She grew more and more fascinated with the need to save history, and when her family moved to North Carolina she landed a job in an historic house in Asheville as a teenager, went on to earn a degree in history there and a master’s degree in historic preservation from Columbia University.
In New York she led an organization saving landmarks on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and now serves as director of advocacy and community outreach for the Historic Districts Council of New York. In that job, she won Vanderbilt family support for landmark designation for the Vanderbilt mausoleum in Staten Island.
The light didn’t exactly drawn her back to Buffalo. That job fell to her mother, who recently moved back to Buffalo from North Carolina. Suzanne arranged a round of group activities as the family gathered for an extended Fourth of July holiday, and surprised Kelly with a tour of the architectural landmark that started her preservation career.
Kelly brought along a New York preservation friend, Allison LaFever, for a day that included a special tour of the Boston Valley Terra Cotta factory. And that also involved, with other family members, Kelly’s sister Megan Carroll, who still lives and works in Asheville – which also, small world with inevitable Buffalo connections that this is, happens to be the home of foremost American lighthouse expert Wayne Wheeler, who helped Vogel launch the Buffalo lighthouse group back in 1985.
It was a sweet reunion – if a little light-hearted.