The Lightfoot Tower on the grounds of the Zoé Vallé Memorial Library in Chester, Nova Scotia was built around 1904 by
American attorney Alfred Ross Lightfoot to get a better view of sailing activity in Mahone Bay. Lightfoot was born in Pass Christian, Mississippi in 1852. His father, William Bernard Lightfoot, was Recorder(mayor) of Pass Christian and owned a large cotton plantation on a fine estate prior to the Civil War. Alfred’s mother was Sarah Bee Ross of Mobile, Alabama, the daughter of Jack Ross, the first State treasurer. An antebellum seaside community, Pass Christian was in Alfred’s day an internationally known resort and the Gulf Coast was called the American Riviera. The family had a home on the Gulf Coast next to the Pass Christian Hotel.
It’s easy to understand why Lightfoot would have wanted to build the tower to get a better view of sailing activity in Mahone Bay, as he grew up next to the Pass Christian Hotel, which was known as the “birthplace of yachting in the south”. The Southern Yacht Club started at the hotel and was just three years old when Lightfoot was born in 1852. Living right beside the Hotel, he would have seen sailing activity and regattas throughout his youth.
In New York, Alfred Lightfoot maintained his interest in sailing, being noted in the New York Times on several occasions as being a guest on the various yachts of Brooklyn railway developer Seymour Husted Jr., who was Commodore of the Larchmont Yacht Club. With Husted and the New York fleet, Lightfoot sailed to regattas at Nantucket, Massachusetts and New London, Connecticut, where he would socialize with other New Yorkers such as Henry Flagler, the railroad tycoon and partner in Standard Oil, and Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr.. Dr. Andrew Anderson of St. Augustine, who built a house called ’Over The Way’ in Chester, was a close friend of Henry Flagler and would often join Lightfoot for drinks and cigars on the tower and watch the races in the Bay. Alfred Lightfoot died in 1911 and his remains are buried in the Vallé family plot at the Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis.
When it was built, the Lightfoot Tower would not have been unique. It has been said that there were perhaps five such towers in the Chester area at one time. At the time of its construction, the Lightfoot Tower would have had a commanding view of the bay around Chester. The land throughout the village was not as heavily treed as it is today, when one can get an idea of the original panorama only in the winter and early spring, when the trees are without their leaves.
An advantage that the Tower had over views from sea level locations such as the Chester Yacht Club was that from the Tower one would be able to see the sailing and racing activity beyond islands such as Quaker and Meisner’s. Of course, a good telescope would come in handy to identify the boats.
The top was blown off the Tower during a storm in 1918 and Zoé Vallé Lightfoot had a simple roof put on. Zoé would have been 69 years old at the time and probably could not see herself climbing the stairs to the top of the Tower. She died in 1926 and her sister, Isabel Vallé Austen gave the property to the Municipality, in trust, for use as a free community Library. The Library opened in 1928 but never had the resources to restore the Tower. The stairs eventually rotted away and the basic shell remained untouched until the Chester Municipal Heritage Society got involved in the mid-1980’s.
Working from a small watercolour that had probably been in the Library since Zoé’s time, the Heritage Society rebuilt the observation deck and roof, replaced the stairs and reinforced the internal structure of the tower itself in order to make sure that the roof was secure. The restored tower was re-opened by Lt. Governor Alan Abraham at a ceremony in August of 1985. For many years the Society decorated the tower for Halloween and members dressed in spooky costumes to greet those children who were brave enough to approach and climb the tower for treats.
The Heritage Society maintained the Tower for fifteen years, as per the agreement with the Library Trustees. Eventually, shifting priorities for the Society meant that deterioration began to set in and the Tower was condemned for safety reasons and was in danger of being demolished. Beginning in 2006, the Chester Trust began a long process of fundraising, and eventually, construction that saw a restored Tower open in July of 2014.
Today, the Lightfoot Tower remains one of the most unique features of the village. Cars constantly slow and sometimes stop to take a look at the Tower. Many have photographed it as they passed or as part of a wedding photo shoot. There are always questions as to what it is for…”Is it a lighthouse?”. There are always those who wander through the Library garden towards the Tower with a childlike curiosity, wondering how something, as if from a fairy tale, can be solid right in front of them. In this aspect, the Tower represents the village as a whole and its heritage of enchantment.
Lightfoot Tower – FACILITY USAGE POLICY
Due to insurance and security concerns the following usage policy has been adopted:
The Lightfoot Tower (hereinafter, the Tower) is a restored 1904 observation tower that is part of the Zoé Vallé Memorial Library. It is supervised by the Librarian/Custodian of the Library and regulated by the following policies and guidelines:
1 Acceptable Usage and Activities
As part of the Library site, the Tower is meant to be visited as an observation tower, to climb the stairs and experience the view from the observation deck. At some time in the future, there will also be interpretive displays in the room on the second floor.
The Tower structure itself is NOT meant to be a venue for gatherings, parties, picnics or any other private or public functions.
It may be used as a subject or background for wedding or other types of photography. Please give advance notice to prevent conflicts with other possible events on the Library grounds.
2 Hours of Access
The Tower will be open to the public during the same hours as the Library:
Summer – June 15th to September 15th
Tuesday 12 pm – 5 pm
Wednesday 12 pm – 5 pm
Thursday 12 pm – 5 pm
Friday 12 pm – 5 pm
Saturday 12 pm – 5 pm
Winter – September 15th to June 15th
Tuesday 12 pm – 5 pm
Thursday 12 pm – 5 pm
Saturday 12 pm – 5 pm
During the winter, the Tower will be closed at dusk when it has been open that day. From November to April, inclusive, the Tower will be closed to the public at all times due to the hazards of ice and snow on the staircase.
The Tower may be open at other days/times or by special request outside of regular hours, at the discretion of the Librarian/Custodian.
When the Tower staircase gate is locked, no one is permitted to ascend the stairs to the second and third floors. Doing so will constitute trespass on Library property.
3 Additional Requirements and Restrictions
1. Those using the Tower facilities agree to release, protect, defend, indemnify and hold harmless the Municipality of the District of Chester, the Zoé Vallé Memorial Library and its trustees, officers, employees, members and other representatives from and against any and all claims, liabilities, losses, damages, actions, costs and expenses (including, without limitation, reasonable attorney’s fees and other legal costs) directly or indirectly arising out of their use of the Tower.
2. In the event of damage to the Tower by those using it, they shall accept the amount of repair and replacement costs as estimated, or otherwise determined, by the Library Committee of Trustees or their designee and shall pay the Library for such repair and replacement costs upon demand.
3. The use of tobacco products, alcoholic beverages or drugs is strictly prohibited on the Tower.
4. For children and youth visiting the Tower, the applicable parent, guardian, group or organization must provide adequate adult supervision at all times.
5. The transfer or passing on by any individual, group or organization of permission to visit the Tower to any other persons or organizations is strictly prohibited.
6. Those visiting the Tower must confine themselves to the areas open to the public and will not exceed the capacity limits of facility areas.
7. Visitors may not take tables and/or chairs, and/or other such items, to the Tower observation deck.
This policy is applicable to use of the Tower by any groups or organizations (including individuals). It is by no means intended to cover every facet of use of the Tower facilities. This policy supersedes all prior oral or written statements regarding the specific subject matter hereof. No person has any authority to waive or enter into any agreement or arrangement contrary to the guidelines, requirements, or restrictions and other provisions of this policy without the express written approval of the Librarian/Custodian or the Library Committee of Trustees.