When Larry Herlth’s 15-year-old daughter, Kaya, asked for a paddleboard for her birthday, the former homebuilder countered with another offer.
At the center of his “ultimate man cave” behind his home on Plantation Key is a handcrafted boat he describes as “part Miccosukee dugout, part racing and part turn-of-the-century alligator hunting canoe.”
“She’s really going to be able to go exploring with this thing!” he beamed proudly.
Herlth grew up in Key Largo in a commercial lobster fishing family. He recounted long summer nights spent sleeping atop the refrigerated fish houses where exhaust fans lent a welcome reprieve from sweltering heat and mosquitoes.
It was also there that his artistic interest was peaked when he watched a lobsterman slowly carve a dolphin into a large piece of coral rock adjacent to the fish house.
“My mom was always a big lighthouse enthusiast,” said Herlth, who’s now better known as ‘Lighthouse Larry’ since a neighbor noticed his talent and commissioned a piece for a jetty on his property.
Herlth and his neighbor set out one afternoon to get some close up shots of Alligator Reef lighthouse for his latest piece, but when they approached the structure, Herlth’s passion to commemorate the historic structures was further cemented by it’s deteriorating condition.
“Most of these structures were in immaculate condition through the 1960s when there were still three keepers,” Herlth reminded. “The Keys are home to the largest collection of iron offshore lighthouses in the world! We really take these lighthouses and their history for granted.”
All of his copper lighthouses are built to scale from photographs, and Herlth’s attention to detail is impeccable.
Though he’s completed models of Sombrero Light, Alligator Reef and Carysfort several times over since he began just a few years ago, his ultimate goal is to build replicas of all six lighthouses and showcase them all with brief historical descriptions in one location.
After his proposal for the lighthouse park was quietly passed over in Islamorada, Herlth said Marathon resident Reit Steinmetz sought him out and asked if he would consider displaying his works somewhere a bit farther west.
“Marathon understands the significance of Sombrero Lighthouse,” Herlth commended. “They truly do care about that history.”
Though the details of the installation date and final specs for the signs are still being ironed out among city officials, the Marathon City Council has approved a tentative design that will include one of Herlth’s 12-foot tall replicas of Sombrero Light and a “Welcome to Marathon” banner across the top produced by Renee Anderson of Signs by Renee.
The lighthouse will be constructed of steel and powder coated to withstand the elements while Anderson’s will be crafted from high-density foam. Herlth said he’s also working with Randy Mearns at Marathon Electric to have the structures installed by this summer.