Category: Lighthouse History

Incredible Lighthouses Just a Short Trip From Manhattan

New York City is home to many famous and historic lighthouses, and for centuries, has led ships in and out of its rocky harbors with the guidance of their light. As any lighthouse enthusiast would know, each building has a unique story to tell along with its history. With many of them located within only a short distance from Manhattan, you can easily visit a few of NYC’s lighthouses during a fun day trip. To plan your historical expedition today, here are some of the most incredible lighthouses to see near the area of Manhattan.

Little Red Lighthouse

Located right under the George Washington Bridge, the Little Red Lighthouse is a tiny beacon of light. First built in 1880, it’s one of the last lighthouses still standing within the city limits. Originally called Jeffrey Hook’s Lighthouse, it was renamed the “Little Red Lighthouse” after a popular children’s book successfully saved it from being auctioned off and destroyed in the 1940’s.

The lighthouse is located on the rocky banks of the Hudson River in Fort Washington Park. Street parking is available and is only a short 10-15-minute walk from the building. The path is a little steep, so be prepared for a bit of a climb.

Fire Island Lighthouse

On a Fire Island, just off the coast of Long Island, stands a black and white banded tower known as the Fire Island Lighthouse. The 180-foot lighthouse that stands here today was built in 1858, to replace the original, smaller tower built in 1826. Though the lighthouse was officially decommissioned by the US Coast Guard in 1974, it returned to service in 1986 and served as a navigational beacon for the next 20 years. In 2006, the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society took over operations of the long-standing marker, making it a private aid to navigation.

Today, this historic lighthouse and its grounds are open to tours by the public – you can even climb the 182 steps to the top to take in sweeping views of the ocean below. From Manhattan, it’s just a short 54-mile drive, taking 495 east the majority of the way. While you’re there, take time to enjoy all of the Fire Island National Seashore and the nearby Robert Moses State Park.

Staten Island Lighthouse

The Staten Island Lighthouse is still active today and sits on top of a hill in Richmond, New York. It was first lit in 1912 and excited the residents and New York press alike with its incredible architecture. The New York Times was also enthusiastic about the lighthouse construction, proclaiming that it was “destined to take its place among famous beacons of the world…”

You can find this 80-foot-tall structure off of Interstate 278 on Edinboro Road and is across the street from Latourette Park. If you’re up for another short and educational jaunt after seeing the lighthouse, the esteemed National Lighthouse Museum is located about a half-hour away from the site.

NYC's historic ports and harbor are home to many lighthouses that are no longer in use today.
NYC’s historic ports and harbor are home to many lighthouses that are no longer working today. Luckily, the Staten Island Lighthouse is still in use!

Prince’s Bay Lighthouse

If you go a little further south on Staten Island, you’ll find the historic Prince’s Bay Lighthouse. It was first constructed in 1826 but was rebuilt again in 1864 after the Mount Loretto Orphanage purchased it. Operations were halted in 1922 with the invention of lighted buoys, and the lighthouse was no longer needed.

No longer in use, but not forgotten, Prince’s Bay Lighthouse is located in the Pleasant Plains neighborhood at the highest point of the southern island tip. On a clear day, you can see a spectacular view of the city skyline from the building’s structure.

Sleepy Hollow Lighthouse

Standing on the east shore of the Hudson River is the quaint, cast-iron Sleepy Hollow Lighthouse. First lit in 1883, the lighthouse operated for 78 years before navigational lights that the Tappan Zee Bridge had installed replaced it. During its years of operation, the tower served as a home to twelve different keepers, and some of them lived in the lighthouse with their families. And although it no longer navigates ships, Sleepy Hollow is the only Caisson-style lighthouse that’s still standing on the Hudson River’s banks.

This lighthouse is easily accessible by taking a path that runs from the nearby Kingsland Point Park. Tours are also available during the spring and summer seasons for exploring the interiors of the structure.




Lighthouse on a Storage Company? Another Built by an Asylum Patient? Your Guide to NYC’s Historic Lighthouses

With a maritime history that includes travel up and down the Hudson and East rivers, New York City has long relied on lighthouses to direct and warn vessels. Sadly, many of these structures have been lost to history, such as the Elm Tree Beacon Light which had humble beginnings as a tall tree, but which was later torn down when the structure was moved in 1939. More recently, the Old Orchard Shoal Light was obliterated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Many of these wonderful structures remain, however, and several of them are still in use today. If you’re in New York City and want to glimpse one of the remaining structures, here are a few of the best:

The Staten Island Light

Built in 1906, this stately, 90-foot beacon on Lighthouse Hill has a base of limestone bricks that rises to an elegant and traditional New England styling at the tower’s apex. The interior of the tower has 104 steps in a gently spiraling staircase that is lined with red brick. This lighthouse is still in use today, although its functions in directing any ships in Ambrose Channel are fully automated. The former lighthouse keeper’s cottage nearby is now a private home.

The Little Red Lighthouse

This charming structure guarded the banks of the Hudson River near a dangerous section of water known as Jeffrey’s Hook. Painted in striking scarlet, it stands today in Fort Washington Park, just underneath the George Washington Bridge. The 40-foot beacon began as a simple red pole designed to alert boat captains, but in 1889, a light was added. The current structure was built in 1921 and is famous for its mention in The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, written by Hildegarde Swift in 1942. Although it is no longer functional, it is a listed building with the National Register of Historic Places and is still lit each night.

The little red lighthouse that now sits in the shadow of the Washington Bridge, might be tiny, but it played a big role in helping guide many a ship. Photo credit Flickr user CPW View.
The little red lighthouse that now sits in the shadow of the Washington Bridge, might be tiny, but it played a big role in helping guide many a ship. Photo credit Flickr user CPW View.

Coney Island Light

Standing 75 feet tall on the western tip of Brooklyn’s Coney Island, this lighthouse was first built in 1890, although the current building dates to 1921. The solid steel structure is painted in stark black and white and is characterized by its red light, which shines for five seconds at a time. It is still in operation today, meticulously maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Blackwell Island Light

Gracing Roosevelt Island’s northeastern end, the Blackwell Light is an octagonal tower built of craggy gray stone in 1872. While it’s rumored that the Blackwell Light was constructed by an asylum patient named Thomas Maxey, no one really knows the whole story. The light stands 50 feet in height and for decades guided ships traveling in the East River. It ceased official operations in 1940, and restoration efforts were completed in 1998. Today it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and can be visited on Roosevelt Island, although its interior is closed.

Perched at the end of Roosevelt Island, the Blackwell Island Light was supposedly built by a patient from a nearby asylum.
Perched at the end of Roosevelt Island, the Blackwell Island Light was supposedly built by a patient from a nearby asylum.

Lighthouse on a Storage Unit at 950 University Ave

This lighthouse might cause one to do a double take, because of its odd location. This lighthouse is perched on top of a storage facility. While not functional, this Bronx landmark was built as a nod to the H.W. Wilson publishing house that offices in the building below. This company was known for such publications as Reader’s Digest, and the lighthouse was meant to symbolize giving guidance to the many readers of Wilson’s publications. Today, the lighthouse can be seen by perched high above the bumper to bumper traffic on the Major Deegan Expy, helping guide customers to their overfilled self-storage units.

The Titanic Memorial Lighthouse

Built in 1913 solely to honor those drowned in the Titanic sinking in the North Atlantic, this 60-foot-tall memorial stood on the top of the Seamen’s Church Institute in Lower Manhattan. Its white stucco exterior featured a metal pole at the apex with a ball that would drop every day at noon as a signal to harbor ships. In 1976, it was moved to the South Street Seaport Museum entrance, where it can be visited today on Pearl Street.



Interesting Facts About Long Island’s Maritime History

Long Island has played an important role in America’s maritime history for hundreds of years. Standing the test of time, the island continues to play a crucial role in New York area trade and commerce. In this article, we’ll take a look at a few interesting facts that have shaped the unique history of Long Island over the years.

Native Fishing

Long Island was initially populated by Native Americans for hundreds years before Europeans ever set foot in the Americas. The area’s bays were richly populated with fish, and the natives commonly fished in waters surrounding the island. Fishing remained the sole industry of Long Island for a long period of time.

Early Exploration

The first European to explore Long Island was Giovanni da Verrazzano, an Italian who was working for the French government that made the voyage in 1524. An English explorer named Henry Hudson later mapped the area in greater detail, but it was a Dutch explorer named Adriaen Block who proved that Long Island was actually an island in 1615.

Long Island was explored in the early 1600's with colonization shortly following in the 1630's.
Long Island was explored in the early 1600’s with colonization shortly following in the 1630’s.


Other colonies had already sprung up in the New York region surrounding Long Island, so Long Island itself was the next natural place for European colonization. After the island was thoroughly mapped, colonization soon followed, with English settlers landing in the area in the 1630s. Dutch colonists settled on the other end of the island shortly after. The border between these two original colonies still serves as the modern-day divide for the counties of Suffolk and Nassau. In these early years under European influence, a large part of the island’s economy was based on naval trade, along with fishing and farming.

The American Revolution

As an important shipping hub, Long Island played a crucial role in the American Revolution. British forces wanted to hold the area in order to get supplies from Europe, especially after they were forced out of Boston. In turn,  General George Washington wanted to the control the island to prevent supplies from reaching his British enemies.

General George Washington led the attack in the Battle of Long Island.
General George Washington led the attack in the Battle of Long Island.

This led to the Battle of Long Island, which proved to be an American defeat. The soldiers started the battle on land, but it quickly turned into one of the largest naval battles in America’s early history. Upon retreat, approximately 9,000 Americans climbed into rowboats and made their escape by sea, allowing the rebels to escape, despite being surrounded by British forces.

The Brooklyn Bridge

Ferries dominated the waterways around Long Island for most of its early history, as there were no land connections to the rest of New York at that time. This lead to the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883, which allowed businesses to ship their products into the city by cart (and eventually by truck) and cleared up much needed space within the waters between Long Island and the rest of the city. The Brooklyn Bridge also reduced the area’s slow shipping methods to modern levels of speed.

Present Day Long Island

Today, life in Long Island continues to revolve around its maritime past. The lighthouses that dot the East End are a reminder of both the Island’s maritime history and continued role as a center of naval trade. While most residents no longer rely on fishing as a means of survival, many enjoy living in Long Island because of its proximity to ocean and all of the recreational opportunities that it affords. It seems that Long Island will forever be linked to the water that surrounds it.


6 Best Lighthouses on the East End

For lighthouse enthusiasts around the world, the East End of Long Island is the perfect place for spotting historic lighthouses in scenic ocean landscapes. With over 20 lighthouses rich with history to feast your eyes on, we’ve narrowed down the list to the top six must-see lighthouses of the East End..

Orient Point Lighthouse

Nicknamed the “Coffee Pot,” the Orient Point Lighthouse was built in late 1899 on the Oyster Point Reef in the ocean. In 1970, the Coast Guard announced plans to dismantle the building, but a public outcry led to the beloved lighthouse in being restored.The Coast Guard finally relinquished control of the lighthouse through a public auction in 2013. The auction winner, Randy Polumbo, was charged with preservation of this historic landmark. Though the lighthouse is not open to the public, its beauty can still be seen today from Orient Point or the ferry that runs between Orient Point and New London.

Plum Island Lighthouse

The Plum Island Lighthouse, was built in 1827 on the west end of Plum Island and was deactivated about 150 years later. It was so badly neglected that the generator house fell into the ocean in 1997. The Long Island Chapter of the US Lighthouse Society then began to save the lighthouse by placing large rocks at the bluff’s base to stop it from eroding any further. Current efforts are underway to restore the lighthouse, thought because the island is private, it is not accessible to the public.

Little Gull Island Lighthouse

The original form of the Little Gull Island Lighthouse was built in 1806 to guide mariners past a treacherous reef that caused shipwrecks. It was also one of the first navigational aids provided by the federal government. During the War of 1812, the British seized control of the island and forced the lighthouse keeper to put out the light. The current lighthouse was built in 1868, and in 2012, Fred Plumb bought the property and announced plans to restore it and make it publicly available.

Little Gull Island Lighthouse once helped direct ships at sea.
Little Gull Island Lighthouse once helped direct ships at sea.

Race Rock Lighthouse

An early version of the Race Rock Lighthouse was built in 1806 on Race Rock Reef. The original proved to be of little use in preventing shipwrecks, so it was torn down and replaced during the 1870s. While the current lighthouse is still in use, some people believe the building is haunted, and the lighthouse appeared on an episode of the popular television show “Ghost Hunters.”

North Dumpling Lighthouse

The North Dumpling Lighthouse was built in 1849 on Fisher’s Island Sound. During Prohibition, its isolated environment made it a popular spot for bootleggers who wanted to transfer illegal alcohol. In 1986, Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway and the portable dialysis machine, bought the lighthouse. He then retrofitted the building to run solely on wind and solar power.

Latimer Reed Lighthouse

The Latimer Reef Lighthouse, which was built in 1884, is one of the earlier cast-iron lighthouses in the East End area. In 2010, Scott Phillips bought it for a whopping $225,000 and began a financial services company called Latimer Light Capital in memoriam for the building.