The Montauk Point Lighthouse;Inspirational Moment

Written By: John  Caparusso

The Montauk Point Lighthouse; an inspirational moment IN THE SUMMER OF 2002, A FRIEND AND I VISITED THE SOUTHEASTERN TIP OF Long Island. One of the sights we visited was the Montauk Historical Society’s Montauk Point lighthouse. We walked along the path that directed us to the structure. Inside; lining the walls, in display cases were ancient artifacts related to the daily life” and times of the early residents of the lighthouse. In the center of the room was a narrow spiral staircase which lead up to the observation deck 110 feet above ground. It took us five to ten minutes to climb up to the top of the lighthouse. When we reached the top there was a little platform that went around the observation deck and we could see the huge beacon. We went out onto the deck where we could gaze upon the Atlantic Ocean. The sight of the crescent waves rolling in, the sound of their breaking against the rocks below combined with seagulls screaming as they flew overhead. I could feel the dampness of the cool sea breeze blowing upon my face. Below I could see men fishing off the rocks in their Morgan Salt fishermen outfits, as well as the party boats leaving out from Gosman’s Dock. Gosman’s Dock is known for their fresh catch sea food market and restaurants. I was so taken with this experience that it sparked my curiosity as to the construction and history of the structure. It made such a lasting impression upon me that I began to research its histbryj mostly online. This’became somewhat of a pet project; if not a passionate labor of love. I learned that on April 12,1792, the Second Congress of the United State of America authorized the Montauk Lighthouse construction on Tuttle Hill under the recommendation and supervision of then President George Washington. Construction began June 7th, 1796 and was completed on November 5th, 1796. It became the first public works project of the United State of America. The Montauk Point Lighthouse; an inspirational moment It was the first lighthouse in New York State and became the fourth oldest active lighthouse in United States of America. In 1796 its original height was 80 feet. The tower was originally all white. Its single brown stripe was added in 1899. In 1903 it became multi striped; which later merged into one board stripe. The reason for the stripe(s) is lost to history. Sometime in early April, 1797 the lighthouse began operation when the first lighthouse Keeper; Jacob Hand, lit the wicks in the tower lamps. The lighthouse was operated by civilian Keepers until World War II. It is local folk lore that around 1699 Captain Kidd buried treasure at two ponds located at the foot of the lighthouse. Today these ponds are referred to as the “money Ponds”. In 1860 the lighthouse station underwent the first of a series of renovations when two new levels and large lantern was added to the lighthouse increasing it to its current height of 110′ 6″. I felt like I was standing next to an eight story building. 1 was excited to have been standing next to a structure of such history. A first order Fresnel lens, 12 foot high, 6 feet in diameter and weight over 10,000 pounds was installed in the new lantern. The current Keeper’s dwelling was constructed adjacent to the tower. The original 1796dwelling was then demolished. In 1873, a steam-powered fog signal was installed. In 1897, a fog signal building was constructed. The current light, installed in July 2001, is equivalent to approximately 290,000 candle power, which flashes every 5 seconds and can be seen a distance of 17 nautical miles. The huge first order Fresnel lens was replaced in 1903 with a 3 yA order bivalve Fresnel lens, until February 3, 1987, when it was replaced with an airport beacon with the strength of 2.5 million candelas. I SiA**fc»!W.rf»’ j. j.riiaijtjlBHnTj 7 The Montauk Point Lighthouse; an inspirational moment remember experiencing this light when 1 was on a fishing boat at night during one of our family trips to Heather Hill Park. It was a signal to guide us to safety avoiding the rocks. In 1942 the Army opened Camp Hero, adjacent to the lighthouse, It was heavily fortified with huge guns during the World War II. The guns emplacement and concrete observation bunkers are still visible; as are those at the nearby Shadmoor State Park. The United States Coast Guards took over maintenance of the lighthouse in 1946 and operated it until the station was automated on February 3,1987. When the tower was originally constructed it stood 300 feet from the edge of the cliff. Currently it is 100 feet away from edge due erosion. After WWII the United State Army Corp of Engineers built a seawall at its base to deter the erosion; but it continued. In 1967, the Coast Guard considered tearing down the lighthouse and replacing it with a steel tower further away from the edge of the buff. There was a public uproar to this proposal. In response to public protest over the possible dismantling of the tower. Congressman Michael Forbes proposed a bill to the United States Congress to hand over the lighthouse to the Montauk Historical Society so it could be preserve. 1 am so glad I am not the only appreciator of the lighthouse’s beauty and history for it stands today to be experienced by the hundreds of visitors that view it each summer, its busiest season. A fellow Long Islander and lighthouse lover; Georgina Reid, a textile designer by trade, saved her Rocky Point cottage from collapse by designing and constructing a simple set of terraces in the gullies of the buff. Reid proposed the Society do the same at Montauk. Reid’s concept The Montauk Point Lighthouse; an inspirational moment became known as Reed-Trench terracing; the building of terrace platforms, all made from beach debris; most specifically reeds. This practice of the strengthening of the rocks at he buff toe appeared to have stemmed the erosion. Reid patented this process and wrote an article about it for the local newspaper. The Montauk Point Lighthouse still stands, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and at night, every night its candle power flash, every 5 seconds. It continues to receive numerous visitors each summer season. It remains one of the most popular landmarks on the East End of Long Island. My visit not only inspired me to learn more about the history of the Montauk Lighthouse, but to also create a miniature model. Enclose please find a photo of me with lighthouse.