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 Horton Point, NY    
Lighthouse accessible by car and a short, easy walk.Lighthouse open for climbing.Interior open or museum on site.
Description: In February of 1756, twenty-five-year-old George Washington left Virginia on horseback, headed for Boston. Following a recommendation by a Dr. Alexander Hamilton of Baltimore, young Washington rode across Long Island, intending to board a Boston-bound boat in Greenport. While in Southold, he made the acquaintance of one Ezra L’Hommedieu, who would later become a Revolutionary War hero. Among other matters, the two discussed the suitability of Southold’s Horton Point and Long Island’s Montauk Point as possible sites for a lighthouse.

Thirty-four years later, as President of a fledgling nation, Washington commissioned a lighthouse for Horton Point. Soon thereafter, L’Hommedieu, serving as a representative of the New York Chamber of Commerce, selected Turtle Hill as the site for the Montauk Point Lighthouse. While work would quickly commence on the Montauk Point Lighthouse, funds would not be allocated for the Horton Point Lighthouse until almost one hundred years had passed since Washington’s stopover in Southold.

In 1838, Lt. George Bache noted that placing a “buoy on the northern extremity of the shoal from the westward of Horton’s point,” would be prudent as “vessels not unfrequently ground here.” In 1853, a local ship captain named William Brown wrote to the Lighthouse Board, saying that “a fixed light upon Horton’s point would be of great value to those who navigate the Long Island sound, supplying, as it would, the existing deficiency of lights upon the Long Island shore between Old Field Point light and Plum Island light.”

Congress finally allocated $4,000 in 1854 for the Horton Point Lighthouse, but after the Lighthouse Board declared that amount “wholly inadequate,” $3,500 more was added to the budget two years later. Meanwhile, in 1855 the “Cliff Lot” was obtained, after much negotiating, for $550, and construction on the lighthouse began under the supervision of William Sinclair, a Scottish immigrant. For the duration of the project, Sinclair boarded at the home of John Booth, and later married Booth’s sister, China. Sinclair remained in Southold, accepting an appointment as the first keeper of Horton Point Lighthouse on June 4, 1857. His annual salary was $400.

The station consisted of a fifty-five-foot-tall, square tower and a separate, two-story keeper’s residence, both built of New England granite and local bricks and lumber. Later on, a connecting annex was added between the lighthouse and the residence. The domed roof above the ten-sided, cast-iron lantern room sported decorative rainspouts shaped like gargoyle heads. Sinclair reported the cost of the project as $12,212. The first optic was a revolving third-order Fresnel lens, manufactured by L. Sautter & Company, which showed a fixed white light at a focal plane of 110 feet above sea level. The original light source was a single whale-oil lamp.

In 1871, the station underwent major renovations. The brickwork of the tower and dwelling was found to be badly decayed, and was completely covered with a new layer of mortar. Extra rooms were built for the assistant keeper and for storage. A cast-iron lantern deck was installed atop the tower, and the revolving lens was replaced by a fixed lens of the same order.

Only eight keepers served at Horton Point Lighthouse throughout its history. Canadian-born Robert Ebbitts became the seventh keeper when he was appointed in 1896. In 1903, while washing down the outside of the tower, Ebbitts broke his leg after falling thirty feet when his ladder collapsed. He requested that Stella M. Price, the daughter of a previous keeper, be appointed acting keeper while he recovered. For two months, Price became the only female keeper that this station has had.

After Ebbitts returned to active duty, his previously spotless record received a couple of black marks. In 1907, he was admonished by inspectors for leaving “greasy rags in the lantern and watch rooms,” a severe fire hazard. In 1908 an inspection report read, “The Board notes that you have before been warned for neglect of duty, but it appears that this warning was unheeded. If future inspections of your station do not show better results, the Board may be called upon to take more drastic measures than reprimanding you.” Ebbitts must have complied with the warning as he retained his keeper post at Horton Point until 1919.

The light source was changed in 1907 to an incandescent oil vapor lamp, which greatly increased the light’s power. A forty-foot steel skeleton tower showing a flashing green light was placed near the lighthouse in 1933, and the lighthouse went dark. The property was leased to the Southold Park District that year, and in 1937 the site was officially conveyed to the town with the condition that the government could repossess the property if needed. This did indeed happen shortly after the United States entered World War II, when a Civilian Defense Corps manned the lighthouse as a lookout.

The lighthouse sat abandoned following the war and suffered damage at the hands of conscienceless vandals. The neglected lighthouse was almost razed, but the Southold Historical Society and Matt Booth, a member of the Southold Park District commission, stepped in to save the historic edifice. Restoration work commenced in the 1970s, and a nautical museum established in the dwelling opened to the public in 1977.

Since 1990, the lighthouse has been jointly maintained by the Southold Parks District and the Southold Historical Society. During that year, the two groups cleaned and repainted the tower, built a new stairway, replaced the lantern glass, and made other necessary repairs and improvements. On June 9, 1990 the skeleton tower was removed and the lighthouse was relighted and returned to active service. Further renovations and improvements were made throughout the 1990s.

The Horton Point Lighthouse is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and is a popular site for locals and tourists alike. The grounds are open year round, while the lighthouse itself is open seasonally. The fine museum inside the Horton Point Lighthouse displays a fourth-order Fresnel lens, a lamp and several brass instruments used in lighthouses, and the DCB previously used in the lantern room.

References

  1. America’s Atlantic Coast Lighthouses, Kenneth Kochel, 1996.
  2. Northeast Lights: Lighthouses and Lightships, Rhode Island to Cape May, New Jersey, Robert Bachand, 1989.
  3. Long Island’s Lighthouses Past and Present, Robert G. Müller, 2004.

Location: Located in Horton's Point Lighthouse Park near Southold.
Latitude: 41.0851
Longitude: -72.44556

For a larger map of Horton Point Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: From Highway 25 in Southold, turn north on Youngs Avenue and continue for just over a mile until it ends at Old North Road. Turn right on Old North Road, and then make a quick left on Lighthouse Road, which will lead you to the park and the Horton Point Lighthouse.

The lighthouse grounds are open daily between 8 a.m. and dusk, however, the museum inside the lighthouse is only open on weekends from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. between Memorial Day and Columbus Day. Call (631) 765-5500 for more information. Note that parking for the lighthouse is problematic.

The lighthouse is owned by Southold Park District. Grounds open, dwelling/tower open in season.

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