Description: In response to steamship concerns regarding the dangerous shoals on the eastern shore of the Hudson River just north of New York City, Congress authorized the building of a lighthouse in 1847 on Teller’s Point, a short distance upstream from Sing Sing Prison. Officials, however, soon changed their mind and selected a site a few miles south at Tarrytown Point instead. The custom’s collector at New York was charged with purchasing land at Tarrytown Point, but after consulting pilots and captains of local steamboats during the summer of 1848, he learned that the best site for the light would be on Beekman’s Point, not too far from Tarrytown Point.
Gerard Beekman, the owner of the point that shared his name, first declined to sell any portion of the point as a lighthouse would deprecate the value of his land for building “country residences,” but after considerable delay, he finally consented to sell two acres at the outer end of the point for $3,000. This amount was unacceptable as the total amount appropriated for the lighthouse was $4,000.
For thirty more years, river captains continued to petition for a lighthouse to mark this stretch of the Hudson River, and in 1881, the government finally relented, providing $21,000 to construct an offshore lighthouse. The spark plug tower was manufactured by G.W. & F. Smith Iron Company of Boston, Massachusetts, and is known officially as Tarrytown Lighthouse.
Captain Joseph Ackerman lit the light for the first time on October 1, 1883, a ceremony he would repeat many times during his twenty-one years of service at the rock-rimmed cast-iron tower. The forty-eight-foot-tall conical tower consists of five levels and rests atop a circular iron pier, which is twenty feet high with a diameter of thirty feet and was filled with cement and sunk in seven-and-a-half feet of water. The first level, with a diameter of eighteen feet, served as a combination kitchen/dining room/living room. Bedrooms were located on the next two levels, while the fourth level was split into two rooms, a bedroom and a small storeroom. The fifth level house the mechanism for striking the fog bell, and the decagonal lantern room topped it all off.
The only surviving caisson-style lighthouse on the Hudson River, Tarrytown Lighthouse housed a fourth-order Fresnel lens, which originally exhibited a fixed white light characteristic from a focal plane of fifty-six feet. The characteristic was switched to fixed red on September 30, 1893, and then in 1902, it was changed to flashing red through the installation of a different Fresnel lens.
Tarrytown Lighthouse was considered a plum assignment due to its proximity to town. During its seventy-eight years of manned service, the keeper position only rotated eleven times. Household supplies were obtained by rowing to town, or once the river froze over, by simply walking on the ice.
Keeper Ackerman and his wife Henrietta celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary at the lighthouse on Christmas Day 1898. The couple had invited a number of people from the village to celebrate the occasion with them at the lighthouse, but floating ice in the river forced the couple to celebrate their golden anniversary alone.
General Motors enlarged its automobile plant along the river in 1923, altering the course of the Pocantico River. Slowly, the east shore of the Hudson River expanded westward until only fifty feet separated the lighthouse from the shoreline.
Tragedy touched Tarrytown Lighthouse twice in 1947, claiming the lives of two children. In October of that year, seven-year-old Andrew Leclerc, son of Keeper Laureat Leclerc, was playing with a boat near the base of the lighthouse when he disappeared. Keeper Leclerc and an older son were polishing fittings inside the tower and would call out to the youngster from time to time to make sure he was okay, but around 4 p.m., the boy didn’t answer. Police were called after a frantic search of the lighthouse, and the boy’s body was eventually found in the river ten feet from the tower. Keeper Leclerc’s wife had died in March and his sixteen-year-old daughter Marie had married in June, leaving the keeper alone to look after the light and his other children.
In August 1947, four-year-old Russell W. Scarlett drowned at the lighthouse while his father was serving as a relief keeper. Mrs. Scarlett saw Russell and his five-year-old sister Betty Ann fall off the dock and into the water, but with a baby in her arms, all she could do was call for her husband, who dove into the river and was able to retrieve Betty Ann but couldn’t locate Russell.
Richard Moreland, the last keeper of the lighthouse, served from 1955 to 1958, living at the station with his wife and two daughters, who were born during that period. In December 1955, Keeper Moreland escorted his wife Agnes to shore so she could do some Christmas shopping, but when he tried to return to the lighthouse, heavy ice floes blocked his boat. Keeper Moreland had left their three-month-old baby at the lighthouse and a pot simmering on the stove, thinking he would be gone just a couple of minutes. Panic-stricken, Keeper Moreland went for help, and the local police recruited two experienced boaters to attempt the trip.
In June 1956, Edward Murrow, host of the popular television program Person to Person, conducted a remote interview with the Moreland family to see what the keeper did to “keep house in the lighthouse.” The Morelands enjoyed their time at the lighthouse even though one of them always had to be at the station and it was difficult making square furniture fit in round rooms. Richard Moreland resigned from lighthouse keeping in February 1958 to become an insurance salesman.
When the Tappan Zee Bridge was completed in 1955, Tarrytown Light was no longer needed. Its candlepower was reduced from 7,000 to 1,500 in 1957, and the inevitable deactivation occurred in 1961. The lighthouse was listed for disposal and fell into disrepair.
In 1969, Westchester County began plans to accept the lighthouse from the General Services Administration (GSA), and ownership was transferred in 1974. Westchester County has worked diligently to restore and maintain the structure. In 1979, a metal footbridge was constructed to connect the lighthouse to shore, and the lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
On October 1, 1983, the 100th anniversary of the beacon’s first lighting, Tarrytown Lighthouse was opened to the public. Today, Westchester County occasionally conducts tours of the lighthouse, treating visitors to furnishings and photographs depicting life at the lighthouse.
As part of an $800,000 project, funded by Westchester County and the Village of Sleepy Hollow, the lighthouse was to be stabilized, have its wooden floors replaced, and receive a new coat of paint, however, when the project went out for bid 2013, the lowest bid was $1.2 million. The restoration has been placed on hold until additional funds can be raised.
Head Keepers: Jacob Ackerman (1883 – 1904), Jules H. Gregoire (1904 – 1907), August Kjelberg (1907 – at least 1915), John A. Brown (at least 1919 – 1930), John Tatay (1930 – 1935), Arthur J. Munzner (1935 – 1939), William Sinibger (1940 – 1941), Thomas Walker (1941 – 1942), Harold D. Fischer (1942 – 1943), Laureat Leclerc (1943 – 1954), Edward Brown (1954 – 1955), Richard Moreland (1955 – 1958), Fred C. Fleck (1958 – 1965).
Located just north of the Tappan Zee Bridge
(Interstate 287) on the eastern shore of the
Hudson River. The lighthouse is owned by Westchester County Parks. Tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by Westchester County Parks. Tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.