|Romer Shoal, NJ|
Description: Many sources claim that Romer Shoal is named after the pilot boat William J. Romer, which reportedly sank nearby in 1863. While this claim sounds plausible, the following facts offer proof to the contrary.
Following the appropriation of $15,000 in 1837 and $10,000 in 1838, Winslow Lewis surveyed the shoal and selected the position for the erection of a day-beacon. After construction started at the site, two naval officers complained that the tower was being built in the wrong place. Work was allowed to continue, but mariners were warned not to "run for the beacon, or they would infallibly get on shore." Still, the misplaced daymark, a frustum constructed of granite blocks that supported a wooden mast surmounted by a wooden case, did help mariners avoid the underlying shoal.
By 1877, the tower was off vertical. Steps were taken to shore it up, but it was clear that a new structure would be needed in the not too distant future.
The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board for 1886 has the following entry for Romer Shoal Lighthouse, near the northeast side of Swash Channel, entrance to New York Bay:
The work of establishing the light at this point was steadily pushed forward, although severe weather frequently made a landing at the site impracticable. The foundation was well advanced, and the first section of the pier set up in October. In November the second section of the pier was erected, and work was suspended during December on account of the weather. In January, 1886, the iron-work of the tower was received at the lighthouse depot. The foundation was strengthened in May with a cargo of stone, and by the end of June the entire structure was completed ready for lighting. The light will on July 15, 1886, be exhibited for the first time.
This second beacon, now equipped with a light, was a twenty-five-foot-high skeletal tower that stood atop an iron pier with a diameter of thirty feet. A tank of compressed gas was capable of powering the unmanned light for up to ninety days, saving the expense of an on-site keeper. After a decade of service, however, the tower and light were requiring more frequent attention, and funding was obtained for a manned lighthouse on Romer Shoal.
Following World War I, six signal quartermasters from the Navy were crammed into the lighthouse along with the three regular keepers, who were responsible for the light produced by the tower’s fourth-order Fresnel lens. The duty of these post-war additions was to monitor all vessels entering and leaving New York Harbor. Much to the relief of the keepers, the six guests were removed after about a month due to shortage of Navy personnel.
The following year, the Navy took control of the entire lighthouse, assigning three of its men to mind the light and observe ships. Shortly after the men had arrived at the lighthouse, a vessel approached the station on November 13, 1920 to deliver provisions. William Walker set off in the station's launch to meet the vessel as choppy seas prevented it from tying up near the lighthouse. As the two ships were maneuvering near each other, a large wave pushed them close to the rocks that protected the lighthouse. Seeing the danger, the captain of the larger vessel ordered his engines reversed. The resulting prop wash swamped Walker's craft and pulled him under the water to his death. The Navy removed its men from the lighthouse on October 16, 1921, and keepers from the Lighthouse Service returned to the station.
In 1939, Romer Shoal Lighthouse, along with all navigational aids in the country, fell under the control of the Coast Guard, who stationed four men at the light. Three of the coastguardsmen were always on duty at the lighthouse, while a fourth enjoyed a week's leave. The daily routine of watching the light and maintaining the structure was a bit monotonous, but one of the crew explained to a reporter that the job had its advantages as well. "About the only excitement we have is running the launch out in heavy seas, or going out to help a boat with a broken-down engine. That doesn't happen very often. But it's not so bad here. And how many people get a week's vacation every month?"
Romer Shoal Lighthouse was equipped with a diaphone fog horn in 1939, replacing a 1,300-pound fog bell that had served since the tower was completed. An incandescent oil vapor lamp was also installed that year in place of a wick lamp.
When Romer Shoal Lighthouse was automated in 1966, its Fresnel lens was replaced by a 190-millimeter acrylic lens that continued to help mark the entrance to the busy harbor with a pair of white flashes every fifteen seconds. After a storm in December of 1992 damaged the lighthouse, the Coast Guard considered scrapping the lighthouse and replacing it with a steel skeleton tower. Joe Esposito, who served as caretaker of the Staten Island Lighthouse at the time, refused to let the tower be destroyed, and through his ardent efforts it remains in place today. A metal awning that covered the main gallery at the base of the tower was removed in 1997. That same year, use of the station's submarine power cable was discontinued, the light was solarized, and a generator and fuel tanks were removed from the tower.
For years now, there has been talk of returning the lighthouse to its former home on Staten Island, which is now slated to become the National Lighthouse Museum. Unfortunately, the effort to get the museum started has been bogged down for almost a decade due, at least in part, to insufficient funding. Fishermen will, for now, still have the brown and white tower to direct them to the popular fishing site where doormat-size fluke are often taken.
A Notice of Availability, dated June 1, 2010, announced that Romer Shoal Lighthouse was excess to the needs of the United States Coast Guard and would be "made available at no cost to eligible entities defined as Federal agencies, state and local agencies, non-profit corporations, educational agencies, or community development organizations for educational, park, recreational, cultural or historic preservation purposes." Qualifying organizations were given sixty days to submit a letter of interest.
After no group stepped forward to take responsibility for the lighthouse, it was placed on the auction block on March 14, 2011, by the General Services Administration (GSA). An opening bid of $15,000 was placed on June 16, after an inspection trip to the lighthouse was offered on June 9. The auction saw ten bids being submitted by five different individuals and concluded on June 24 with a winning bid of $90,000 by "jvscalia," who had seemingly won the auction for Old Orchard Shoal Lighthouse in 2008 only to have the GSA declare that the bid of $40,000 did not exceed the fair market value for the property.
John Scalia, the auction winner, says he has always had a sweet spot for Romer Shoal Lighthouse as it was the first part of their new homeland his immigrant grandparents saw when approaching Ellis Island. Scalia plans to spend around $80,000 fixing up with property with an eye towards making it accessible for tours from the National Lighthouse Museum on Staten Island. Scalia owns owns several businesses on Staten Island, including a florist, a funeral home and a limousine service, and views renovating Romer Shoal Lighthouse as a gift to his community.
Located 2.4 miles due north of the northern tip of Sandy Hook in Lower New York Bay. The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.