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 Latimer Reef, NY    
Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.Privately owned, no access without permission.
Description: Most of the maritime landmarks along the Atlantic coast have names whose origin can be found by digging into historical records a bit. Located about a mile north of Fishers Island’s East Point, Latimer Reef (also known as Latimer’s Reef and Latimers Reef) is reportedly named after a James Latemore. During the Revolutionary War, the courageous Mr. Latemore embarked in a skiff to spy on a British Fleet at anchor in Fishers Island Sound. An alert redcoat aboard one of the vessels spotted Latemore’s small craft, and a boat gave chase. Latemore ran aground on his namesake reef, and the British soon captured him and took him back to their fleet. At sunrise the following day, Latemore was hanged aboard one of the British frigates then received a watery burial in the Sound.

By 1800, a number of iron spindles were marking the reef, then for twelve years starting in 1837, the Stonington Railroad and Steamboat Company maintained a private lightship near the reef. The vessel was anchored in Fishers Island Sound on the south side of the channel. In 1849, the lightship was replaced by the government-operated Eel Grass Shoal Lightship. Also known by the designation L, the lightship was a forty-one-ton wooden vessel showing a fixed white light, with a fog bell and horn on board.

In the early days of lightships, each ship was referred to by the name of the station where they were posted, but as the number of lightships increased, it became more difficult to keep track of them, especially when ships were transferred to different stations and districts. In 1867, the Lighthouse Board assigned numbers to all active lightships, while years later (in the 1930s) letters were posthumously assigned to the earliest lightships so they could be uniquely identified in historical documents.

Lightship L was replaced at Latimer Reef by LV 12, and then Lightship LV 25 took over in 1872. Five years later, LV 25 was declared unfit for duty and deemed too old and too small to make refurbishing it worthwhile. It was replaced by LV 17, which in turn gave way for the return of LV 12 in 1882. Finally, in 1884, a permanent lighthouse commenced operation on nearby Latimer Reef, and the Eel Grass Shoal station was discontinued.

Latimer Reef with suspended station boat
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
The Latimer Reef Lighthouse, which was placed on the western end of the half-mile-long rocky reef, consists of a prefabricated, cylindrical cast-iron tower forty-nine feet tall with a cast-iron, concrete-filled foundation. The lighthouse was originally painted all brown, but was later painted all white with a brown band around the middle section to improve its visibility for mariners. There were a number of other lights built around this same time with the same design and by the same methods; initially they were referred to as “Coffee Pot” lights because of their shape. A few decades later, after the internal combustion engine was in common use, these towers became more famously known as “Spark Plug” lighthouses.

The first beacon, a lamp inside a fifth-order lens, was initially watched by Keeper Charles E.P. Noyes, who had served as Captain aboard the Eel Grass Shoal Lighthouse. In 1899, the lens was upgraded to a fourth-order lens, which revolved on ball bearings rather than wheels as in the former lens. Latimer Reef was apparently one of the more uncomfortable stations for its keepers. The spark plug lights were normally designed as secondary lights in smaller bodies of water where a stone structure wasn’t economically feasible. Even with a brick lining, the iron structures were reportedly bitterly cold in the winter and miserably hot during the summer.

Lighthouse keeping was never meant for the faint-hearted. On March 1, 1914 a huge storm swept in from the east, while inside the Latimer Reef Lighthouse, Keeper William H. Smith noted in his log, “The sea was so high that it broke over the Platform and Pier.” Somehow, the keeper was able to single-handedly tie down the station’s two boats, although his personal skiff was smashed to pieces. Not long after that, the woodshed and then the outhouse disappeared under a wall of water. Smith ended a letter to his superiors by noting, “There is no wood at the station. The pier has been weakened.”

The station was automated in 1974, and in 1983, the fourth-order Fresnel lens was removed from the lighthouse and replaced with a 300-mm lens. The old lens was apparently moved to the Elbow of Cross Ledge Lighthouse in Delaware Bay, New Jersey. The Latimer Reef Lighthouse continues to flash a white light every six seconds, its modern optic system driven by a solar-powered system first used in the Florida Keys.

In July of 2008, the Latimer Reef Lighthouse, deemed excess by the Coast Guard, was “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 education, park, recreation, cultural, or historic preservation purposes.” After no organization was awarded the lighthouse, it was placed on the General Services Administration online auction site on June 30, 2010. The property ended up selling for $225,000 on August 23, 2010 to a bidder with the code name “nogard.”

References

  1. Northeast Lights: Lighthouses and Lightships, Rhode Island to Cape May, New Jersey, Robert Bachand, 1989.
  2. Capsule Histories of Some Local Islands and Light Houses in The Eastern Part of L.I. Sound, Benjamin Rathbun, 2001.
  3. America’s Atlantic Coast Lighthouses, Kenneth Kochel, 1996.

Location: Located one mile north of the eastern end of Fishers Island, between the island and Stonington, CT.
Latitude: 41.30451
Longitude: -71.93333

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


Travel Instructions: This light is best viewed by boat. East End Lighthouses offers a Lighthouse Cruise that passes by Latimer Reef Lighthouse.

The lighthouse is privately owned. Tower closed.

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