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 Orient Point, NY    
Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.Privately owned, no access without permission.
Description: The deep and narrow gap between Orient Point and Plum Island is called Plum Gut, and at ebb tide, the waters of Long Island Sound rush through at currents exceeding five knots, creating a churning mix of white-capped waves and dangerous riptides. This mile-wide passageway is challenging for even the most experienced mariners. Oyster Pond Reef, a dangerous obstacle lying just beneath the surface of the water, extends from Orient Point one-third of the way across Plum Gut.

The Lighthouse Service started placing day markers near the outer end of the reef in the mid-1800s, but winter storms and huge ice floes dislodged or destroyed many of them. At first, plans were made to upgrade the day markers with a simple light beacon and fog signal, but in 1896, after considerable debate, it was decided to build a caisson tower composed of curved cast-iron plates, bolted together through flanges on the inside of the plates. The lighthouse was erected right on the reef, out at its far end, where it would be most beneficial to mariners.

Orient Point Lighthouse with canopy
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
Construction began in October of 1898, but it turned out to be the stormiest autumn in decades. Forty-eight prefabricated steel plates making up the lower part of the foundation had been barged to the site, fastened together and sunk into place on October 24. Three days later a strong gale swept the entire caisson off its base and destroyed it, ending construction until the following spring. The lighthouse was completed in 1899 and exhibited its red light from a fifth-order lens for the first time on November 10th of that year. The new beacon proved too dim and was upgraded to a fourth-order lens on May 1, 1900.

Although 600 tons of riprap had initially been placed around the foundation to protect the structure, prolonged exposure to powerful ice floes and winter storms created constant problems. Over the next three years, more than 10,000 additional tons of riprap were used at the base of the structure to build a breakwall. The pier, which sits on the reef and protects the lighthouse, is twenty-five feet wide at its base and thirty-two feet tall. The lighthouse tower itself is forty-five feet tall, with six interior decks. A few years after it was built, some cracks and rust were found on one side of the foundation. After more plates were added to patch the problems, the extra weight caused the lighthouse to tilt about five degrees. (Some accounts blame the tilt on currents undermining the foundation on that side.)

The basic, no-frills style of this and similar lighthouses of its time was a reaction to the expensive and high-maintenance, but architecturally fascinating lighthouses previously built in the region. Not one of the most attractive lighthouses ever built, the brown and white structure was nicknamed “The Coffee Pot” by local mariners. Orient Point Lighthouse is similar in design to a number of other Coffee Pot lighthouses built around this time – starting in the early twentieth century, after automobiles became a common sight, they became more widely known as Spark Plug lighthouses.

The first keeper at Orient Point was a Norwegian immigrant named Ole Nicholas Alfred Anderson. Since the station’s location in open water was considered too dangerous for a keeper's family, Anderson’s wife was forced to live in the nearby town of Orient, on Long Island. Anderson served as keeper until September of 1901, when he was transferred to Bridgeport Connecticut. Later, Anderson would serve twenty-five years at the twin lights at Navesink New Jersey. When Anderson's son Olaf sailed into New York Harbor from France aboard a troopship at the end of the First World War, he could see the light from his father's lighthouse welcoming him back to America.

On August 30, 1912, the steamer Halyoake was passing through Plum Gut when its steering suddenly went out. The strong currents turned the ship, and with its engines still in gear, it headed straight for the Orient Point Lighthouse. The ship's captain ordered the engines to full reverse, while at the lighthouse Keeper Charles Whitford watched and anxiously braced himself for the inevitable impact. Fortunately, the captain had acted just in time. Whitford wrote that “the bow ran up on the rocks surrounding the station, but the steamer backed off immediately, and no damage was done to either the steamer or the station.”

Orient Point Lighthouse had a fairly quiet history from that point, although there is a local legend that says one of the keepers during the 1920s went mad from the isolation and jumped to his death from the outer walkway.

On April 5, 1958, the Coast Guard Cutter Hawthorne arrived at the Orient Point Lighthouse and carried away all the station's furniture and personnel. The Coast Guard keepers were replaced by “the click of micro-switches and solenoid valves.” In 1970, the Coast Guard announced plans to tear down the automated lighthouse, which they deemed unsafe for servicing personnel and too expensive to repair, and replace it by a “reinforced pipe tower.” However, a citizens’ campaign was soon organized to save their beloved Coffee Pot, and the Coast Guard backed down. Chesterfield Associates was hired to pump concrete into the base, sandblast the tower, and cover it with a new coat of paint and an epoxy preservative. When the work was over, the tower was restored to its former respectable appearance.

The Fresnel lens was replaced by a modern optic in 1988, and in 2000 the Coast Guard returned for major work on the lighthouse. The tower's emergency generator and equipment for filtering, pumping, and storing the associated fuel were removed, and solar panels and batteries were installed to eliminate the light's dependency on a submarine power cable. The lighthouse is now a less hazardous place and easier to access as well thanks to the installation of a new boat ramp.

In June 2011, Orient Point Lighthouse was declared excess to the needs of the United States Coast Guard and made available to eligible organizations under the provisions of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. Qualified entities were given sixty days to submit a letter of interest and were required to obtain an agreement from the State of New York to occupy the submerged lands on which the lighthouse stands. After no suitable organization was found, an online auction for the lighthouse opened on June 1, 2012. Nine bidders participated in the auction, which ended on September 25, 2012 with a winning bid of $120,000. The winning bidder provided the additional deposit required within forty-eight hours of the end of the auction but failed to close on the lighthouse withing the sixty-day closing period. As a result, another auction for the lighthouse was initiated on June 10, 2013. Seven bidders participated in the second auction, which ended on September 18, 2013 with a high bid of $252,000.

Orient Point Lighthouse cannot be reached by land and is not open to the public, although it can be viewed from Orient Point. While the lighthouse can be approached by water in private vessels, care must be taken to avoid the shallow reefs surrounding the lighthouse. A year-round ferry that runs between Orient Point and New London offers good views of at least five lighthouses, including Orient Point, Plum Island, Little Gull Island, New London Ledge, and New London Harbor.

Photo Gallery: 1 2 3 4

References

  1. Northeast Lights: Lighthouses and Lightships, Rhode Island to Cape May, New Jersey, Robert Bachand, 1989.
  2. Northern Lighthouses, Bruce Roberts and Ray Jones, 1994.
  3. America’s Atlantic Coast Lighthouses, Kenneth Kochel, 1996.
  4. Capsule Histories of Some Local Islands and Light Houses in the Eastern Part of L.I. Sound, Benjamin Rathbun, 2001.

Location: Located roughly a half-mile offshore from Orient Point, on the western side of Plum Gut, the mile-wide waterway that separates Plum Island and Orient Point.
Latitude: 41.1635
Longitude: -72.22361

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


Travel Instructions: Given its proximity to the shore, good views are possible from land. To reach the tip of land near the lighthouse you can park near the ferry landing at Orient Point and walk along a rocky beach on the south side of the point or you can park at Orient Point County Park and take the hiking trail around the north side of the point.

Views of the light are possible from the Cross Sound Ferry, which operates between Orient Point, NY and New London, CT. Also, East End Seaport and Sunbeam Fleet offer excursions that pass by the light.

The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Tower closed.

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Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.