|Old Field Point, NY|
Description: Before the first lighthouse at Old Field Point was completed in 1823, there were no lighthouses on the north shore of Long Island between Eaton’s Neck and Little Gull Island. Maritime traffic along the channel was steadily increasing, and warnings against the many rocky shoals and sandy reefs were needed. Congress allocated $2,500 in 1822 and $1,500 in 1823 for a lighthouse at the site. The necessary land was purchased from Samuel Ludlow Thompson and Ruth Thompson for $600, with the property boundaries being set at the high water mark, a fence, and a cherry tree. The final construction cost came to $3,999.25, with the remaining seventy-five cents being put into the surplus fund.
Before a lightship was stationed off Stratford Shoal in 1837, instructions were given to ships to steer from Falkner’s Island “S.W. by W. ¾ W. for Old Field Point, 8 leagues,” which took them south of the dangerous rocks there. But they were also warned to “come no nearer Old Field Point than 8 fathoms (distant half a mile,) in the night.” This was to avoid the large rocks on the seabed directly off the point.
The establishment of lighthouses at Old Field Point and Stratford Point, on opposite shores of Long Island Sound, were essential to helping ships avoid the shoal during those frequent times that the lightship dragged its anchor and went off station. Lt. George Bache, in his 1838 report, had recommended that one or both of the onshore lighthouses could be turned off after a new lighthouse was built offshore, on the rocks. Fortunately for local mariners, after the Stratford Shoal Lighthouse went into operation in 1877, the other lights remained active, helping to save many a ship in fog and other times of low visibility.
The current Old Field Point Lighthouse was finished in 1868. The two-story granite structure stands seventy-four feet tall, and its walls are two feet thick. The twenty-eight-foot cast-iron tower is square with beveled edges and topped by a circular lantern room, that housed the fourth-order Henry-Lepaute Fresnel lens that had been installed in the original tower in 1856. The lighthouse is constructed in the Victorian-Gothic Revival style, similar to the Block Island North Lighthouse in Rhode Island, Morgan Point and Sheffield Island lighthouses in Connecticut, and Long Island’s Plum Island Light.
The female keepers at Old Field Point never reached national fame like Ida Lewis at Rhode Island’s Lime Rock Lighthouse, but when Keeper Edward Shoemaker died in December of 1826, his widow assumed his post for the following six months. She (ironically, her name is not noted) was the first female keeper in the Third District and one of the first in the nation.
The next keeper was Walter Smith, who took over in June of 1827. When he passed away in April of 1830 his wife Elizabeth, who was already familiar with station duties from assisting her husband, took over as head keeper. She remained at her post for twenty-six years, after which she was succeeded by another woman, Mary A. Foster.
In 1833, Keeper Elizabeth Smith wrote to the Lighthouse Board asking that a small barn be built at the station to house horses. The Old Field Point station, like the one at Montauk Point, was very isolated and remote in those days, and a horse and wagon was essential for getting supplies. The requested horse barn was built, but almost fifty years later there was an urgent request for a replacement barn, since the old one was “ready to go to pieces.”
In 1886, Capt. Francis Weller of the schooner Stony Brook filed a complaint with the Lighthouse Board against Keeper Charles F. Jayne, accusing him of refusing to come to the ship’s aid when it had run onto the rocks near the lighthouse and broken up. It was rare for keepers to refuse aid to ships in distress in their vicinity, and it was not unknown for ship captains to accuse lighthouse keepers of not sounding their foghorns or maintaining their lights properly, in an attempt to cover up their own incompetence.
An investigation was launched by the Lighthouse Board, which concluded that the charges were “frivolous and made for an interested motive.” Possibly the captain was ready to leave a hard life at sea, and wanted the keeper post at Old Field Point for himself.
The keepers at Old Field Point did assist stranded vessels as evidence by Keeper Richard Ray, who in 1923 rescued two men whose powerboat had run aground on the rocks in front of the station. Ray brought the two men to the lighthouse, where he provided cloth, food, and shelter for them for the next two days.
The lighthouse was deactivated in 1933, replaced by a beacon atop a steel tower built next to the lighthouse. The lighthouse property was conveyed to the Village of Old Field in 1935 “for public-park purposes.” However, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the government seized the station, along with the nearby Horton Point Lighthouse, for purposes of national defense. Horton Point was manned by aircraft spotters, while a small Coast Guard contingent occupied Old Field Point. After the war, both lighthouses were returned to their communities.
The Village’s Chief Constable resides in the Old Field Point Lighthouse, which has a living room, dining room, kitchen and den on the first flower, and three bedrooms and a bath on the second floor. A modern beacon, now maintained by the Coast Guard, was placed back in the lantern room in 1991. The keeper's dwelling from the 1824 lighthouse has served as the Village Hall since 1963.
Located at the end of Old Field Road in Old Field, which is approximately
near the middle of Long Island's north shore. The lighthouse is owned by the Village of Old Field. Grounds open. Dwelling/tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the Village of Old Field. Grounds open. Dwelling/tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.