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 Eaton's Neck, NY    
Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.Active Fresnel Lens
Description: Eaton’s Neck received its name from one Theophilius Eaton, who arrived in America from London in 1639. In 1646, he purchased the land that now bears his name from the Matinecock tribe. A part-time surveyor named Joshua Hartt noted in 1795 that the area included “a great reef of rocks dangerous to shipping,” and added, “many vessels have been wrecked. Hereabouts, it is expected a lighthouse will be built for the advantage of seamen.”

Hartt was correct, as the seventy-three-foot-tall Eatons Neck Lighthouse was completed in 1799 at a cost of $9,750. The contract stipulated a payment schedule of $5,000 when the contract was signed, $2,000 “when the first story beams are Laid,” $2,000 “when the Lanthorn is completed,” and the final $750 “when the described work is perfected.”

Eaton's Neck Lighthouse with original dwelling
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
The contractor was John J. McComb, who also built the more-famous Montauk Point Lighthouse. Before construction, he wrote, “There is no materials to be had at or near the spot for the buildings. When brought they must be landed to the westward of the reef and may be carted up by making a circuitous Road for the Purpose of about ½ a miles [sic] in length. Huntington Bay affords excellent harbor for small against almost every wind, and a very good harbor for large vessels ag. northeasterly winds in sm. 3 to 5 fathoms water.”

The second lighthouse ever built on Long Island Sound, the freestone tower was described in the 1899 edition of American Coast Pilot as standing “on an eminence, about 73 feet high, the height of the walls is 50 feet more. It is a single light, and is painted black and white in stripes from the top to the bottom.” (At some later point, it was repainted all white, which it remains today.) John Squire was appointed as the first keeper on December 6, 1798, but he immediately refused the position. A week later, Thomas Burgher of New York City accepted the post, and the station became operational shortly after.

Rocks, extending northward and eastward from the point for three-quarters of a mile, have seen more shipwrecks than any other location on Long Island’s northern shore. During just one storm in December 1811, at least sixty ships and most of their crew were lost on the rocks. A particularly bad shipwreck motivated residents to petition Congress to raise the tower’s height to 73 feet.

In 1837, a Lieutenant Blake inspected the station after receiving multiple complaints about the light. He found all the lamps defective, writing, “The keeper admitted that the lights were bad, and he was censured for keeping a bad light.” The American Coast Pilot also joined in the complaints noting that “most, if not all, the lamps of this house should have been condemned many years since; the light, for the most part, cannot be seen more than 7 or 8 miles.” In 1838, the lighting apparatus was replaced by another Argand lamp/reflector combination. In 1858, after the tower had been remodeled and strengthened to hold a larger lantern, the beacon was changed to a single third-order Fresnel lens fabricated by Henry Lepaute of Paris. Over a century later, the lens remains in service today, although it is now run by electricity.

One of the worst maritime disasters in the area occurred on January 13, 1840. Ice was floating on the sound as the Steamship Lexington was making its regularly scheduled run carrying cargo and passengers between New York and Stonington, Connecticut. At about 7:00 p.m. on that cold evening, a fire broke out when the vessel was off Eaton’s Neck. The Lexington’s cargo of cotton bales had been stored too close to the stovepipe and caught fire. All attempts to extinguish the flames proved futile, and chaos and panic arose as the ship lost its power and steering. Of the more than one hundred people on board, only four survived the incident. The second mate hopped aboard a bale of cotton and drifted about the sound for forty-eight hours before swimming to a beach and walking three quarters of a mile to a residence.

Aerial view of Eaton's Neck Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
The next day, the scene was described thus: “From Crane’s Neck to Old Man’s landing, twelve to fifteen miles east, including the deep bays adjacent, is covered with pieces of the wreck, among which I noticed her name among the siding, nearly in full length, large pieces of her guards, and portions of almost every part of the boat, all of which is mostly burned to coal. We found one of her quarter boats, from which three of the bodies now in our possession were taken; she is very slightly damaged.”

Major repair work was performed on the tower in 1868 as noted in the Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board. "The parapet of the tower has been covered with cast-iron panels, and a cast-iron deck-plate put around the lantern. The wooden stairway in the tower has been replaced by iron steps and landings built inside of a cylindrical brick wall. Iron window frames and sashes were substituted for those of wood; an oil-room of brick provided with closets and shelves, built in connection with the tower; the passage-way between the tower and dwelling rebuilt. The keeper’s dwelling was also partially torn down, remodeled, and expanded at that time. After those renovations, the dwelling consisted of a kitchen, a pantry, two storerooms, three sitting rooms, and five bedrooms. The other structures at the station included a shop, a barn, a coal bin, and a fog signal building.

A steam siren fog signal was installed at the station in 1871. As it had to blow as much as 500 hours per year, the siren required a lot of fresh water, and a new well and cistern were added to help quench the signal's thirst.

The keeper’s dwelling was demolished in 1969, and eleven Coast Guard housing units were added to the station. The Eaton’s Neck Lighthouse was also scheduled for demolition, but local activists went to work and succeeded in having the tower placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The lighthouse continues to show a white light from its century-old third-order Fresnel lens – the only Fresnel lens in active use at a Long Island lighthouse. As Eaton’s Neck is an active Coast Guard station, the lighthouse and grounds are closed to the public.

References

  1. America’s Atlantic Coast Lighthouses, Kenneth Kochel, 1996.
  2. Northeast Lights: Lighthouses and Lightships, Rhode Island to Cape May, New Jersey, Robert Bachand, 1989.
  3. Long Island’s Lighthouses Past and Present, Robert G. Müller, 2004.

Location: Located on the grounds of the Coast Guard Station at the end of Lighthouse Road on Eaton's Neck, north of Asharoken and on Long Island's north shore.
Latitude: 40.95399
Longitude: -73.39545

For a larger map of Eaton's Neck Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: From Highway 25A in Vernon Valley, go north on Waterside Avenue for 1.4 miles to Eatons Neck Road. Follow Eatons Neck Road/Asharoken Avenue for four miles and then go north on Lighthouse Road to the Coast Guard Station. The grounds of the station are typically closed to the public. Before you drive to the station, it would be wise to obtain permission for a visit by calling (631) 261-6959.

The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds/tower closed.

Find the closest hotels to Eaton's Neck Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
A sign near the lighthouse reads:
On March 4th, 1798 Congress passed an authorization act to acquire this site for the purpose of marking the treacherous reef that lies off the north coast of Eatons Neck. Constructed at a cost of $9,250, it is the second oldest lighthouse on Long Island. The lighthouse was designed by John J. McComb Jr. who also designed Montauk and Cape Henry lighthouses. Eatons Neck lighthouse was completed and first lit in January 1799. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 3, 1973.

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