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 Cold Spring Harbor, NY    
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Description: A muddy shoal reaches out 1,500 feet from the eastern side of Centre Island posing a hazard for vessels attempting to enter Cold Spring Harbor. To avoid the shoal, ships must stay close to Lloyd’s Neck on the east side of the channel. Though long in coming, a lighthouse was finally built at Cold Spring Harbor in 1890 to mark the shoal and Centre Island’s Plum Point.

Major Thomas Jones, an early settler in the area described as a “privateer,” was born in Ireland in 1665 and relocated to Oyster Bay, NY in 1695. His great-grandsons founded the whaling fleet that remains Cold Spring Harbor’s most famous legacy. The Jones brothers started out in the 1820s with a textile mill, grist mills, and a cooper’s shop. When those businesses started suffering from increasing competition, the brothers turned to whaling.

In 1836, they purchased their first whaling ship, the 100-foot Monmouth for approximately $20,000. The vessel set out on its maiden voyage from Cold Spring Harbor in July of that year, and returned on May 4, 1837 with an impressive 1700 barrels of whale oil. Buoyed by this early success, the Jones brothers bought a second ship. In 1839, they incorporated their venture as the Cold Springs Whaling Company, and by 1852, the company had nine ships. After the deaths of two of the brothers in the late 1850s, the family business wound down quickly, signaling the end of the whaling business in Cold Spring Harbor, although shipbuilding and other local industries continued. Today, the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum interprets the whaling and maritime history of Cold Spring Harbor.

Throughout this time, despite all the maritime commerce in the area, there had been no beacon to guide ships around the dangerous shoal at the harbor entrance. Finally, in 1875 Congress appropriated $20,000 and approved a plan to build “two range-lights on the mainland.” Acquiring the necessary land proved difficult due to owners that were reluctant to sell. Also, although the proposed locations for the two new lights were fairly close together, one was in Queens County and one in Suffolk County, which duplicated much of the work.

Cold Spring Harbor Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
At this point, some called for the light to be placed on the shoal instead, but it was thought that the available funds were not enough to build an offshore light. Finally, in 1889 a workable plan was approved for an offshore station, and it was quickly built and opened the following year. The wooden tower was shaped like a square pyramid, and rested on a concrete-filled, iron caisson. The beacon, with a focal plane of 40.5 feet above mean high water, was a fourth-order Fresnel lens powered by kerosene and was first lit on January 31, 1890. The lighthouse originally exhibited a fixed white light; a fixed red sector was added soon after the station opened, due to requests from mariners. A fog bell at the station was struck automatically every thirty seconds when visibility was limited.

The Cold Spring Harbor Lighthouse had a boat, suspended from davits, which the keepers used to reach the mainland. Keeper Chester Rowland drowned on April 3, 1908, and was replaced a week later by Arthur Jensen, who had been serving as an assistant at Execution Rocks Lighthouse. Jensen remained at Cold Spring Harbor for only eight months before accepting a transfer to Eaton’s Neck, but during that time he was visited several times by President Theodore Roosevelt, who had a summer residence nearby at Sagamore Hill and would often row his children out into the harbor.

The Cold Spring Harbor Lighthouse was damaged by a gale in February of 1918. Keeper Louis P. Brown left a description of the storm: “Last night while a south to southwest gale was blowing, a cake of ice about 1 mile square, from 4 to 8 inches thick, came out with tide and wind from Cold Spring and struck this station with such force it jarred the lantern doors open, also throwing a number of articles from shelves, oil cases and cans, dishes, pots, and pans.” Brown commented that the ice made the lighthouse “sway, crack, and tremble tremendously.” Afraid the light might be upset and start a fire, Keeper Brown put it out for just over an hour and employed a small hand lantern in its place. An inspection conducted the following spring found the ice had caused $12,800 worth of damage to the station.

Besides caring for the lighthouse, Louis Brown also kept a watchful eye on the surrounding waters. During one year, he towed ashore four people in a disabled launch, rescued two young men from a filled canoe during a heavy storm and gave them supper, bed, and breakfast, and towed five men in a disabled dory to shore.

The light was automated in 1948, and responsibility for its maintenance was given to Coast Guard personnel at Eaton’s Neck.

In 1965, the lighthouse was removed from its foundation, and replaced by a steel skeleton tower. The old wooden tower was scheduled to be torn down, but a resident living on the opposite shore purchased it for one dollar. Known as Lady Glen, she had fond memories of the lighthouse, including one keeper who kept a piano at the station. When he played, the music could be heard across the water.

The tower was placed on a barge, but it got stuck on a sandbar in the middle of the channel. Many methods were tried to get the barge loose, including attaching a heavy steel cable, which snapped. Anyone in the way of the cable ends as they whipped through the air would likely have been decapitated. The barge, with the lighthouse on top, ended up sitting on the bar for almost a year, waiting for a tide high enough to allow it to float off. When it was finally freed, the lighthouse was placed in Lady Glen’s yard, overlooking waters where it formerly stood. The Cold Spring Harbor Lighthouse is the only one on Long Island that has been moved from its original site.

References

  1. America’s Atlantic Coast Lighthouses, Kenneth Kochel, 1996.
  2. Long Island’s Lighthouses Past and Present, Robert G. Müller, 2004.
  3. "Cold Spring Harbor, NY?," Sandra Shanklin, Lighthouse Digest, November 1995.

Location: The lighthouse was originally located on a shoal, roughly a mile off Centre Island in Cold Spring Harbor. The caisson and a metal superstructure remain at the original site. The wooden lighthouse was relocated to a private residence on Centre Island.
Latitude: 40.91419
Longitude: -73.49316

For a larger map of Cold Spring Harbor Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: The original caisson can be seen from Lloyd Beach. To reach Lloyd Beach, at the intersection 0.2 miles west of Highways 25A and 110, turn north on W. Neck Road. Lloyd Beach will be on your right after 4.3 miles. You can also see the original wooden lighthouse on the shore of Centre Island across the harbor. Centre Island is a gated community, and is thus not accessible to the public.

The lighthouse is privately owned. Grounds/tower closed.

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