|Fort Wadsworth, NY|
Description: On a clear day, visitors to the restored Fort Wadsworth Lighthouse are greeted with a stunning panorama of New York Harbor and Manhattan in the background, while all manner of ships large and small pass below. The lighthouse structure sits on top of Fort Wadsworth’s Battery Weed, itself a historic and fascinating structure.
Mariners entering New York Harbor during the early 19th century had been expectantly waiting for the first lighthouse at this site on Staten Island, then known as Fort Tompkins. A contemporary guide read: “You will be up with the Can Buoy of the S.W. Spit, and may then alter your course to N. by E. ¼ E. for the bluff of Staten Island, where a light-house is to be built by December, 1827, showing a fixed light.”
The original tower, which opened in 1828, rose forty feet to the base of the lantern. The beacon was made up of twelve lamps and reflectors. In an 1843 report, the New York Superintendent of Lights, E. Curtis, described the condition of the apparatus as “much worn, and new ones are wanted. The light is not a good one; I have had an opportunity to observe it for nearly two months this summer. The glass in the lantern is of the poorest quality, and would impair and destroy the most brilliant light.” In 1849 the lantern was refitted with nine brass lamps with twenty-one-inch parabolic reflectors. In 1855 a fourth-order Fresnel lens was installed.
The tower and the dwelling were positioned so close to Fort Tompkins that practice artillery caused serious damage to the lantern in 1863. That, along with expansion of the fort, required a search for a new site for the station. Funding was approved by Congress, and on December 20, 1873 a new gingerbread combination keeper’s dwelling and lighthouse, known as the Fort Tompkins Lighthouse, went into operation. The old structures were then torn down, and the property returned for the Army’s use.
In the early 1890s, it was decided that the new lighthouse (then less than 20 years old) was situated too far inland to be effective. A new site near Fort Wadsworth was proposed along with the installation of a fog signal. At the time, the nearest fog bell was at Fort Lafayette, which served vessels traveling to and from Coney Island, but was too far off to be useful to ships going through the Verrazano Narrows.
Nothing was done for several years. Congress appropriated funds in 1896 for a new lighthouse, but there were more delays, including war with Spain in 1898. In April of that year, the light was turned off for four months as a security measure.
In 1965, the opening of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge made the lighthouse obsolete. The station changed hands several times, first going to the Army, then the Navy, and finally the National Park Service in 1995.
By that time, the abandoned tower was in poor shape. The lantern room was rusted inside and out, and there were rotted floorboards and dead seagulls inside. The roof was gone and vandals had long ago broken every window. There was mold everywhere.
Despite the obstacles, a Staten Island man named Joe Esposito, who had served as a volunteer keeper at the Staten Island Lighthouse for nine years, fell in love with the neglected lighthouse and began a campaign to save it. In 2002, Esposito presented a restoration plan to the Park Service, which approved it. For more than two years, a group of volunteers led by Esposito worked on the lighthouse. The Park Service contributed $27,000 for needed materials.
The hardest part of the job was hauling materials up the sixty-six steps leading to the roof of Battery Weed, where the tower is located. The glass in the curved windows was replaced by Lexan, used in New York City buses and subways because it is unbreakable and fireproof.
On September 24, 2005 there was a re-lighting ceremony for the now solar-powered tower, but Joe Esposito, the man who was responsible for spearheading the restoration effort, had died four months earlier. His widow, Anna, was present and accepted a plaque from the Park Service, and flipped the switch that turned the beacon on once again.
Located atop Fort Wadsworth nearly under the western end of the
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (I-278). The lighthouse is owned by the National Park Service. Grounds open, tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the National Park Service. Grounds open, tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.