|Old Orchard Shoal, NY|
Description: In the late 1800s when winter ice closed down Staten Island Sound, the waterway separating New Jersey from Staten Island, an estimated 15,000 tons of shipping were forced to use the narrow channel that ran along the eastern shore of Staten Island. In doing so, the vessels passed dangerously close to Old Orchard Shoal. A bell buoy and a lighted buoy initially marked this shallow area, but mariners considered these navigational aids grossly inadequate.
The first Waakcaack Lighthouse was a hexagonal wooden tower built in 1855 that stood near Creek Road in Keansburg, three-quarters of a mile to the rear of Point Comfort, its companion range light. In 1894, this tower was moved aside so a replacement iron skeleton tower could be built on the site. The new tower displayed two fixed lights, one at a height of 105 feet and the other at 95 feet, forming a range with the lights at Point Comfort and Old Orchard Shoal. When the town of Keansburg decided to incorporate in 1917, it used the outline of the Waakcaack Range Light as its seal. The Point Comfort Light was decommissioned in 1941, replaced by lighted buoys and the range light at Sandy Hook.
The top portion Old Orchard Shoal's caisson foundation flares out like a trumpet to a diameter of thirty-three feet. The lower portion of the foundation is filled with concrete, but water cisterns and a basement are located in the top portion. The three-story, brick-lined tower is centered atop the circular foundation and provided housing for the keepers and necessary supplies. The bottom two stories feature rectangular windows, that are now covered up, while the third story is lit by five porthole-style windows. A metal staircase, located behind a metal partition wall, winds up the interior wall of the tower in a counterclockwise direction.
A circular watch room surrounded by an open gallery sits atop the tower, and provides access to the octagonal lantern room and its gallery. All of the metalwork for the lighthouse was provided by the Variety Iron Works Company of Cleveland, Ohio.
The first keeper at Old Orchard Shoal was Andrew L. Carlow, who arrived after having served as assistant keeper on both the Sandy Hook and Scotland lightships. Apparently, life on the stationary tower with little companionship did not agree with Carlow, as he was sent to the United States Marine Hospital in New York in 1902, suffering from “nervous exhaustion.” Carlow never returned to lighthouse duty at any post, and was replaced at Old Orchard by Adolph Norostrom.
Old Orchard Shoal Lighthouse is located about three miles offshore from Staten Island in seventeen feet of water. Keepers at the station frequently had to assist inexperienced sport fishermen in small boats, who often got caught in the sudden squalls characteristic of Lower New York Bay. The actions of Keeper Andrew Zulus on June 26, 1927 were typical of previous services provided by him and other keepers. Four men were stuck in a severe storm, their boat having sprung a leak. By the time Zulus reached them, their boat was almost underwater. As was also typical of the keepers, Zulus offered food and shelter for the night to his unexpected guests.
Old Orchard Shoal Lighthouse was automated in 1955, but still shows a flashing white light with a red sector, although it no longer has a fog signal. The lighthouse is located near Great Kills Park, offshore from the Gateway National Recreation Area. The lighthouse can be viewed with binoculars, looking three miles to the southeast. Its companion range light, the Waakcaack beacon, was deactivated sometime in the 1950s, and put up for bid by the government. The single received bid of $280 was rejected, and to the dismay of local residents, the tower was torn down and sold for scrap metal, although its beautiful keeper’s house still stands and is a privately owned residence.
In May of 2007, Old Orchard Shoal Lighthouse was excessed by the Coast Guard and offered at not cost to eligible entities. After no qualified group was found, the General Services Administration auctioned off the lighthouse during the summer of 2008. The winning bid of $235,000 was placed by "asdfg" on August 27.
In late June of 2010, Old Orchard Shoal Lighthouse was back on the auction block. According to the auction rules of the General Services Administration (GSA), during a "soft close date," if no increased bid is received by 3:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, then bidding will close at 3:00 p.m. on that day. The bid of "asdfg" was made on August 27th at 8:59 a.m., but did not extend the auction by a day, as the GSA computer system would only do so for bids placed between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Shocked by the unexpected closure of the auction, Michael Gabriel, an attorney from Nevada who had bid $205,000 on August 26th, filed a lawsuit against GSA. The lawsuit apparently resulted in the lighthouse being auctioned off again, but in the Invitation for Bids (IFB), it was stated that the property was still the subject of litigation. The new IFB clearly states that bids must be made between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. in order to advance the soft close date to the next calendar day.
Michael Gabriel won auctions for Bloody Point Bar (Maryland) and Fourteen Foot Bank (Delaware) in 2006 and 2007, respectively, but defaulted on the closure of Borden Flats Lighthouse, which he had won in September of 2008.
The second auction for Old Orchard Shoal Lighthouse opened on June 30, 2010 and closed on September 16 with a winning bid of $40,000 by a bidder named "jvscalia." Four individuals placed bids on the lighthouse, but the winning bid was still almost $200,000 below the top bid in 2008.
On November 3, 2010, another auction was opened for Old Orchard Shoal Lighthouse. A note on the auction website indicated that the General Services Administration was mandated to obtain estimated Fair Market Value for its properties and opening bids for the lighthouse would begin this time at $45,000. A sentence in the updated Invitation for Bids reads, "The minimum bid amount does not represent the Value of the property, but rather presents a reasonable starting point for the on-line auction, which is being re-opened." This was followed by the proviso that the Governments reserves the right to reject any and all bids.
This third auction for Old Orchard Shoal Lighthouse ended on December 1st with a bid of $95,000 placed by "LYBSSZYA." This auction attracted four bidders, and the previous winner, "jvscalia," had a high bid of $90,000.
Hurricane Sandy struck New York and New Jersey on October 29, 2012, cutting power for millions and destroying billions of dollars worth of property with its far-reaching storm surge. Sandy claimed numerous lives and swept away Old Orchard Shoal Lighthouse, leaving behind just a mound of riprap and concrete landings.
On December 4, 2012, John Scalia, owner of Romer Shoal Lighthouse, sponsored an event to remember Old Orchard Shoal Lighthouse where Linda Dianto, executive director of the National Lighthouse Museum, announced plans to recover and reconstruct the lighthouse on the museum grounds. Calling it a Humpty-Dumpty project, Dianto already has enlisted the support of the Coast Guard and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration but still needs to obtain salvage rights from the current owner before the recovery can begin. Once rebuilt, the lighthouse would be a memorial to those who perished in Hurricane Sandy.
Located in Lower New York Bay, roughly 2.5 miles offshore from Great Kills Harbor on Staten Island.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.