1Ambrose No. 87 lightship – 1930 The original lightship "Ambrose No. 87" on station. Built in 1907 by the New York Shipbuilding Corp. of Camden, NJ for the newly opened Ambrose Channel entrance to New York Harbor, she stayed on station from December 1, 1908 to 1932. She was exhibited at the New York World's Fair in 1965 and later presented to the South Street Seaport Museum by the USCG in 1968. Notice the large bell on the foredeck, the vertical foghorn amidships, and men in the rigging.
2Ambrose Lightship – 1964 The "Ambrose" lightship on station at Ambrose Channel (NY) circa 1964. The US Coast Guard built this 128' steel vessel in 1952 as the "WLV 613" at the USCG Yard in Curtis Bay, MD. Her rotating illuminating apparatus was mounted on a 56' tall tripod foremast and the beam could put out as much as 5 million candlepower. She was stationed at Ambrose Channel from 1952 to 1967 and was replaced by a light tower. She then went on to tours as a relief vessel and at Nantucket Shoals (MA) until 1983. Picture courtesy of Ken Ekberg.
3Ambrose lightship and Ambrose tower – 1967 The changing of the guard at New York Harbor in 1967. The last "Ambrose" lightship is decommissioned and passes its replacement, the new "Ambrose Tower", located at the approaches to New York Harbor. Notice the servicemen in their dress whites standing at attention on the foredeck of the lightship.
4Ambrose Tower – 1992 The "Ambrose Tower" at the entrance to New York Harbor in 1992. Affectionately known as "The Horse", the tower was a highly recognizable bearing point for miles around. The tower was once manned by a crew and had all of the amenities (including a pool table.) In later years, the tower was unmanned. It was rammed by the tanker "Aegeo" in 1996 and lost a leg. The tower was eventually demolished in 1999 and replaced by a rather plain spire (also 140 feet tall.)
5Sandy Hook No. 16 lightship – 1890 The "Sandy Hook Lightship No. 16" standing watch at "Gedney Channel" circa 1890. "Gedney Channel" was the precursor to "Ambrose Channel" and was the main entranceway to the Port of New York. The Coast Guard has long since stopped maintaining "Gedney Channel", but its remains are still there and are fished by those who know its whereabouts. Good Fluke fishing turf.
6Sandy Hook No. 48 lightship – 1891 The "Sandy Hook Lightship No. 48". Built in 1891 at a cost of $57,400, she replaced the No. 16 lightship at the Sandy Hook Station on August 1, 1891. Her fog signal was a 1000 lb. hand–operated bell. She remained at Sandy Hook until replaced in 1894 by the No. 51 lightship. She was then reassigned to the Cornfield Point, CT station and remained there until her retirement in 1925.
7Sandy Hook No. 51 lightship – 1900 The lightship "Sandy Hook No. 51" circa 1900. She was stationed at the head of the now–defunct “Gedney Channel”. Built in 1892 as the "Cornfield Point" lightship, she served in Connecticut until transferred to Sandy Hook, NJ station in 1894. She stayed at Sandy Hook until 1908 and was then assigned to relief duty. Ironically, she was on relief duty at her original assignment station off Cornfield Point, CT when she was struck by a vessel on April 24, 1919 and sank.
8Scotland No. 7 lightship – 1891 The "Wreck of Scotland Lightship No. 7" circa 1891. Built in 1854 as the "Minot's Ledge" lightship, she became a relief vessel in 1875 and was renamed "Light Vessel No. 7". She was assigned to the "Wreck of Scotland" station in 1881 to relieve "Light Vessel No. 20", which needed repairs. The crew found the ship more accommodating than the No. 20 and kept her until she was replaced by the "Scotland No. 11" in 1902. This photo was taken before 1891 when the station name was shortened to "Scotland" station".
The origins of this lightship station date back to December 1, 1866, when the sailing schooner "Kate Dyer" was rammed by the steamer "Scotland" about 10 miles southwest of the "Fire Island Lighthouse". The "Kate Dyer" quickly sank and claimed the lives of 13 crewmen. The badly damaged "Scotland" picked up 16 survivors, but she was taking on water. Her captain tried to reach Sandy Hook Bay and when he realized the vessel was not going to make it, he ran her aground on the "Outer Middle Bar". The strong gale continued and the heavy seas tore the vessel apart. A buoy was placed over the wreck since it was hazard to navigation. Mariners finally petitioned the US government to place a lightship at the location and in 1868, lightship No. 20 arrived. Thus began what would be known for almost a century as "Scotland Light Station".
9Scotland No. 11 lightship – 1915 The "Scotland Lightship No. 11" standing guard in 1915 at the Scotland Grounds shoal near the junction of Ambrose and Sandy Hook channels. She was built in 1853 as the "Nantucket New South Shoal Lightship". She served as the Scotland lightship from 1902 to her retirement on October 30, 1925. At the time, she was reported to be the oldest vessel operating in any US government agency.
10The last Scotland lightship – 1962 The last of the "Scotland" lightships circa 1962. She was replaced by the Scotland Grounds "Whistler' buoy in 1962. You weren't allowed to fish near the lightship, so the place was crawling with fish (especially Whiting during the winter months.) Of course, a few smart skippers figured out a way around this situation. It turns out that if you stopped by the lightship and gave the crew some fresh Whiting plus a copy of the Sunday paper, "the blinders went on." She was built in 1907 and first served as the "Ambrose" lightship from 1908 to 1932. She then served as the "Scotland" lightship from 1947 to 1962 and assigned to relief duty in 1963. She was again renamed and served as the "Nantucket Shoals Lightship" in Massachusetts from 1979 until her decommissioning in 1983. You can now find her at the South Street Seaport in New York City (she has been fully restored and given back her original name, the "Ambrose".)
11Scotland whistler buoy – 1965 The old "Whistler" buoy at "Scotland Grounds" off Sandy Hook, NJ circa 1965.
12Fire Island No. 68 lightship – 1925 The lightship "Fire Island No. 68" circa 1925. She was built in 1897 and stationed 9.3 miles SW of Fire Island Inlet, NY. The "Fire Island No. 68" was transferred to relief duty in 1930 and finally decommissioned in 1932.
13Releif lightship – 1955 The lightship "Relief" circa 1955. This lightship traveled along the coast and stood in for other lightships while they were being serviced. The "Relief" was on station for the "Ambrose" lightship in 1960 when she was rammed by the freighter "Green Bay" on June 24, 1960 and sunk. The wreck is still a favorite bottom fishing site for local anglers.
14Cape Elizabeth No. 74 lightship – 1910 The lightship "Cape Elizabeth No. 74" Shown on station at the entrance to the harbor at Portland, ME circa 1910.
15Pollock No. 114 lightship – 1962 The lightship "Pollock No. 114" shown on station at Cape Cod, MA circa 1962.
16Waackaack Light Tower, Keansburg, NJ – 1904 The "Waackaack Light Tower" in Keansburg, NJ circa 1904. Built in the 1860's by the U.S. government to replace a wooden tower dating from 1856, the light was used as a range point for ships leaving New York Harbor. As you headed south through the "Narrows" on "Gedney Channel", you set your course by lining up the light tower with the "Old Orchard" lighthouse. Interestingly, the photograph names the tower as the "Waycate Light". Long before its incorporation in 1917, the area comprising Keansburg, NJ was known by the native indian names "Wacate", "Waykiaok" and "Waackaack".
17Passaic River Light, Newark Bay, NJ – 1911 Not all lighthouses were built on the shoreline. The Passaic River Light guided boats through Newark Bay and the Passaic River in New Jersey and was in operation from 1848 until decommissioned in the early 1900s. In 1853, the lighthouse was equipped with one of the first Fresnel lenses deployed by the United States Lighthouse Board. A Mr. and Mrs. McCashan maintained the lighthouse and lived there, and they had a penchant for offering visitors bowls of blazing hot soup both winter and summer. Coincidently, both McCashans died from throat cancer. Photo courtesy of Captain Dave Bogan, Sr.
18Hell Gate Light, Astoria, NY – 1912 This pyramidal wooden lighthouse was located at Astoria, NY at the entrance to hazardous Hell Gate Passage between New York City's East River and western Long Island Sound. Built in 1888, it replaced an iron skeleton type light built just four years earlier. In 1876, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used 50,000 pounds of explosives to blast dangerous rocks at Hell Gate, but it is still considered difficult to navigate due to strong tidal flows and heavy commercial vessel traffic.
19Bayside Beacon, Keansburg, NJ – 1919 The Bayside Beacon was located at Point Comfort, Keansburg, New Jersey along the shore of the Raritan Bay. The lighthouse, also known as the Point Comfort Light or Waackaack Front Range Light, was built in 1856 and is a square tower on a wooden dwelling with a focal plane height of 45 feet. It served as a front range light between the Waackaack Light about ¾ mile inland and the Old Orchard Shoal lighthouse on Raritan Bay. A 45-foot cast-iron cylindrical tower with skeletal framework support later replaced it and in 1941, it was moved to Leonardo, NJ to become the front light of the Chapel Hill Channel range (now known as Conover Beacon).
20Mount Loretto Light, Staten Island, NY – 1944 The Mount Loretto Lighthouse was built in 1864 to serve a large commercial oystering industry and is located on the southern shore of Staten Island, NY near Princes Bay. Deactivated in 1922, the light later became a monument and part of the Mount Loretto Mission of the Immaculate Virgin (a statue of the Virgin Mary is on the tower in place of the lantern.) During the late 1980s and early 1990s Cardinal John O’Connor, the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York City, spent his summer retreats at this stone structure.
The property is now owned by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and in late 2007, the structure was renamed the John Cardinal O'Connor Lighthouse and a new beacon has been activated as an official aid to navigation.
21Great Beds Lighthouse, Raritan Bay – 1950 The Great Beds Lighthouse [40° 29' 12" N – 74° 15' 12" W] circa 1950. Located at Great Beds Shoal near the mouth of the Raritan River on the far western end of Raritan Bay, NJ, this 60-foot conical tower lighthouse was built in 1880 and was manned until 1945. The shoal was really a large Oyster bar and was aptly named since it was really the greatest bed of Oysters in the area. During the mid–to–late 1800s, the shoal provided most of the Oysters sold in the United States. The Oysters are gone, but the lighthouse is still in operation today.
22Old Orchard Shoal Lighthouse, Raritan Bay, NJ – 1990 The Old Orchard Shoal Lighthouse [40° 30' 44" N – 74° 05' 55" W] circa 1990. Located about three miles offshore from Staten Island in seventeen feet of water on the eastern end of Raritan Bay, the lighthouse was built in 1893 to serve in conjunction with the Waackaack Light Tower as range lights for boats using Gedney Channel (mariners aligned the lighthouse and the tower when leaving New York Harbor.) Constructed of cast iron with a brick masonry lining, it stands 50 ½-feet tall with a diameter of 33-feet and is a typical "spark plug" style conical tower lighthouse.
When Hurricane Sandy struck the area on October 29, 2012, it swept away Old Orchard Shoal Lighthouse, leaving behind just a mound of riprap and concrete.
23Old Orchard Shoal Lighthouse, Raritan Bay, NJ – 2012 Old Orchard Shoal Ligthouse stood for 119 years, but when Hurricane Sandy struck the area on October 29, 2012, it swept the lighthouse away, leaving behind just a mound of riprap and concrete. Alas, it was no match for the 14-foot storm surge and waves. The remains of the 51-foot tall cast iron lighthouse currently lies in pieces 17 feet under Raritan Bay. Photo courtesy of the US Coast Guard.
24West Bank Lighthouse, Raritan Bay – 1990 The West Bank Lighthouse [40° 32' 18" N – 74° 02' 36" W] circa 1990. Also located on the eastern end of Raritan Bay, it was built in 1901 and at 70-feet, is the tallest lighthouse in the New York Bight. The last lighthouse keeper retired in 1956 and it was operated by the Coast Guard until they automated it in 1985.
25Roamer Shoal Lighthouse, Raritan Bay – 1990 The Roamer Shoal Lighthouse [40° 30' 48" N – 74° 00' 48" W] circa 1990. Located in the far eastern end of Raritan Bay, the 54-foot tall conical tower lighthouse was built in 1898 and manned until 1966. It is still in active service today. The coastline in the background is Coney Island, NY. During World War I, Navy personnel were stationed there to watch the comings and goings to New York Harbor.
26Twin Lights Lighthouse, Highlands, NJ – 1995 The Highlands of Navesink, NJ, rising more than 200 feet above sea level, were a natural location for the erection of an aid to navigation. The Highlands had been used for signaling purposes as early as 1746 and in 1862, the federal government built the structure to replace earlier lights. Originally named the "Navesink Lightstation" and commonly known as the "Twin Lights of Highlands", it was the primary aid to navigation for mariners entering and leaving New York Harbor.
Made from local brownstone, storage galleries and keepers' quarters connected the two dissimilar light towers (the south tower is square and the north tower is hexagonal.) The south tower light was steady and the north tower light flashed; this plus the unique architecture made it easy for mariners to distinguish "Twin Lights" from other nearby lighthouses.
The station became a showcase for testing new navigational technology before deployment at other lightstations. In 1893, "Twin Lights" became the initial first–order light fueled by mineral oil (kerosene). (Before this, sperm whale oil, lard and certain vegetable oils fueled the multiple lamp wicks used in large coastal lighthouses.) In 1898, with the installation of a 9-foot diameter Fresnel lens in the south tower, "Twin Lights" was the first lighthouse to use an electric arc for illumination. At that time, the south tower became the most powerful lighthouse in the country, producing a light of 25,000,000 candlepower that mariners could easily see from more than 22 miles at sea. The US Coast Guard decommissioned the lighthouse in 1949, when more sophisticated aids to navigation, including automated lights, offshore towers, radar and LORAN made "Twin Lights" unnecessary.
Now owned by the State of New Jersey, you can tour the lighthouse, climb the north tower, and visit an exhibit gallery and gift shop. Admission is free and it is a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours and learn of the important role lighthouses played in the maritime history of this area.
27Norton Point Light, Coney Island, NY – 1999 The Norton Point Light [40° 34' 36" N – 74° 00' 42" W] on the western end of Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY circa 1999. The light is a 75-foot tall square skeleton tower that was built in 1890 and has a flashing red light every 5 seconds. Interestingly, this light still has a lightkeeper. Mr. Frank Schubert has been a lightkeeper since 1960 and is the last civilian lightkeeper for the US Lighthouse Service. Even though he is retired, Mr. Schubert remains as the guardian of the light in the keeper's home next door. He also served as lightkeeper at the Old Orchard Shoal Lighthouse in Raritan Bay.
28Sandy Hook Lighthouse, Sandy Hook, NJ – 2000 The Sandy Hook Lighthouse [40° 27' 42" N – 74° 00' 06" W] circa 2000. Originally built about 500 feet from the tip of Sandy Hook, NJ, it now stands about 1½ miles from the tip due to the northward expansion of the Hook by ocean currents. Constructed in 1764, the 103 foot tall octagonal mortar covered stone tower was the fifth lighthouse built in America and is the oldest original structure still functioning as a navigational beacon in the United States.
Originally, the light had 48 oil burning copper and glass lanterns. In 1856, the light was upgraded with a third order Fresnel lens and it is still in place today. In 1899, the Sandy Hook Lighthouse became the first lighthouse in the country lit by electric lamps.
At a ceremony celebrating its 200th anniversary, the lighthouse was dedicated as a National Historic Landmark and is now part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. Its silhouette and warm beam of light is a familiar sight to anglers, mariners and travelers passing in and out of New York harbor.
The Sandy Hook Lighthouse reopened to the public Sunday, June 24, 2018 after a nine-month renovation that refurbished the interior and exterior of the 254-year-old beacon. It is now open daily to the public with free half hour tower tours running from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Tour groups are kept small due to space constraints inside the tower and tour patrons must be at least 4 feet tall to ascend the tower.