Fire Island Lighthouse

Fire Island, New York | C.1826

Photo Credit: Jimmy Hayden

The Fire Island Lighthouse was deemed “the most important light for transatlantic steamers bound for New York” by the 1894 Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board. For decades it served as seafarers’ first evidence of land on the western end of New York after the long journey across the Atlantic. Except for one twelve-year closure, the 168-foot tower has been operating since 1858.

Constructed as a replacement light, the red-brick tower was originally painted “an agreeable cream yellow color,” until it was repainted with its distinctive black and white bands—known as daymarks—just before the turn of the twentieth century.

To ensure it was more effective than its predecessor, a first order Fresnel lens (the largest and most powerful such lens), was in place from 1858 to 1933, emitting a white flash at one-minute intervals. The lens was kept illuminated by the tower’s Funk hydraulic lamp with five wicks burning whale, lard, and mineral oil, as well as kerosene before electricity ultimately provided the lighthouse’s illumination.

The US Coast Guard decommissioned the lighthouse in 1974. Seven years later, the decaying tower was declared unsafe, unworthy of repair, and was scheduled to be torn down. However, private citizens banded together to form the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society. They raised more than $1.3 million for the restoration of the beloved landmark, and on Memorial Day of 1986, the Coast Guard held an extravagant relighting ceremony, heralding the coming summer and the signal’s triumphant return.

In 1996 the society took over the lighthouse operations. The beacon—now lit by 1,000-watt bulbs that rotate counterclockwise, giving the appearance of a flash every 7.5 seconds—is visible twenty-four miles from shore. Volunteers maintain and continually improve their striped tower, ensuring that it remains an active aid to navigation, a central feature of the island’s nautical heritage, and a testament to a community driven to reignite their brightest monument.

📖 Full Story: Page 53 of AWA, The Book 

Create an account to comment! Login/Sign Up.


Log in

Need an account? Sign up

Sign up

Already have an account? Log In

Enter your email to reset your password

Enter your new password