Race Rock Light
is an actual honest to God lighthouse
. It was built in the late 1800s on a small rocky island at the entrance to the Long Island Sound
. Off the western tip of Fisher's Island
, a very small but potentially dangerous cropping of rocks above the surface of the water.
, a british warship
called the John and Lucy
ran aground on Race Rock. Several lives were lost. After that event, efforts were made amidst the seafaring community to come to a solution that would make this small outcropping of rock at the entrance of the Long Island Sound less of a danger to seagoing vessels. However, due to its location and limitations of technology, there was no success at all until 1806
. Little Gull Island and Race Rock are natural boundaries which shape "The Race" which is a very deep passage in the Long Island Sound, through which great amounts of water funnel past at unpredictably high speeds. It's one of the most horrendous stretches of water for sea navigation
. During 1806, A light was erected on nearby Little Gull Island
to help illuminate Race Rock for ship captains and navigators to see. Unfortunately it only had limited success. Ships still found themselves inadvertently falling into the deep fast water of The Race, and then some would run aground against the shallow rocks jutting out of the water's surface, or just enough below the surface to puncture and otherwise damage larger boats.
On November of 1846
, a steam ship
called The Atlantic
crashed on the Race rocks: forty-five lives lost. It wasn't until the late 1840s when the United States Congress stepped in. Four hundred dollars were appropriated to place buoys around the island, but that wasn't sufficient. A few years later Congress tried another inexpensive solution: something called an iron spindle
. That didn't survive the cold New York winter, as it was swept away by ice. Congress finally put down about ninety thousand dollar in 1868
In the words of The Lighthouse Board
, they recommended "a keeper's dwelling two stories high and octagonal in plan, with a circular stairway in the center, to be carried a sufficient height above the roof of the dwelling to support the lantern and illuminating apparatus; the whole to be of granite and fire proof."
Congress balked at this because it would ultimately cost more than twice what they wanted to spend. This political crap went on for another decade, and they ended up spending even more than was originally planned due to the cold winters, instability of the island itself, severe storm complications and other unforseen circumstances. Each spring when they'd return to the island to construct the lighthouse, designs had been changed by politicians and architects negotiating with the physics of the small but reckless island. They'd also have to spend some of their time fixing the damage that had been caused by the previous winter's storms. Ultimately it cost over $270,000.00 and took six years in all to complete. It was a grueling effort to complete this structure, because it was so far from the mainland and so dangerous for anyone visiting it. Roughly, it's just a bunch of rocks jutting out of the ocean together. Little to nothing can live on the island without external assistance.
Two men who supervised and participated in construction were Francis Hopkinson Smith
and Captain Thomas Albertson Scott
. Smith was also an instrumental individual in the construction of the foundation for the Statue of Liberty
. Construction neared completion by late 1878
and the lighthouse was officially lit for the first time on January 1st, 1879
. Appointed on December 16th, 1878, Neil Martin
was the name of Race Rock's first lighthouse keeper. Four years later the lighthouse was refit to illuminate alternating red and white flashes every ten seconds to any passing ships. To ward away seagoing vessels and alert them to danger, Race Rock Light's inhabitants aka light keepers
, would use large bells and trumpets. In 1896
was installed. This equipment was kept functional and updated with the times periodically throughout its existence.
Still operational today, Race Rock Light is one of the oldest functioning American lighthouses. The foundation of the structure consists of granite
and concrete caisson
and the building itself is mostly granite as well. The base is octogonal in shape, but the light house above it is square in architectural design, with strong Victorian influences to said design. The height of the tower
is forty-five feet above the base.
There were people living on this small island from the lighthouse's completion until the 1960s, when the United States Coast Guard
took it over. From then until the late 1970s, efforts were made to modernize the structure and the most recent lens on the lighthouse was placed in November of 1978
. It's no longer just a Fresnel
lens, but a rotating beacon. Race Rock Light is now fully automated and solar powered with a modernized fog horn. During the day it picks up enough solar energy to run all night. Even today it is an active aid to navigation. Once every two or three months, coast guard personel are ordered out to the lighthouse to check on the equipment, but other than that it's been abandoned, at least by the living. Some believe it's haunted
by the lives lost on this island, and others think one or more of the light keepers who have lived there over the centuries may be haunting the place. The lighthouse was featured in an episode of the SciFi Channel
network's Ghost Hunters
, and they claimed to have found evidence that supported these haunt claims. However, their "proof" could have been fabricated with the help of fishing line. One of the Ghost Hunters just happened to have gone fishing while the others worked.
The U.S. Coast Guard does not allow public access to this lighthouse. It is possible to contact either Sunbeam Fleet
or The Long Island Chapter of the US Lighthouse Society
and ask to attend one of their cruises, which regularly pass by Race Rock as well as other notable locations around New York and Long Island.