Long Island Lighthouses Tour
In early times people set fires at the edge of the water to warn boats of dangerous rocks and shores. The Egyptians were the first people to build lighthouses to use light to guide ships. In Egypt, in 283 the Egyptians completed the tallest lighthouse ever built. It guided ships for over 1,500 years and stood 900 feet tall. Lighthouses were also constructed by the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans.
Long Island, which is nearly 120 miles long, is home to some of the most stunning and iconic lighthouses in the U.S., including several that welcome visitors to climb to their perches and enjoy amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean from the lookout. Long Island lighthouses highlight the local maritime history and provide panoramic views if you climb their towers or take a boat ride to them.
The early lighthouses used wick lamps as a source of light. In the olden times, the light beam could only travel a few miles. In 1822 the first modern lighthouse lens was invented by a Frenchman named Augustin Fresnel. He found out how to increase the light by using prisms. In 1841 the Fresnel lens was installed for the first time in a lighthouse.
Montauk Point Lighthouse
Montauk, Long Island
Montauk Point Lighthouse, commissioned by George Washington in 1796, is one of the most well-known New York lighthouses. Along with Fire Island Lighthouse and Horton Point, it is one of three Long Island lighthouses that allow visitors to climb to the top of the tower.
Montauk Point Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in New York State. The Lighthouse was authorized by the Second Congress, under President George Washington, in 1792.
Construction began on June 7, 1796, and was completed on November 5, 1796. This historic landmark has been part of Long Island’s land and seascape for over 200 years and still serves as an active aid to navigation.
To save the lighthouse, nearly $1 million has been spent to terrace the bluff and haul in boulders. The Coast Guard operates the beacon, which was upgraded in 1987 from a Fresnel lens to a 1,000-watt airport-type beacon. The Montauk Historical Society manages the visitor center and the premises. Located on Long Island’s easternmost tip.
Fire Island Lighthouse
Fire Island, Long Island
Fire Island’s roots date back to 1653, when Isaac Stratford constructed a whaling station on the Island, naming it Whitehouse Point. Similar to Nantucket, Fire Island was originally founded as an important whaling center during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Fire Island’s next development came in 1825 when the Federal government constructed the Fire Island Lighthouse at the western tip of the Island. The Fire Island Light was an important landmark for transatlantic ships coming into New York Harbor at the turn of the century. For many European immigrants, the Fire Island Lighthouse was their first sight of land upon arrival to America. This guiding light serves as the trademark of Fire Island and still stands as both a landmark and a museum.
The lighthouse tower invites visitors to ascend its 192 steps for panoramic views of the water and Fire Island. Climb to the top of the tower, walk the scenic boardwalk, visit the museum, and see the authentic 1858 Fresnel lens on display.
By appointment, the site hosts seasonal special events such as early morning sunrise or sunset tours. The Keeper’s Quarters Museum and gift shop, as well as the Fresnel lens building, which houses the lighthouse’s original lens, are all part of the experience. It’s about a mile east of Robert Moses State Park.
Horton Point Lighthouse and Nautical Museum
Southold Hamlet, New York
In February of 1756, 25-year-old George Washington left Virginia on horseback, headed for Boston. Following a recommendation by Dr. Alexander Hamilton of Baltimore, young Washington rode across Long Island, intending to board a Boston-bound boat in Greenport.
While in Southold, he made the acquaintance of one Ezra L’Hommedieu, who would later become a Revolutionary War hero. Among other matters, the two discussed the suitability of Southold’s Horton Point.
According to Deanna Walker of the Southold Historical Society, the whalehouse exhibit, which includes a partial finback whale skeleton, has been “spruced up.” The summer exhibit “Keeping it Lit” features historic artifacts, photos, and biographies of Horton Point lighthouse keepers.
Execution Rocks Light Station
Westchester County, New York
According to Craig W. Morrison, president of Historically Significant Structures, group boat tours to the tiny island light station in Long Island Sound near Sands Point are once again available. The non-profit corporation purchased the island from the federal government in 2009 and is raising funds to restore and preserve the island’s historic lighthouse. Be warned: some say the lighthouse is haunted by the ghosts of patriots drowned on its rocks by the British.
Huntington Harbor Lighthouse
Suffolk County, New York
According to the Huntington Lighthouse Preservation Society website, the lighthouse is now open to the public after a two-year foundation renovation. The renovation also included the addition of a new lighthouse landing platform to the light station, which has stood at the entrance to Lloyd and Huntington harbors since 1912. This summer, one-hour guided boat tours to the lighthouse are available. The annual music festival is held atop the lighthouse and is only accessible by boats and ships.
Long Island’s lighthouses have served as a beacon of hope and a source of comfort to many throughout the years. From the Montauk Point Lighthouse to the Fire Island Lighthouse, these structures remain a reminder of Long Island’s rich maritime history. Despite their age, we can always look to them for guidance and safety. The best way to support and preserve these beloved landmarks is by visiting them and learning more about their story.