THE LIGHTHOUSES OF SOUTHOLD TOWN
Did you know that there are more lighthouses in Southold, New York than any other Township in the United States? The eight lighthouses are Plum Island, Orient Point, Latimer Reef, Little Gull, Race Rock, Horton Point, Long Beach Bar, and North Dumpling.
The lighthouses of Southold Town have witnessed maritime history in the guise of clipper ships, whalers, steamers, rum runners and the Picket Patrol of World War II. Today, sailors, fishermen, pleasure boats, ferries and others will still use these lighthouses as landmarks and navigation aids.
Orient Point Lighthouse
The Orient Point Lighthouse, known as “The Coffee Pot”, was built in 1899 to mark the end of Oyster Point Reef and to guide mariners through the dangerous currents of Plum Gut. The lighthouse was designed in the shape of a truncated cone of curved cast iron plates bolted together. The foundation is a circular cast iron caisson filled with concrete resting on a leveled portion of the rocky Oyster Point Reef. The construction of the lighthouse began in early 1898 and proceeded despite adverse weather conditions, harsh tides and an autumn gale that swept away the 1st and 2nd course of plates. The structure was completed on July 4th, 1899.
The Coffee Pot served as a manned beacon from 1899 through the 1960s, when it became an automated light. The first keeper at Orient Point was a Norwegian immigrant named Ole Nicholas Alfred Anderson. Since the station’s location in open water was considered too dangerous for a keeper’s family, Anderson’s wife was forced to live in the nearby town of Orient. His annual salary was $600.
On August 30th, 1912, the steamer Halyoake was passing through Plum Gut when its steering suddenly went out. The strong currents turned the ship, and with its engines still in gear, it headed straight for the Orient Point Lighthouse. The ship’s captain ordered the engines to full reverse, while at the lighthouse Keeper Charles Whitford watched and anxiously braced himself for the inevitable impact. Fortunately, the captain acted just in time, sparing the steamer and lighthouse from harm.
Plum Island Light
Plum Island, originally called the Isle of Patmos, was sold to Samuel Wylls by Wyandanck, the Montauk Sachem, in 1659 for “a coat, a barrel of biskitt, 100 muxes (iron drills) and fish hooks”. Plum Island was the site of the first battle between British and colonial troops during the Revolutionary War. In August of 1775, Plum Island was the scene of an amphibious landing by Continental troops under General David Wooster to prevent livestock raids by the British. The U.S. Army built Fort Terry as a coastal artillery base on Plum Island in 1899 during the Spanish American War. It was also an important strategic post during World War I and World War II, protecting the entrance to Long Island Sound and New York Harbor.
At its peak, 1,000 soldiers were stationed there, some of them house in the brick quarters still standing. The barracks and hospital buildings were utilized by the USDA as offices, shops and animal quarters from the mid1950s until 1994, when a new facility made use of the historic buildings unnecessary. The operations of Plum Island were transferred to the Department of Homeland Security in June 2003. In 2008, Congress approved the sale of the island to a private party, with plans to move the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility to another state. In response to the proposed sale of Plum Island, a number of conservation, environmental and civic organizations have come together to protect the island’s natural and historic resources. The Seaport Museum is a member of the Preserve Plum Island Coalition. As of April 2015, Congressman Lee Zeldin has re-introduced a bill (HR 1887) that would reverse the mandated sale of Plum Island.
The Plum Island Lighthouse
The first Plum Island Lighthouse was a 40 foot rough stone tower built in 1826. In 1869 and 1870 the current granite structure was built. Originally, the 4th Order Lens, with its 350, 000 candlepower light had a range of 14 miles. This was discontinued in 1978 and replaced by a small beacon. Plum Light marked the treacherous waters off the western point of the island for many years.
Little Gull Island Lighthouse
The first light on Little Gull Island, a 50-foot tower, was lit in 1806 in an effort to prevent the numerous wrecks that occurred in the hazardous waters where Long Island Sound and Block Island Sound meet. It represents one of the first efforts by the Federal government to provide lighted navigational aids. The keepers of the original lighthouse overlooked navel activities between the American and the British that took place in the vicinity of “the Race” during the War of 1812. The British Troops on Little Gull Island in 1813 forced the keeper to extinguish the light and removed the lamps to prevent its being relit.
The present Little Gull Lighthouse was constructed in 1868, one of the last of the masonry structures built on the East Coast. Some of its design elements—the Italianate inspired appearance, the distinctive door lintel, the cast iron central tower, stairs and watch deck floor—were the first glimpses of the lighthouse architecture to come. The 9 foot high 4 ½ foot diameter 2nd Order Fresnel lens was originally installed in 1869.
The first keeper at Little Gull Island Lighthouse was Isreal Rogers. Rogers, along with his wife Serviah and children, shared the small dwelling with the assistant keeper and his wife and children. They were sometimes isolated for up to two months at a time. This level of hardship and lack of privacy was typical for lighthouse personnel and their families. The next keeper was Isreal’s son-in-law, Giles Holt, who served an ultimatum to the local Superintendent of Lighthouses that the womenfolk would not put up with the housing arrangement any longer. If an additional two bedrooms were not built, Holt threatened to resign his post.
Race Rock Lighthouse
The Gothic Revival styled Race Rock Lighthouse marks a most dangerous location with perhaps hundreds of shipwrecks to its dubious credit, including the steamer “Atlantic” in which 45 people perished in November 1846. Its completion in 1878 marked the end of masonry lighthouses on wave swept or water-bound sites. Most of all, it is a fitting monument to its courageous engineers, Francis Hopkinson Smith and Captain Thomas Albertson Scott. Smith also built the seawall at Governors Island and the foundation for the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. The construction of the “Bowlder”, a ledge that is 3 to 13 feet below water, required 7 years, thousands of tons of riprap, numerous acts of courage, and amazing persistence.
Race Rock Lighthouse appeared on the October 27, 2004 episode of “Ghost Hunters.” At the request of the U.S. Coast Guard, the Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) went to investigate Race Rock. Though the lighthouse is now automated, the Coast Guard personnel who came to do the maintenance and inspection reported strange occurrences, making them uneasy about going to the site. The commanding officer hoped to disprove the rumors. The TAPS team’s cameras picked up strange orb activity and a fog which investigators do not remember from the video shoot. More dramatic, one camera captures a chair move in an empty room. Jason Hawes, TAPS lead investigator informed the Coast Guard that the site appears haunted.
North Dumpling Lighthouse
On the north side of Fishers Island there are several small islands; the largest two are known as the “Dumplings.” North Dumpling Island, in Fishers Island Sound, has had 5 owners since 1639, with the first change of owners in 1847 when the Winthrop family (descendants of Governor John Wintrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony) sold the property to the U.S. government. The red brick, two story lighthouse was constructed in 1849 and used until the beacon was moved to a steel tower and automated in 1959.
In 1986, the lighthouse was sold for $2.5 million to entrepreneur and Segway inventor Dean Kamen, who had first spotted it while taking flying lessons. After unsuccessfully battling Suffolk County authorities for permission to put up a windmill to power his electrical generator, Mr. Kamen began a tongue-in-cheek media campaign. He declared that his island was now the sovereign “Kingdom of North Dumpling” and that he was “Lord Dumpling II.” The new nation would have its own currency (the “Dumpling”), national anthem and a one-boat navy. Lord Dumpling graciously signed a non-aggression pact with his friend, President George H. Bush. Mr. Kamen has been featured on a number of TV shows, including the Today Show and Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
Latimer Reef Lighthouse
Located about a mile north of Fishers Island’s East Point, Latimer Reef (also known as Latimer’s Reef and Latimers Reef) is reportedly named after James Latemore. During the Revolutionary War, the courageous Mr. Latemore embarked in a skiff to spy on British ships at anchor in Fishers Island Sound. An alert redcoat aboard one of the vessels spotted Mr. Latemore’s small craft, and a boar soon gave chase. Latemore ran aground on his namesake reef, and the British soon captured him and took him back to their fleet. At sunrise the following day, Latemore was hanged aboard one of the British frigates and received a watery burial in the Sound.
Latimer Reef Light is the oldest cast-iron lighthouse still in service in the First Coast Guard District. In 1844, it replaces the lightship at Eel Grass Shoal, about .8 mile northwest of the present lighthouse. The lighthouse is a brick-lined, cast-iron tower on a cement-filled cast-iron foundation. The lighthouse was originally painted all brown, but the later painted all-white with brown band around the middle section to improve its visibility for mariners. There were a number of other lights build around this time with the same design and by the same methods; initially they were referred to as “Coffee Pot” lights because of their shape. A few decades later, after the internal combustion engine was in common use, these towers became more famously known as “Spark Plug” lighthouses.
Gardiner's Point Lighthouse
The island was settled in 139 by a man named Lion Gardiner after he retained a grant from King Charles I of England. Gardiner’s Island is the only real estate still in tact as part of an original loyal land grant. The 3500 acre island was reported to have been purchased by Lion Gardiner from the Montaukett Indians for “a large black dog, some powder and shot, and a few Dutch blankets.” Lion Gardiner set up an island plantation where he raised herds of cattle and sheep and grew corn, wheat, fruit and tobacco. The Indians called the island Manchonake, while Gardiner initially called Isle of Wright.
A carpenter’s shed, built in 1639 is allegedly the oldest surviving wooden structure built in New York and was purportedly built when Lion Gardiner first settled on the island. Gardiner’s daughter Elizabeth, initiated the first witch hunt and witch trial in the American colony. In February 1657, the 16 year old Elizabeth lay deliriously ill in East Hampton. She screamed out from her deathbed, “A witch! A witch! Now you come to torture me because I spoke two or three words against you!” Lion rushed to his daughter’s side and asked her what she saw, to which she replied, “ A black thing at the bed’s foot.” She died moments later, spawning a witch hunt which led to the arrest of 50 year old Goody Garlick, who’s husband worked on Gardiner’s Island as a farmer.
In June 1699 Captain William Kidd, privateer and pirate, sailed his ship Adventure Prize into one of the islands harbors on his way to Boston to clear his name. On June 25, 1699 in the presence of John Gardiner, Captain Kidd buried treasure, including gold, silver, rubies, diamonds, and silks, on Gardiner’s Island. Captain Kidd reportedly said to Gardiner, “If I call for it and it is gone, I will have your head or your son’s.” David Gardiner was just 8 years old. The treasure was buried in a ravine between Bostwick’s Point and the Manor House. Kidd gave Mrs. Gardiner a piece of gold cloth (it can be found on display at the East Hampton Library) which he captured from a Moorish ship off of Madagascar, as well as a bag of sugar—a rarity at that time.
Gardiner’s Point Lighthouse
Gardiner’s Island played a significant role in our earliest wars. During the American Revolution, the Gardiners sided with the colonists. The British used Gardiner’s Islands during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 as a source of provisions. British men-of-war assembled in Cherry Harbor in 1814 before departing for the Potomac and burning the U.S. Capital. Gardiner’s Island once had its own lighthouse. In 1851 the federal government purchased 14 acres on the peninsula from the Gardiners for $400. The lighthouse was finished in 1855. This 28 foot, 1 ½ story brick building had a sixth order Fresnel lens. A March 1888 nor’easter caused a break in the peninsula permanently turning the point into an island.