early as 1679-80, Edmund Andreas, Colonial Governor of the
Colony of New York, suggested to Sir George Carteret the advisability
of constructing a lighthouse on Sandy Hook. It was not until
1761, when the project was revived by the merchant community
of New York City that any action was taken.
Their financial future endangered, having
lost some £20,000 due to shipwrecks in the first few
months of 1761, 43 New York City merchants revived the idea
of erecting a lighthouse on the hook. A plan to raise money
was presented to the Provincial Council of the Colony of New
York and approved.
The funds to purchase the land and construct
the lighthouse came from the proceeds of two lotteries.
of an Act of the Colony of New York made and passed
the 19th Day of May, 1761, for raising the Sum of 3000£
to be employed for and towards purchasing so much of
Sandy-Hook as shall be necessary, and theron to erect
a proper Light House. The said Lottery to consist of
10,000 Tickets, at Forty Shillings each, whereof 1684
are to be Fortunate, from which 15 per cent is to be
The Drawing to commerce
on the 2nd Day of November next or sooner of sooner
full, at the City Hall in New York, under the inspection
of the Corporation and two Justices of the Peacce, or
other respectable Freeholders of every county, who are
impowered to inspect every Transaction of said Lottery.
Tickets are to be had at the Dwelling Houses, of Anthony
Ten Eyck, Theodorus Van Wyck, Abraham Lott, jun. and
Dirck Brinckerhoff, who are appointed Managers, and
sworn faithfully to execute the trust reposed in them.
Tickets in the above
Lottery may be had of William Bradford at the London
Coffee House in Philadelphia.
The first lottery was authorized by the
New York Provincial Congress on May 19, 1761, for an amount
not to exceed £3000. A committee of New York merchants
composed of Messrs. Cruser, Livingston, Lispendard, and Bayard
were appointed to supervise the lottery. The lottery was drawn
on September 21, 1761, and the winning numbers appeared in
the October 5, 1761 edition of the New York Mercury. The £750
raised was insufficient to start construction of the lighthouse,
but was used to buy four acres of land on the hook from Robert
and Esik (Isick) Hartshorne. The £750 price was deemed
an "unreasonable" sum for such sandy soil, but as
no better site was to be had, the sale was consumated and
the title transferred on May 10, 1762.
On December 11, 1762, the Provincial Congress
of New York authorized lotteries "'to raise 6,000 pounds
to complete the "Lighthouse" already started on
Sandy Hook and to defray the "Exigencies of Government"
one half of the sum to be devoted to each."
New-York Light-House, and Publick
Lottery, for the Year 1763.
on proper Places, for the Safety of Trade and Navigation,
being by all Trading Nations, allowed to be of the greatest
Utility; the Legislature of the Colony of New-York,
from a Conviction of the Necessity of a proper Light-House
on Sandy- Hook, for the better Security of the Trade
and Navigation of this and the neighbouring Colonies,
being ready and willing to assist towards the Completion
of the Light-House already begun there, did, in their
Session in December 1762, pass a Law to raise, by Way
of Lotteries, the Sum of Six Thousand Pounds. the One-half
whereof to be applied towards finishing and compleating
the Light-House begun on Sandy-Hook; and the other Half
towards defraying the Exigencies of Government. In order
therefore to carry into Execution the good Intention
of the Legislature, the following Scheme of a Lottery,
for raising Three Thousand Pounds, is presented to the
Publick: And is hoped, that from the immediate Necessity
of the one, and the Urgency of the other Purpose, the
Lottery will meet with all due Encouragement.
The lottery is to consist
of 10,000 tickets, at Forty Schillings each, whereof
1684 are to be fortunate. Subject to Fifteen per Cent,
The drawing to commence
on the Tenth Day of May next, or as soon before that
Time as the Lottery is full, at the City-Hall of New
York, under the Inspection of the Members of the Corporation.
Tickets are to be had
at the Dwelling Houses of Abraham Lott, jun. and Christopher
Smith, who are appointed Managers, have given Security,
and sworn faithfully to execute the Trust reposed in
them. And as soon as the Drawing is finished, and the
Books settled, the Numbers of the Fortunate Tickets
will be published in this Paper, and the Monies paid
to the Possessors thereof.
This second lottery was drawn on June 14,
1763, "'in Mr. Burn's Long-Room, at the Provincial Arms.'"
Winning numbers of the third drawing appeared in the November
21, 1763 edition of the "New York Gazette," the
lottery having been drawn on October 29. Construction of the
"New York" lighthouse, as it was called, was undertaken
by Mr. Isaac Conro of New York City. The lighthouse first
cast forth its beam into the night June 11, 1764. A newspaper
account of the time described the structure as being an:
having eight equal Sides; the Diameter at the Base 29
Feet; and at the top of the Wall, 15 Feet. The lanthorn
is 7 feet high; the Circumference 33 feet. The whole
Construction of the Lanthorn is Iron; the Top covered
with Cooper. There are 48 Oil Blazes. The Building from
the surface is Nine Stories. The whole from Bottom to
Top is 103 Feet.
The lighthouse was built of rubble, about
500 feet from the tip of the hook. Today, due to the northward
expansion of the hook it now stands about 1 ½ miles
from the point.
The lamps installed in the crown were of
copper encased in a lantern of ordinary glass. The keeper
lived in a stone dwelling beside the tower. His "contract
of service" allowed him the privilege of "keeping
and pasturing two cows," but also warned him that he
should not use the tower as a "public-house for selling
In order that the lighthouse pay for its
upkeep and current expenses a light-duty of three-pence per
ton was imposed on shipping using the channel into New York
Harbor. Operating costs of the lighthouse for the first two
years of operation averaged £419 per year. The duty
levied on tonnage averaged £451 per year, which would
indicate that the lighthouse was a mostly profitable venture,
and even more so when you consider the tonnage and lives that
were saved from a watery grave.
The New York lighthouse was frequently a
target for lightning, despite the lightning rod on the top
of the cupola. An account in the "New York Mercury"
of June 30, 1766, reported that on June 26, 1766:
at Sandy Hook was struck by Lightning, and twenty panes
of the Glass Lanthorn broke to Pieces; The Chimney and
Peach belonging to the Kitchen, was broke down, and
some People that were in the House received a little
Hurt, but are since recovered. 'Tis said the Gust was
attended with a heavy Shower of Hail.
A later Letter to the Editor
retracted this story:
Having lately seen in one of the public Papers (but
forgot which) an Account of the Light-House being
struck by Lightning, I was induced to inquire after
the particular Circumstances of that Affair, especially,
as I knew it to have had a metalline Conductor, and
that if it was really so, there would not be wanting
those, who from the Prejuice of Education, and their
Non-Knowledge of the Efficacy of conducting Wires,
would be ready to infer, and propagate the Inutility
of them, for the Preservation of Edificies, &c.
You will oblige the Public, and one of your constant
Readers, by assuring them, that the Light-House at
Sandy-Hook, has not been struck, so as to exhibit
any Apprearance, or Signs thereof whatsover, and that
the Veracity of the Informant is indisputable, as
well as his knowledge of the Premises, which he derives
from his Proximity thereto. I am,,&c
New-Jersey, Middlesex County.
During the American Revolution
the lighthouse became a point of contention between the antagonists.
In early 1776 the British fleet was shortly expected to appear
off New York City, prior to the invasion of that city. The
New York Congress, on March 4, 1776 resolved to destroy the
light so as not to aid the enemy. On March 6 instructions
were issued to Major Malcolm to remove the lens and lamps
in secret. A memorandum from Colonel George Taylor, dated
Middleton, March 12, 1776, states, "'Received from Wm.
Malcolm, eight copper lamps, two tackle falls and blocks,
and three casks, and a part of a cask of oil, being articles
brought from the light- house on Sandy Hook.'"
A British landing party was dispatched to
relight the tower using improvised lamps and reflectors. This
effort was apparently successful, because on June 1, 1776,
the Americans again tried to douse the light, this time using
a pair of six-pounders (cannon) mounted on several small boats
under the command of Captain John Conover. The Americans succeeded
in damaging the tower somewhat before being driven off by
an approaching armed vessel.
The Revolutionary War over,
the newly formed Federal Government was small enough that
President Washington could take a personal interest in the
affairs of individual lighthouses. One of Washington's first
official duties was to write a letter to the keeper of the
Sandy Hook lighthouse directing him to keep the light tended
until Congress could provide funds for its upkeep.
(c) Stephan HarringtonAfter
the Revolution, the lighthouse again became the focal point
between two antagonists, this time between the State of New
York and the State of New Jersey. In 1787, New York passed
a law which required all vessels from other states to report
at the local customs house where they were registered and
cleared, paying a fee for the privilege. New Jersey retaliated
by levying a £30 monthly tax on the Sandy Hook lighthouse
which was still owned by New York. The dispute was defused
however, when the Federal Government accepted title to and
jurisdiction over the lighthouses then in existence and provided
that "the necessary support, maintenance and repairs
of all lighthouses beacons, buoys, and public piers erected,
placed or sunk before the passing of this act, at the the
entrance of, or within any bay, inlet, harbor or port of the
United States, for rendering the navigation thereof easy and
safe, shall be defrayed out of the treasury of the United
In 1838, an inspection of
the lighthouse found it to be in good order. However, two
beacons, made of wood were criticized:
Two [beacons], made of wood;
one lamp each; no reflectors. These beacon-lights are too
small and inadequate for their intentions; they leak at every
joint. These beacons, situated at the vomitary of the great
American emporium of trade, should be well built, and brilliantly
lighted; but their utility is nearly lost, in their bad construction
and miserable lighting apparatus.
Two [beacons], made of wood; one lamp each; no reflectors.
These beacon-lights are too small and inadequate for
their intentions; they leak at every joint. These
beacons, situated at the vomitary of the great American
emporium of trade, should be well built, and brilliantly
lighted; but their utility is nearly lost, in their
bad construction and miserable lighting apparatus.
In 1852, during an inspection of the countries
lighthouses, the Lighthouse Board reported the lighthouse
to be "in a good state of preservation," but criticized:
The inside walls of the tower have been recently
whitewashed but two years had elapsed since the outside
had been done. The Keeper is not instructed in the
manner of adjusting the apparatus and had entered
upon his duties without previous instruction...
The fact that there is only Keeper at Sandy Hook,
while there are five at Navesink, cannot fail to be
The lights are not lighted at sun- setting, and kept
burning until sunrising, in compliance with instructions.
The Keeper uses his own descretion in this matter,
generally lighting about dusk and extinguishing at
daylight. The Keeper stated that the oil last year
was bad; the winter oil was cut, in cold weather,
with a knife.
The Sandy Hook lights are nor trimmed during the
night; in the Keeper's opinion they do not require
In addition to the main
light, the Keeper also had two smaller beacons to maintain.
These beacons, constructed in 1842, were located at 40°
27' 16" latitude by 74° 00' 27" longitude, and
40° 27' 48" latitude by 74° 00' 27" longitude.
They were called the Sandy Hook East and the Sandy Hook West
Beacons respectively. The Keeper of the main light was given
a paltry amount of money to hire help, but was held responsible
for all three lights. Only the main light stands today, the
East and West beacons having long since been replaced by automatic
skeleton towers, and their locations have been changed many
times to fit the current disposition of the hook.
The West Beacon was refitted
in 1855, the East Beacon was rebuilt in 1856. The main light
received a new lighting apparatus in 1856, a 3rd order Fresnel
lens, made by P. Sautter & Co., of Paris, France. This
lens is still in place.
In 1857 the main light underwent
extensive repairs, including a new edifice, a brick lining
inside the tower, and iron steps which replaced the worn wooden
There is a "legend"
about a secret cellar under the main light, which, when opened
in 1857, revealed a skeleton sitting at a table in front of
a crude fireplace. While intriguing, the fact is that there
is no cellar under the lighthouse, but instead is under the
keeper's house. Some variations of the legend say this, but
also give the date as closer to 1883, when the keeper's house
was torn down (there have been 3 documented keeper's houses).
As to the skeleton, there has not been any documented proof
which would confirm or deny the story.
In 1867 the East Beacon
became the first light in the United States to be equipped
with a steam driven fog siren. The siren consisted of a fixed
disk with slits radiating from its center. A second disk with
the same arrangement of slits was revolved back of this, which
high pressure steam was driven through both, and emitted from
a horn at one end. The siren apparently lasted until 1883,
a newspaper account of that year stating that a "new
siren has been purchased and will soon be erected at the station
in place of the one nearly worn out."
The crib work at the West
Beacon was replaced in 1874 at a cost of $6,000.
The Keeper of the main light
received a new home in 1883, the old dilapidated dwelling
was razed and replaced by a "substantial double frame
dwelling with ample accommodations for the principal and assistant
Keepers." This is the dwelling that stands today.
The Sandy Hook lighthouse
became the first lighthouse in the country to be lit by electric
incandescent lamps in 1889. Earlier, in 1886, the Lighthouse
Board experimented with electric arc lamps placed in the torch
of the Statue of Liberty, which was used briefly during this
time as an aid to navigation.
In 1964, the lighthouse
celebrated its 200th Anniversary. It is the oldest original
lighthouse in the country. At a ceremony celebrating this
event, Walter I. Pozen, a New Jersey native and assistant
to the Secretary of the Interior dedicated the lighthouse
as a National Historic Landmark and presented a scroll and
plaque to Captain J. H. Wagline, Chief of Staff of the Third
Coast Guard District which maintains the light. The plaque
was bolted to the base of the lighthouse.
The lighthouse and surrounding
Fort Hancock are part of Gateway National Recreation Area
today. The lighthouse is still in active operation and is
equipped with a 3rd order Fresnel lens illuminated by a 1000
watt bulb, and emitting 45,000 candle-power. It is visible
19 miles at sea.
In 1996, the ownership of
the lighthouse was transferred from the Coast Guard to the
National Park Service.