Old Field Lighthouse

If you’ve ever traveled on the Port Jefferson ferry you may have noticed a faint beacon in the distance just west of the harbor. Old Field Lighthouse is just what you are seeing as it stands guard over the dangerous cliffs of the area just west of Port Jefferson, NY.

Old field lighthouse Photo by Raymond Larsen
Old field lighthouse
Photo by Raymond Larsen

Located: 207 Old Field Rd, Setauket-East Setauket, NY 11733 (Lat: 40.97698 / Long: -73.11863)
Built: 1857
Opened: 1868
Automated: 1991
Material: Keepers House is made of Granite Ashlar Blocks the light tower is made of Glass & Iron

History:

Prior to 1823, there were no lighthouses along the shores of Long island from Eaton’s Neck to Little Gull Island.  In recognition of the increasing maritime traffic, Congress, in 1822 and 1823, provided funding in the total amount of $4,000.00 for the construction of a lighthouse at Old Field Point near the entrance to Port Jefferson Harbor.   The land was purchased from Samuel Thompson for the sum of $400.00.

Construction of the 30 foot tall octagonal stone tower and separate one and one-half story keeper’s house (made of rough stone) was completed in 1824 and, quite amazingly, 75 cents under budget!

Harlan Hamilton, in his book, Lights and Legends, points out that the light had nine whale oil lamps arranged in a lantern magnified with parabolic reflectors.   While the first lighthouse is gone, the original keeper’s house remains and is situated to the east of the current lighthouse.

Shortly after the Civil War but before the arrival of the railroad, a second lighthouse was constructed to accommodate the increasing shipping traffic of Long Island Sound.  Construction of the second (and presently existing) lighthouse, built in front of the original, began late in 1868 and was completed in September 1869.
The lighthouse, constructed in the Victorian-Gothic Revival style is similar to the Block Island North Lighthouse (Rhode Island), the Morgan Point And Sheffield Lighthouses (Connecticut), and the Plum Island Lighthouse (Eastern Long Island).

The new lighthouse is considerably larger than the original.  The main building of the two story structure measures 30 feet wide by 32 feet long, with the rear one story anteroom about 17 by 19 feet square.  The walls, 28 feet high from basement to attic floor, are made from massive two feet thick granite ashlar–blocks of stone hewn or squared for easier and truer construction.   In front of the lighthouse, facing Long Island Sound, is an entryway which served as the main entrance to the lighthouse;  for visitors, tradesmen, lighthouse inspectors, and seaman all came by boat in those days.  The glass and iron octagonal tower, twenty eight feet tall, stands 67 feet above the Long island Sound.    The circular beacon area at the top of the tower is six feet in diameter and surrounded by an iron platform.  Originally, the tower was painted white but, due to maintenance and durability issues, is now painted black.

The original light in the new lighthouse was a fixed white light with a continuous steady beam.  The old reflectors on the light were abandoned in 1856m before the new lighthouse had been built, and were replaced by the fourth order Henry-LePaute Fresnel lens, a “4th order lens” that was the most commonly used type on Long Island Sound lighthouses.  It was bright enough to mark the coast and entrance to Port Jefferson Harbor and, in theory, was visible for 13 nautical miles.  Kerosene was first used to power the lamp.  Today, the electric unit flashes alternating red and green every thirty seconds.  It has a 500 watt light with a range of thirty miles.

In 1933, the federal government deactivated the lighthouse, removed the light from the tower, and replaced it with an automated gas light erected on a 50 foot skeleton steel tower built next to the lighthouse.

Two years later, in 1935, the lighthouse property was conveyed to the Village of Old Field for “public park” purposes.  However, after Pearl Harbor and the American entry into World War II, the federal government seized the property for purposes of national defense.  A small Coast Guard contingent occupied Old Field Point.  Following the end of the war, the lighthouse was returned to the Village of Old Field.  In the summer of 1991, the Coast Guard returned the light to the lighthouse tower room where, under Coast Guard supervision, it once again sends its beam across the waves.

Source: http://www.oldfieldny.org/history.html

Timeline:

  • 1823 – No lighthouses existed from Eatons Neck to Liggtle Gull Island
  • 1822 – Congress appropriated $4,000 for the construction. $400 went to purchase of the land
  • 1824 – The original 30 foot tall octantal stone tower was completed under $0.27 from original budget
  • 1856 – Original Reflectors from the lighthouse were abandon
  • 1868 – The current lighthouse was was started in front of the 30 foot tall stone tower
  • 1869 – Current lighthouse was finished
  • 1933 – Federal Government deactivated the light, and replaced it with a 50 ft skeleton light
  • 1935 – Provided ‘old field’ the grounds for a Public Park
  • 1941 – Pearl Harbor happen, shortly after the Coast Guard seized the lighthouse and was stationed there
  • 1991 – the Beacon was returned to the lighthouse which was part of the village (no date given when returned to the village)

ODE TO OLD FIELD LIGHT

BY LIGHT KEEPER JOHN

“A seaside matriarch attired in granite and crowned with iron. An elderly granite lady who watches over the Sound with her flashing eye of red and green.The presence of lightkeepers past is most evident here….the man who wore his brass-buttoned uniform with pride….the man who once tended the old Fresnel lens as though it were the rarest of jewels. Through nights of moonlight and nights of thundering skies this lady of granite with her flashing eye has saved both ships and souls. With her flashing light she’d call to the sailors and ships ‘TAKE CARE! TAKE CARE! STEER CLEAR…THE HARBOR IS NEAR!’ For decades she sat, deemed outmoded and old, her flashing eye shut, her soul in slumber. A new light nearby upon a tower of steel now flashed to the boats on the Sound, but it was only a tower of iron….no heart and no soul. Many years went by and again the “Granite Lady of the Sound” was once more the granite guardian of Old Field Point….her red and green eye a most welcome sight on a storm-tossed night!!”

Light Keepers

HEAD KEEPERS
  • 1824 – 1826: Edward Shoemaker
  • 1826 – 1827: Mrs. Shoemaker
  • 1827 – 1830: Walter Smith
  • 1830 – 1856: Elizabeth smith
  • 1856 – 1869: Mary A. Foster
  • 1869: Benjamin Floyd
  • 1869 – 1874: George D. Lee
  • 1874 – 1895: Charles F. Jayne
  • 1895 – 1900: Edgar S. Maclay
  • 1900 – 1933: Richard E. Ray

References

  1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
  2. America’s Atlantic Coast Lighthouses, Kenneth Kochel, 1996.
  3. Northeast Lights: Lighthouses and Lightships, Rhode Island to Cape May, New Jersey, Robert Bachand, 1989.
  4. Long Island’s Lighthouses Past and Present, Robert G. Müller, 2004.

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