Lighthouse History: Shinnecock Lighthouse

Southampton has a bit of a past when it comes to a now forgotten lighthouse. A lighthouse that was once part of the tallest lighthouse’s in the Eastern Seaboard as well as the nation.  Take a look into the Shinnecock Bay Lighthouse that once stood, guiding ship’s and filling the void between Montauk Point and Fire Island.

Located: Ponquogue Point, Northerly side of shinnecock Bay
Built: 1857
Opened: n/a
Deactivated: 1931
Material: Red-brick tower, with drab dwelling attached.

The Shinnecock Lighthouse towered 170 feet over Ponquogue Point and if standing today would be on of the 10 tallest standing lighthouses in the United States. The lighthouse was 168 feet tall and was constructed of red brick in 1858, and was lit using a 1st order Fresnel lens that stood at 12 feet by itself.

In 1931 the lighthouse was decommissioned. In 1948 the US Coast guard had demolished the structure and had replaced it with a skeleton tower. Some time later however the Coast Guard had replaced the skelton tower with a communication tower and moved the light to 75 feet up. The Communication tower still stands today.

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Shortly after the creation of the Lighthouse Board, it had sent out letter’s to captains of vessel’s traveling between the United States of America and Europe to seek their input on the quality of lights of the United States compared to those of other nations., and to learn where new light’s may be needed. In response to this letter, C.R. Mumford, commander of the packet-ship Wisconsin, had wrote the following letter in September 1851:

“Within the last few years a great number of vessels have been stranded between Montauk Point light and Fire island light, on Long Island ; and in many instances there has been a great loss of life, as many of them were vessels loaded with emigrants; and I would most respectfully suggest that a powerful flashing light be placed on some elevated position about halfway between Montauk and Fire island lights. This last light is but a very indifferent one, and at a distance of ten miles, shows about as large as a star of the fourth or fifth magnitude.””

Congress on August 3, 1854 provided $35,000 for the creation of a lighthouse to be located at “Great West Bay”, otherwise known as Shinnecock Bay, and then followed it up with a $12,000 appropriation on August 18th, 1856 in order to complete the construction.

The Shinnecock Bay Lighthouse, or Ponqouge Light, was first turned on, at the start of 1858. The lighthouse had confused many mariners, but despite its confusion with Montauk, it had filled a sixty-seven-mile dark void that had existed between Montauk Point Lighthouse and the Fire Island lighthouse. Using this money, in 1855, 10 and a quarter acres of land near the Great West Bay was purchased from John H. Foster and Edward H Foster for a mere $1,200, with one caveat, the purchase would still grant John H Foster the “exclusive right to gather and make use of Sea weed driveting on the Beach, East Side of the property”. While the purchase was final at this location, it was not the only location saught after, as the station was considered to be built on the barrier beach just south. The barrier beach was considered too unstable.

The construction of the Lighthouse was overseen by Lieutenants J.C. Duane and James St. Clair Morton of the Engineer Corps. They had dug a 10 foot deep hole and played it with pine logs in a perpendicular pattern to fill it with concrete. Large granite blocks were then put in place at its base and approximately 800,000 bricks were used to build the tower portion. The stair case used to access the latter room was supported by a large iron column that ran down the center of the tower.

Two, two and a half story dwellings were built on opposite sides of the lighthouse for the keepers, and were connected to the tower by a covered walkway. The western dwelling was used by the head keeper while the two assistant’s each occupied their own floor in the eastern dwelling.

The first Head keeper’s salary was $500/year and was given to Charles A Conley.

In 1893 the official name of the lighthouse was changed from Great West Bay Lighthouse to Shinnecock Bay, and by 1901, the Lighthouse Board had requested funds to alter the light’s characteristic from a fixed light to a flashing. the lighthouse board’s argument was that many transatlantic steamers had steered toward the light since it was too easily confused as another ship’s light. The funds for the change were not provided until 1907, when it was converted from oil to incandescent oil vapor. The incandescent oil vapor had tripled the light’s candlepower while reducing the amount of required fuel, and in 1915 a lens with bull’s eye panels and solid brass panels were finally installed, changing the light pattern to a group of three white flashes ever seven and a half seconds.

Dear Bishop Manning:

I am sending one dollar from my sister and one dollar from myself for completing the cathedral.

We live at a lighthouse. My father is one of the keepers. We hope the cathedral will be a great light to all people who visit it, as our light here is to the ships at sea.

With best wishes for success.

Lucy and Alice Thomas

The Great Hurricane of 1938 had provided little to no damage to the brick lighthouse, but instead destroyed a metal tower. In 1939 a similar skeletal tower was erected, this tower still stands today to provide guidance to fisherman and boaters alike.

In 1934, the Federal Government had offered the Town of Southampton to lease the lighthouse, but the Town’s board had rejected the proposal.

The Coast Guard had taken over the nations lighthouses in 1939 and had felt shinnecock lighthouse had become unstable and believed it should be torn down, while local residents had wanted the tower preserved and even had the structure examined by engineers, engineer’s would gave a report stating that the tower was “safe and stable”. The Coast Guard had other plans and eventually in 1948 the Coast Guard had chiseled away the base of the tower, replacing them with timbers that would be burned to tilt the tower over.

Light Keepers

  • 1857 – 1860: Charles A. Conley
  • 1860 – 1861: Henry S. Griffin
  • 1861 – 1863: Richard L. Wells
  • 1863 – 1864: Benjamin L. Hallock
  • 1864 – 1866: Isaac Sweezy
  • 1866 – 1869: Alonzo Foster
  • 1869 – 1872: Isaac Sweezy
  • 1872 – 1888: Wesley H. Squires
  • 1888 – 1893: Charles Z. Miller
  • 1893 – 1910: John F. Raynor
  • 1910 – 1911: Charles Redfern
  • 1911 – 1912: Jorgen Bakken
  • 1912 – 1915: William H. H. Lake, Jr
  • 1917 – 1925: William Aichele
  • 1925 – 1931: George J. Thomas
  • 1857 – 1861: James M. Hallock
  • 1861 – 1869: G.N. Squires
  • 1869: George E. Foster
  • 1869 – 1872: George S. Skidmore
  • 1872 – 1885: Nathan D. Terrill
  • 1885 – 1893: John F. Raynor
  • 1893 – 1906: Samuel W. Squires
  • 1906 – 1910: John H. Penny
  • 1910 – 1911: James J. Barnes
  • 1911 – 1912: John Fox
  • 1913 – 1915: Jesse Orton
  • 1916 – 1918: Lawrence H. Congdon
  • 1919 – 1920: Paul G. Peterson
  • 1920 – 1925: George J. Thomas
  • 1925 – 1931: Waldo L. Penny
  • 1857 – 1861: Norman J. Wines
  • 1861 – 1869: W.A. Bellows
  • 1869 – 1874: Gilbert N. Squires
  • 1874 – 1883: George Skidmore
  • 1884 – 1885: John F. Raynor
  • 1885: David C. Johnson
  • 1885 – 1893: Samuel W. Squires
  • 1893 – 1906: John H. Penny
  • 1906 – 1909: Olof Olsson
  • 1909 – 1910: James Casey
  • 1910 – 1911: Charles H. Rice
  • 1911 – 1912: William S. Parks
  • 1915: Thomas J. Conklin
  • 1916: Lawrence H. Congdon
  • 1916 – 1920: George J. Thomas
  • 1920 – 1925: Waldo L. Penny
  • 1930: Elva Lebites