This is probably one of the most adorable lighthouses we’ve ever seen and we caught sight of it while on the new Seastreak ferry from Manhattan to the east end of Long Island. The Stepping Stones lighthouse, brick with a mansard roof was built in 1875 but the story begins 1860s, when an increase in shipping traffic required a more robust lighthouse than the buoy on nearby Hart Island. The name Stepping Stones derives possibly from Native American legend, with Colonial maps calling this area the “Devil’s Stepping Stones.”
A lighthouse was originally designated to be built on Hart Island but the land was privately owned at the time by Bronx resident Edward Hunter (and previously owned by Thomas Pell of the Bartow-Pell Mansion). Hunter would not sell the piece of land at the tip of Hart Island. Shortly thereafter, the Lighthouse Board found the land inappropriate for the lighthouse anyway, due to erosion and a new site was chosen at the Stepping Stones rocks about a mile away.
Hart Island would be sold to New York City in entirety even before construction would begin and is now the largest tax-funded cemetery in the world, still serving as the city’s Potter’s Field. 900 tons of boulders were brought by barge to form the foundation of Stepping Stones Lighthouse, which was built by Irish bargemen from nearby Throggs Neck. Old photographs show that a bell once existed.
In 2006, the lighthouse was deemed “excess” and the Town of Hempstead gained ownership of the lighthouse from the National Park Service. In 2014, a public-private partnership between Hempstead, Great Neck Park District and the Great Neck Historical Society was formed to save the lighthouse. The City Island Nautical Museum has also supported the preservation effort, and roof repairs have already been completed.
The Stepping Stones Lighthouse has a twin in the Hudson River too: The Hudson-Athens Lighthouse.