Untapped Cities and New York Adventure Club took a group of 25 explorers to Execution Rocks Lighthouse this past weekend, one of the most unique locations in the New York City area. The journey to the non-profit-run lighthouse involved the subway, train, and two boats, and then some adventurous climbs to the top. On the tour, led by the Philadelphia couple who run the organization, we learned about the history, the process of running such a unique property, and some of the hauntings that allegedly come with the lighthouse.
The National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000 provided a new mechanism for the United States government to auction off Federally-owned lighthouses that were deemed excess, provided that the next entity that runs it makes it available for “education, park, recreation, cultural, or historic preservation purposes.” Craig W. Morrison and Linell M. Lukesh, Esq. acquired the deed for Execution Rocks Lighthouse in 2009, paying the government $1. The lighthouse is in far better shape than it was six years ago–”the place was horrible,” Morrison tells us, “This place looks like the Taj Mahal compared to how we got it.”
Morrison says he and Lukesh took a one-week course called “So You Want to Own a Lighthouse” for a week, which cost them $300 and set upon renovating the historic structure.
A crane that used to move boats from one side of the jetty to another
View from the top of the lighthouse
The current light is fully automated
The lighthouse was designed by architect Alexander Parris, who also built Boston’s St. Paul’s Cathedral and Quincy Market. The original granite for the lighthouse was quarried from Manhattan in 1840, excavated in the construction of the Hotel Continental, located at Broadway and 41st Street, and brought out to Long Island Sound by barge. The granite lighthouse tower went up in 1849 and the lighthouse keeper’s house was built in 1867, in a neoclassical style. The rip rap rock that surrounds the lighthouse was added in in 1970, and you can see the old and new rock side by side on a visit.
As for the name? The most widely held belief is that the shipping passage was so treacherous, it became known as Execution Rocks due to the danger of going through it. But there’s of course the legend that the British brought political prisoners to the island, chained them up at low tide to drown them at high-tide. Lukesh says there’s actual evidence from the local historical society that prisoners were definitely brought here, at the very least. The executions are a little less fuzzy, but they did happen in this method at Manhasset Neck nearby at a place known as Execution Pit.
Another story has a shipload of British soldiers getting shipwrecked on Execution Rocks, with no survivors. According to one of the documents provided to us by Morrison and Lukesh, this story “may not be true, but the building of Execution Rocks Lighthouse provided proof of just how much [the legends] had burned itself into the nations consciousness.”
So much so in fact, that the lighthouse had regulations specific to it. “Never again, ruled Congress, would any man feel ‘chained’ to Execution Rocks. Instead of agreeing to serve for a specific time, keepers served there as long as they were willing. If they wanted to move, they would request and get an instant ‘honourable’ transfer ‘without prejudice.'”
Last ladder before the top of the lighthouse
The metal staircases inside the lighthouse
Whenever Morrison and Lukesh want to do renovations (which is an on-going endeavor) to the lighthouse, they have to put up the job to a bidding process and have the changes approved by the grant board. As such, the process is slow but they’ve been able to change the roof, repaint the interior of the keeper’s house, and open up it up to adventurous bed and breakfast seekers. They want to paint the lighthouse again next, restoring the original colors–white with a brown band.
Inside the keeper’s house
Staircase inside the keeper’s lighthouse with cherry-wood railing
An upstairs room
There’s a lot of work to do, but it’s clearly a passion project for Morrison and Lukesh.
Join our 2016 tour to Execution Rocks on June 11th: