Strategically placed along the waterways surrounding New York City to warn of aquatic hazards, a collection of lighthouses ushers ships into New York Harbor, lighting the way for a safe passage into what was once one of the busiest ports in the world. In the early 19th-century, as New York City and the United States began to rapidly grow and gain power on a global scale, New York Harbor and the Lower Bay leading into it saw a dramatic increase in maritime traffic. There arose a need for navigational aids to warn ships of the dangers in the water and to guide them safely to shore. Today, sadly many of the beautifully designed lighthouses of this time have been lost, replaced with skinny, skeletal metal towers, but still others have been able to bear the test of time. Untapped Cities recently took a tour of the Ambrose Channel, a shipping channel which runs from south of the Verrazano Bridge, the gateway to New York Harbor, along the coasts of New Jersey, Staten Island and Long Island to Manhattan, with The National Lighthouse Museum. On the tour we discovered many historic lighthouses around New York City that hold more stories than just those of shipping and trade. In this list of historic lighthouses, functional and not, for show and for navigation, discover the stories of the people who lived in and ran them, the origins of their designs and what their place is in on our modern waterways.
1. Coney Island Lighthouse
One of the first lighthouses you will see aboard the The National Lighthouse Museum‘s Ambrose Channel cruise is the Coney Island Lighthouse. The lighthouse was erected in 1890 at the western end of Brooklyn in an area formerly known as Norton’s Point. The white tower stands near sixty-one feet tall with a blinking red light at the top which warns of the rocks of Gravesend Bay at the Narrows. Today, the lighthouse is part of the gated community of Sea Gate, a far cry from the seedy spot it was around the time the lighthouse was built. Along with the original tower, which was built using plans for the Throg’s Neck lighthouse, the site also has an adjoining keeper’s house and storage shed.
The lighthouse is most famous for its dedicated keeper Frank Schubert. Schubert, who was America’s last civilian lighthouse keeper, served at the Coney Island Lighthouse from 1960 until his death at the age of 88 in 2003. Schubert spent his life on boats and near the sea. He joined the Coast Guard Lighthouse Service in 1939 and tended lighthouses throughout his entire life. He lived at the Coney Island with his wife and children for forty-three years.