The Winking Woman

Feature photo credit- Kendra Lombardi

A Look at the Fire Island Light

In 1826 a light was erected on the barrier island of Long Island. Standing 74 feet high this beacon guided with a a stout posture, the many freighters that trudged along the South Shore. It was a firm octagonal pyramid made of Blue Split stone.

The shipping industry was in full swing for Long Island and the Fire Island Light was a guardian of safe passage for many of these vessels. Despite its obvious necessity and the good intentions of its engineers, many sea-faring Captains had long complained of its inadequate height. This came to the forefront of our Congress and the U.S. Lighthouse Service on one fateful day in 1850.

photo credit- Kendra Lombardi

The shoals near Long Island are a formidable structure for most ships and the freighter Elizabeth was another victim of this natural formation. The ship along with most of her crew was a loss so tragic, public outcry moved Congress to act swiftly to prevent such a disaster from repeating.

This tragedy brought the entire Lighthouse Service under close scrutiny and as a result a “watchdog” Lighthouse Board was formed to keep in check the already deteriorating system of navigational lights. Congress appropriated $40,000 for the construction of a new light. A short 8 years later, the Fire Island LIght was lit on November 1, 1858; 164 years ago this November.

This new beacon when finished stood a towering 168 feet above the island. The blue split stone from the first light was used for the terrace of the new one. The lighthouse nearly doubled the old light in height and its shadows fall on the remains of its predecesor.

Unfortunately in 1939, the U.S. Lighthouse Service which was initially commissioned by President George Washington was dissolved. As a result of the Presidential Re-organization Act, the light was placed under the jurisdiction of the United States Coast Guard. this was the first step toward decommission, which did in fact occur in 1974. The light was replaced by a flash tube optic that was placed on the top of the Robert Moses State Park water tower.

Once again, private citizens banded together to save the abandoned lighthouse. Citizens complained, along with many baymen and other local mariners, that the new light on the water tower only shone seaward and did not aid boaters on the Great South Bay. The formation of the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society (FILPS) saved the Fire Island Light which was now on the verge of being demolished.

FILPS raised an astounding $1.3 million for the restoration and preservation of this seaside beacon. Finally, in 1984 it was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places and was re-lit in 1986 after being restored to its 1939 condition. It was also reinstated as an offical aid to navigation.

In 1996 FILPS and the National Parks Service took over maintenance and operation of the lighthouse and the keeper’s quarters.

The Fire Island Light proudly shines its two 1000 watt bulbs, which rotate counter-clockwise and gives a flash every 7.5 seconds which can be seen at a distance of approximately 24 miles, thus restoring the nickname it deserves, The Winking Woman.

This grand beacon which is notably New York’s tallest lighthouse remains on all charts as a private aid to navigation and is the 6th tallest in the Nation.

Tours of the Light are available by reservation and it is accessible by car via the Robert Moses Causeway. Contact the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society for additional details.

photo credit- Kendra Lombardi

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