As early as 1679-80, Edmund Andreas, Colonial Governor
of the Colony of New York, suggested to Sir George Carteret
the advisability of constructing a lighthouse on Sandy Hook.
It was not until 1761, when the project was revived by the
merchant community of New York City that any action was
Their financial future endangered, having lost some
£20,000 due to shipwrecks in the first few months of 1761, 43
New York City merchants revived the idea of erecting a
lighthouse on the hook. A plan to raise money was presented
to the Provincial Council of the Colony of New York and
The funds to purchase the land and construct the
lighthouse came from the proceeds of two lotteries.
By Virtue of an Act of the Colony of New York made
passed the 19th Day of May, 1761, for raising the Sum of 3000£ to
and towards purchasing so much of Sandy-Hook as
shall be necessary, and theron to erect a proper
Light House. The said Lottery to consist of 10,000
Tickets, at Forty Shillings each, whereof 1684 are
to be Fortunate, from which 15 per cent is to be
The Drawing to commerce on the 2nd Day of
November next or sooner of sooner full, at the City
Hall in New York, under the inspection of the
Corporation and two Justices of the Peacce, or
other respectable Freeholders of every county, who
are impowered to inspect every Transaction of said
Lottery. Tickets are to be had at the Dwelling
Houses, of Anthony Ten Eyck, Theodorus Van Wyck,
Abraham Lott, jun. and Dirck Brinckerhoff, who are
appointed Managers, and sworn faithfully to execute
the trust reposed in them.
Tickets in the above Lottery may be had of
William Bradford at the London Coffee House in
The first lottery was authorized by the New York
Provincial Congress on May 19, 1761, for an amount not to
exceed £3000. A committee of New York merchants composed
of Messrs. Cruser, Livingston, Lispendard, and Bayard were
appointed to supervise the lottery. The lottery was drawn
on September 21, 1761, and the winning numbers appeared in
the October 5, 1761 edition of the New York Mercury. The
£750 raised was insufficient to start construction of the
lighthouse, but was used to buy four acres of land on the
hook from Robert and Esik (Isick) Hartshorne. The £750
price was deemed an "unreasonable" sum for such sandy soil,
but as no better site was to be had, the sale was consumated
and the title transferred on May 10, 1762.
On December 11, 1762, the Provincial Congress of New
York authorized lotteries "'to raise 6,000 pounds to complete
the "Lighthouse" already started on Sandy Hook and to defray
the "Exigencies of Government" one half of the sum to be
devoted to each.'"
New-York Light-House, and Publick
Lottery, for the Year 1763.
Light-Houses erected on proper Places,
for the Safety of Trade and Navigation, being
by all Trading Nations, allowed to be of the
greatest Utility; the Legislature of the
Colony of New-York, from a Conviction of the
Necessity of a proper Light-House on Sandy-
Hook, for the better Security of the Trade
and Navigation of this and the neighbouring
Colonies, being ready and willing to assist
towards the Completion of the Light-House
already begun there, did, in their Session in
December 1762, pass a Law to raise, by Way of
Lotteries, the Sum of Six Thousand Pounds.
the One-half whereof to be applied towards
finishing and compleating the Light-House
begun on Sandy-Hook; and the other Half
towards defraying the Exigencies of
Government. In order therefore to carry into
Execution the good Intention of the
Legislature, the following Scheme of a
Lottery, for raising Three Thousand Pounds, is
presented to the Publick: And is hoped, that
from the immediate Necessity of the one, and
the Urgency of the other Purpose, the Lottery
will meet with all due Encouragement.
The lottery is to consist of 10,000 tickets, at Forty
Schillings each, whereof 1684 are to be fortunate. Subject to Fifteen
per Cent, Deduction, viz.
The drawing to commence on the Tenth Day
of May next, or as soon before that Time as
the Lottery is full, at the City-Hall of New
York, under the Inspection of the Members of
Tickets are to be had at the Dwelling
Houses of Abraham Lott, jun. and Christopher
Smith, who are appointed Managers, have given
Security, and sworn faithfully to execute the
Trust reposed in them. And as soon as the
Drawing is finished, and the Books settled,
the Numbers of the Fortunate Tickets will be
published in this Paper, and the Monies paid
to the Possessors thereof.
This second lottery was drawn on June 14, 1763, "'in Mr.
Long-Room, at the Provincial Arms.'" Winning numbers of the third
drawing appeared in the November 21, 1763
edition of the "New York Gazette," the lottery having been drawn on
October 29. Construction of the "New York" lighthouse, as it was
called, was undertaken by Mr. Isaac Conro of New York City. The
lighthouse first cast forth its beam into the night June 11, 1764. A
newspaper account of the time described the structure as being an:
...octagonal Figure, having eight equal
Sides; the Diameter at the Base 29 Feet; and at
the top of the Wall, 15 Feet. The lanthorn is
7 feet high; the Circumference 33 feet. The
whole Construction of the Lanthorn is Iron;
the Top covered with Cooper. There are 48 Oil
Blazes. The Building from the surface is Nine
Stories. The whole from Bottom to Top is 103
The lighthouse was built of rubble, about 500 feet from
the tip of the hook. Today, due to the northward expansion
of the hook it now stands about 1 ½ miles from the point.
The lamps installed in the crown were of copper encased
in a lantern of ordinary glass. The keeper lived in a
stone dweliing beside the tower. His "contract of service"
allowed him the privilege of "keeping and paturing two cows,"
but also warned him that he should not use the tower as a
"public-house for selling strong liquors."
In order that the lighthouse pay for its upkeep and
current expenses a light-duty of three-pence per ton was
imposed on shipping using the channel into New York Harbor.
Operating costs of the lighthouse for the first two years of
operation averaged £419 per year. The duty levied on tonnage
£451 per year, which would indicate that the lighthouse was a
profitable venture, and even more so when you consider the tonnage and
lives that were saved from a watery grave.
The New York lighthouse was frequently a target for
lightning, despite the lightning rod on the top of the
cupola. An account in the "New York Mercury" of June 30,
1766, reported that on June 26, 1766:
...the lighthouse at Sandy Hook was
struck by Lightning, and twnety panes of the
Glass Lanthorn broke to Pieces; The Chimney
and Peach belonging to the Kitchen, was broke
down, and some People that were in the House
received a little Hurt, but are since
recovered. 'Tis said the Gust was attended
with a heavy Shower of Hail.
A later Letter to the Editor retracted this story:
Having lately seen in one of the public
Papers (but forgot which) an Account of the
Light-House being struck by Lightning, I was
induced to inquire after the particular
Circumstances of that Affair, especially, as I
knew it to have had a metalline Conductor, and
that if it was really so, there would not be
wanting those, who from the Prejuice of
Education, and their Non-Knowledge of the
Efficacy of conducting Wires, would be ready
to infer, and propagate the Inutility of them,
for the Preservation of Edificies, &c. You
will oblige the Public, and one of your
constant Readers, by assuring them, that the
Light-House at Sandy-Hook, has not been
struck, so as to exhibit any Apprearance, or
Signs thereof whatsover, and that the Veracity
of the Informant is indisputable, as well as
his knowledge of the Premises, which he
derives from his Proximity thereto. I am,,&c
New-Jersey, Middlesex County.
During the American Revolution the lighthouse became a
point of contention between the antagonists. In early 1776
the British fleet was shortly expected to appear off New York
City, prior to the invasion of that city. The New York
Congress, on March 4, 1776 resolved to destroy the light so
as not to aid the enemy. On March 6 instructions were issued
to Major Malcolm to remove the lens and lamps in secret. A
memorandum from Colonel George Taylor, dated Middleton, March
12, 1776, states, "'Received from Wm. Malcolm, eight copper
lamps, two tackle falls and blocks, and three casks, and a
part of a cask of oil, being articles brought from the light-
house on Sandy Hook.'"
A British landing party was dispatched to relight the
tower using improvised lamps and reflectors. This effort was
apparently successful, because on June 1, 1776, the Americans
again tried to douse the light, this time using a pair of
six-pounders (cannon) mounted on several small boats under
the command of Captain John Conover. The Americans succeeded
in damaging the tower somewhat before being driven off by an
approaching armed vessel.
The Revolutionary War over, the newly formed Federal
Government was small enough that President Washington could
take a personal interest in the affairs of individual
lighthouses. One of Washington's first official duties was
to write a letter to the keeper of the Sandy Hook lighthouse
directing him to keep the light tended until Congress could
provide funds for its upkeep.
After the Revolution, the lighthouse again became the
focal point between two antagonists, this time between the
State of New York and the State of New Jersey. In 1787, New
York passed a law which required all vessels from other
states to report at the local customs house where they were
registered and cleared, paying a fee for the privilege. New
Jersey retaliated by levying a £30 monthly tax on the Sandy
Hook lighthouse which was still owned by New York. The
dispute was defused however, when the Federal Government
accepted title to and jurisdiction over the lighthouses then
in existence and provided that "the necessary support,
maintenance and repairs of all lighthouses beacons, buoys,
and public piers erected, placed or sunk before the passing
of this act, at the the netrance of, or within any bay,
inlet, harbor or port of the United States, for rendering the
navigation thereof easy and safe, shall be defrayed out of
the treasury of the United States."
In 1838, an inspection of the lighthouse found it to be
in good order. However, two beacons, made of wood were
Two [beacons], made of wood; one lamp
each; no reflectors. These beacon-lights are
too small and inadequate for their intentions;
they leak at every joint. These beacons,
situtated at the vomitary of the great
American emporium of trade, should be well
built, and brilliantly lighted; but their
utility is nearly lost, in their bad
construction and miserable lighting
In 1852, during an inspection of the countries
lighthouses, the Lighthouse Board reported the lighthouse to
be "in a good state of preservation," but criticised:
The inside walls of the tower have been
recently whitwashed but two years had elapsed
since the outside had been done. The Keeper
is not instructed in the manner of adjusting
the apparatus and had enterred upon his duties
without previous instruction...
The fact that there is only Keeper at
Sandy Hook, while there are five at Navesink,
cannot fail to be remarked upon...
The lights are not lighted at sun-
setting, and kept burning until sunrising, in
compliance with instructions. The Keeper uses
his own descretion in this matter, generally
lighting about dusk and extinguishing at
daylikght. The Keeper stated that the oil
last year was bad; the winter oil was cut, in
cold weather, with a knife.
The Sandy Hook lights are nor trimmed
during the night; in the Keeper's opinion they
do not require it!
In addition to the main light, the Keeper also had two
smaller beacons to maintain. These beacons, constructed in
1842, were located at 40° 27' 16" latitude by 74° 00' 27"
longitude, and 40° 27' 48" latitude by 74° 00' 27" longitude.
They were called the Sandy Hook East and the Sandy Hook West
Beacons respectively. The Keeper of the main light was
given a paltry amount of money to hire help, but was held
responsible for all three lights. Only the main light stands
today, the East and West beacons having long since been
replaced by automatic skeleton towers, and their locations
have been changed many times to fit the current disposition
of the hook.
The West Beacon was refitted in 1855, the East Beacon
was rebuilt in 1856. The main light received a new lighting
apparatus in 1856, a 3rd order Fresnel lens, made by P.
Sautter & Co., of Paris, France. This lens is still in
In 1857 the main light underwent extensive repairs,
including a new edifice, a brick lining inside the tower, and
iron steps which replaced the worn wooden ones.
There is a "legend" about a secret cellar
under the main light, which, when opened in 1857, revealed a
skeleton sitting at a table in front of a crude fireplace.
While intriguing, the fact is that there is no cellar under
the lighthouse, but instead is under the keeper's house.
Some variations of the legend say this, but also give the
date as closer to 1883, when the keeper's house was torn down
(there have been 3 documented keeper's houses). As to the
skeleton, there has not been any documented proof which
would confirm or deny the story.
In 1867 the East Beacon became the first light in the
United States to be equipped with a steam driven fog siren. The siren
consisted of a fixed disk with slits radiating from its center. A
second disk with the same arrangement of slits
was revolved back of this, which high pressure steam was
driven through both, and emmitted from a horn at one end.
The siren apparently lasted until 1883, a newspaper account
of that year stating that a "new siren has been purchased and
will soon be erected at the station in place of the one
nearly worn out."
The crib work at the West Beacon was replaced in 1874 at
a cost of $6,000.
The Keeper of the main light received a new home in
1883, the old dilapidated dwelling was razed and replaced by
a "substantial double frame dwelling with ample accomodations
for the principal and assistant Keepers." This is the
dwelling that stands today.
The Sandy Hook lighthouse became the first lighthouse in
the country to be lit by electric incandescent lamps in
1889. Earlier, in 1886, the Lighthouse Board experimented
with electric arc lamps placed in the torch of the Statue of
Liberty, which was used briefly during this time as an aid to
In 1964, the lighthouse celebrated its 200th
Anniversary. It is the oldest original lighthouse in the
country. At a ceremony celebrating this event, Walter I.
Pozen, a New Jersey native and assistant to the Secretary of
the Interior dedicated the lighthouse as a National Historic
Landmark and presented a scroll and plaque to Captain J. H.
Wagline, Chief of Staff of the Third Coast Guard District
which maintains the light. The plaque was bolted to the base
of the lighthouse.
The lighthouse and surrounding Fort Hancock are part of
National Recreation Area today. The lighthouse is still in active
operation and is equipped with a 3rd order Fresnel lens illuminated by
a 1000 watt bulb, and emitting 45,000 candle-power. It is visible 19
miles at sea.
In 1996, the ownership of the lighthouse was transferred from
the Coast Guard to the National Park Service.