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Plum Island Light

Plum Island Light

History of Plum Island

Plum Island is an 840-acre island off the tip of Long Island's North Fork. It was created by the same glacial action that created Long Island about 15,000 years ago. The first “owner” of Plum Island was Samuel Wyllys who reportedly “bought” the island, known to the Indians as Manittuwand, in 1659 from the Indian chief Wyandanch. The purchase price was one coat, one barrel of biscuits and 100 fish-hooks. Wyandanch was one of four brothers and there was a dispute over whether he had the right to sell the island without their consent. In 1665, the Town of Southold bought the island from one of Wyandanch's brothers. Eventually, Wyllys's claim was victorious when Wyandanch's brothers died and left him as the only chief for the four tribes. In 1675 Wyllys received a patent of confirmation for "Plumme Island" from New York's Governor, Edmund Andros. Wyllys sold the island in 1699 to Joseph Dudley for 250 New England pounds. In 1700, Dudley sold the island to Joseph and William Beebee, who then sold the island in 1732 to Daniel Tuthil for $1700.

In 1775, Plum Gut was the site of the first battle between British and Continental troops. General George Washington ordered General Wooster and his troops to land (near the site of the present lighthouse) to prevent livestock raids by the British. The landing party was quickly repelled by the British and returned to Oyster Ponds (now Orient Point) under fire. This was the first amphibious landing under fire by American troops.

The federal government bought 150 acres on the west end of the island in 1897 from Abraham Hewitt for $25,000 for the erection of Fort Terry, a military post which was part of a network of artillery posts intended to protect the area from naval attack during the Spanish-American War (The other posts were Fort Michie on Great Gull Island, Fort Wright on Fishers Island, and Fort Tyler on the site of the former Gardiner's Point lighthouse. None of these posts ever fired a shot other than for practice). After the Spanish-American War the government bought the rest of the island.

In 1930, the Justice Department considered making a 1000-cell prison on the island, but the deal never went through. It was deemed impractical. Fort Terry was deactivated after WWII, but was reactivated in April of 1952 for “Chemical Corps activities.&#!48; In July of that year, the Agriculture Department established a research center for hoof and mouth disease in cattle. After spending $4 million on the chemical warfare facility, the Army turned it over to the Agriculture Department in 1954. The USDA's Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC) animal disease research center has continued on to this day and is the reason the island has been off-limits to the public for 45 years. In 1999, it was announced that the PIADC would like to upgrade the facility to deal with more dangerous organisms. In 2004, the Agriculture Department turned the island over to the Department of Homeland Security.

History of Plum Island Light

Plum Island (Plum Gut) Lighthouse is located in Suffolk County on the Long Island Sound and was established in 1827. Standing only 55 feet high, its white, octagonal wooden tower is not operational, but holds an extensive amount of history. In August of 1826, the Local Superintendent of Light-Houses at Sag Harbor requested proposals for the construction of "a Light-House and Dwelling-House on Plum Island." The orders for the station included a 30-foot tall octagonal pyramid tower built of rough stone with separate lighthouse keeper's quarters. The tower's lantern was to be constructed of cast iron and fitted with Winslow Lewis's patent lamps. In 1856, the lighting apparatus was changed to a fourth order Fresnel lens. By the late 1860s, the original light was in poor condition and it was rebuilt in 1869. The new light, which still stands, is of the same design as other area lights and the original keeper's quarters remained on the site until they were taken down in 1882. Plum Island Light was transferred to the USDA in 1981. An USDA animal disease research center operates on the island, and the island has been off limits to the public for 45 years. While the USDA owns the property, it has not maintained the lighthouse in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. The structure has been, and still is, threatened by neglect, and erosion of the bluff upon which it stands. Plum Island Light is listed on the Lighthouse Digest Doomsday list of endangered lighthouses. In 1978, the lighthouse was deactivated, and replaced by a skeleton tower near the old lighthouse. In the late 1990s, a generator/search lighthouse at the station fell into the water. The Long Island Chapter of the US Lighthouse Society is now leading a restoration effort for this light, however, with the many storms that hit the area, including hurricanes, tropical storms and nor'easters, the future of the lighthouse is uncertain.

Old Lighthouse Characteristics
Position 41° 10' 25.642" North
072° 12' 42.312" West
Height of Tower 55 Feet
First Lit 1870
First Optic Fourth Order Fresnel, On Loan to East End Seaport and Marine Museum in Greenport, NY
Present Optic none
Color of Tower Granite Dwelling with a Wood Tower
Sound Signal None
National/State Register Status National: Not Listed, but eligilbe
State: Not Listed
Operational Characteristics
Position 41° 10' 26" North
072° 12' 42" West
U.S. Coast Guard Light List Number 21090 & 27695
Height of Tower 15 Feet
Light Characteristics Flashing White every 2.5 seconds
Present Optic 155 MM Lantern
Light Visual Range 5 Nautical Miles
Secondary / Emergency Light Characteristics None
Secondary / Emergency Optic None
Color of Tower Steel Tower
Sound Signal None
National/State Register Status National: Not Listed
State: Not Listed

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Last Modified 1/12/2016