In the late 1800s when winter ice closed down Staten Island Sound, the waterway separating New Jersey from Staten Island, an estimated 15,000 tons of shipping were forced to use the narrow channel that ran along the eastern shore of Staten Island. In doing so, the vessels passed dangerously close to Old Orchard Shoal. A bell buoy and a lighted buoy initially marked this shallow area, but mariners considered these navigational aids to be grossly inadequate.
The Lighthouse Board asked Congress for funds in 1891 to place a lighthouse on Old Orchard Shoal and to rebuild the tower at Waakcaack, near Keansburg, New Jersey, to serve as a rear range light to the new lighthouse. After $60,000 was approved, construction of the lighthouse was completed in 1893. The new 51-foot, cast-iron tower was cone-shaped, built in the “spark plug” style common among offshore lights in that region. The tower had a canopy over the lower gallery when first built. The tower’s beacon was a fourth-order lens, which focused a white beam of light to the southeast, while a red light was shown in the remaining directions. The light was on for twelve seconds followed by three seconds of darkness. An air siren served as the station’s fog signal.
The first Waakcaack Lighthouse was a hexagonal wooden tower built in 1855 that stood near Creek Road in Kaensburg, three-quarters of a mile to the rear of Point Comfort, its companion range light. In 1894, this tower was moved aside so a replacement iron skeleton tower could be built on the site. The new tower displayed two fixed lights, one at a height of 105 feet and the other at 95 feet, forming a range with the lights at Point Comfort and Old Orchard Shoal. When the town of Keansburg decided to incorporate in 1917, it used the outline of the Waakcaack Range Light as its seal. The Point Comfort Light was decommissioned in 1941, replaced by lighted buoys and the range light at Sandy Hook.
The first keeper at Old Orchard Shoal was Andrew L. Carlow, who arrived after having served as assistant keeper on both the Sandy Hook and Scotland lightships. Apparently, life on the stationary tower with little companionship did not agree with Carlow, as he was sent to the United States Marine Hospital in New York in 1902, suffering from “nervous exhaustion.” Carlow never returned to lighthouse duty at any post, and was replaced at Old Orchard by Adolph Norostrom.
The Old Orchard Shoal Lighthouse was located about three miles offshore of Staten Island. Keepers at the station frequently had to assist inexperienced sport fishermen in small boats, who often got caught in the sudden squalls characteristic of the Lower Bay. Typical was the actions of Keeper Andrew Zulus on June 26, 1927, who had made many such rescues before. Four men were stuck in a severe storm, their boat having sprung a leak. By the time Zulus reached them, their boat was almost underwater. As was also typical of the keepers, Zulus offered food and shelter for the night to his unexpected guests.
Old Orchard Shoal was automated in 1955, but still shows a flashing white light with a red sector, although it no longer has a fog signal. The lighthouse is located near Great Kills Park, offshore of the Gateway National Recreation Area. The lighthouse can be viewed with binoculars, looking three miles to the southeast. Its companion range light, the Waackaack beacon, was deactivated sometime in the 1950s, and put up for bid by the government. The single bid was for $280 and was rejected. To the dismay of local residents, the tower was torn down and sold for scrap metal, although its beautiful keeper’s house still stands and is a privately owned residence.
In May of 2007, the Old Orchard Shoal Lighthouse was excessed by the Coast Guard and offered at not cost to eligible entities. After no qualified group was found, the General Services Administration auctioned off the lighthouse during the summer of 2008. The winning bid was $235,000.
|Position||40° 30' 44.3" N
074° 05' 55.4" W
|US Coast Guard Light List Number||35395|
|Light Characteristics||Flashing White 6s|
|Focal Plane||51 feet|
|Light Visual Range||5 Nautical Miles|
|Color||White w/ bottom brown stripe|