STATEN ISLAND LIGHTHOUSE

Also known as the Ambrose Channel Range Light, the Staten Island Lighthouse serves as the rear range light companion to the West Bank Lighthouse. The 90-foot tower is located on Staten Island’s Richmond Hill at a point that is 141 feet above sea level and over five miles northwest of the West Bank Lighthouse.

Click to view enlarged imageThis stately architectural beauty looks more like something you would expect to see on an isolated, rugged coastline in Maine rather than in New York’s harbor. When it went into operation in 1912, the New York Times wrote that the Staten Island Lighthouse was “destined to take its place among famous beacons of the world, such as Eddystone Lighthouse, on the Eddystone Rocks, about fourteen miles from Plymouth, England.”

The tower’s original beacon was powered by a kerosene lamp that only shone with 1,500 candlepower, but that was multiplied 250 times by a large glass prism reflector that surrounded a central bull’s-eye lens. The white light shone in a narrow beam that could be seen “on range” only for a distance of 21 miles. In 1939, that was replaced by a second-order Fresnel range lens, powered by electricity.

The octagonal tower is built of bricks with a gray limestone base and trim. A spiral staircase having 104 steps leads up the inside of the tower, which is lined with beautiful red brick, to the lantern room. The keeper’s dwelling, located 150 feet east of the lighthouse, was constructed using the same cream-colored bricks and a similar design. The spacious dwelling has three bedrooms, a living room, a parlor, a kitchen, a pantry, and a large attic. An electric bell in the dwelling was connected to the watchroom in the tower to facilitate communication between the two structures.

In 1992, after a series of Coast Guard budget cuts, a local resident, lighthouse enthusiast, and historian named Joe Esposito asked the Coast Guard about the possibility of becoming caretaker of the light. A master electrician, carpenter, and mason by trade, Esposito did everything around the station, from cutting the grass, explaining the station’s history to visitors, and of course keeping the light going 24 hours a day.

In 2001, after nine years at the unpaid volunteer position, the then 62-year old Esposito was forced to step down due to medical problems. The Coast Guard recognized his service in a ceremony on April 18, 2001, giving Esposito a citation awarded for meritorious service. The Certificate of Merit stated that Esposito’s “hard work on this proud remnant of Staten Island and Coast Guard history is sincerely appreciated...” and goes on to say that Esposito has “upheld the highest traditions of the United States Coast Guard.”

Thanks to the hard and dedicated work of Esposito and other volunteers, the lighthouse is well preserved and in good condition inside and out. Esposito says, “Every time I stepped in it, I was going back in time to 1912.” Speaking of his retirement from the lighthouse, he also told the New York Times, “I’m gonna miss her. She’s the only one like it in the world.”

As a hobby, Esposito builds extremely detailed scale replicas of lighthouses. He spent three months building a three-foot, seven-inch model of the Staten Island Light, which he has donated to the National Lighthouse Museum on Staten Island.

Although the Staten Island Lighthouse never quite reached the heights predicted for it by the New York Times, it was declared a Historic Landmark by the city of New York in 1968. From New York Harbor today, only the top of the lighthouse remains visible above the surrounding houses and accompanying foliage. The automated light continues as an active aid to navigation to ships entering Ambrose Channel, and a second light has been mounted on the tower to serve as the rear range light for the Swash Channel. The keeper’s dwelling is now a private residence.

References

  1. Northeast Lights: Lighthouses and Lightships, Rhode Island to Cape May, New Jersey, Robert Bachand, 1989.
  2. "Staten Island's Joe Esposito Receives Coast Guard Citation for Years of Service," Jeremy D'Entremont, Lighthouse Digest, August 2001.

Operational Characteristics

Position 40° 34' 33.8" N
074° 08' 28.5" W
US Coast Guard Light List Number 34795
Light Characteristics Fixed White
Focal Plane 231 feet
Light Visual Range 18 Nautical Miles
Color White
Sound Signal None
Sound Characteristics N/A
Staten Island
Last Modified 9/19/2013