STEPPING STONES LIGHTHOUSE

An old Native American legend tells of how the Siwanoy Indians duked it out with Habboamoko, the devil, for possession of Connecticut. While Habboamoko had many tricks, the Siwanoy, through their own potions and wizardry were able to back the old devil up against Long Island Sound. Things looked rather bleak for Habboamoko, when he happened to look over his shoulder at low tide toward Long Island and noticed a trail of stepping stones. He danced across the rocks and fled to Long Island. So angry at the Siwanoy was he, that he flung every boulder he could find back across the sound. His aim was not true, but his power was strong and the boulders were flung as far as Maine, littering New England with rock formations.

Perhaps due to the legend, or the deadly nor'easters which sneak up on the sound, Colonial maps of the area named Long Island Sound, “Devil’s Belt,” and the reefs skipping across it, “Devil’s Stepping Stones.”

During the 1860s, shipping commerce through Long Island Sound greatly increased, and with it, the need for a lighthouse to define a clear channel. Congress appropriated $6,000 in 1866 for a lightstation to replace a buoy on Hart Island, about 1 mile north of Stepping Stones. Difficulties arose in obtaining land on Hart Island, and in 1874, the Lighthouse Board opted instead to build the lightstation at Stepping Stones, which lies about 1600 yards offshore.

Click to view enlarged imageConstruction of the Second Empire style lighthouse, a sister to the Hudson-Athens lighthouse on the Hudson River, began in 1875. Under the direction of A. D. Cook, the Stepping Stones Lighthouse was constructed by Irish bargemen and stonemasons from Throgs Neck. The redbrick keeper's dwelling is topped by a mansard roof and attached to a square tower. Every outside corner of the structure is decorated with quoins. 900 tons of boulders were barged to the site to form the foundation on the reef, which lies just below the water's surface. The riprap foundation, encased in rough-hewn blocks, has a base diameter of 48 feet, and the lighthouse rises to a height of 49 feet above sea level.

On March 1, 1877, Findlay Fraser lit the fifth-order Fresnel lens for the first time. The original characteristic of the light was fixed red, an appropriate choice for the Devil's Stepping Stones. In 1932, the light was changed to a fourth order-Fresnel lens with a fixed green light. A modern optic, which produces a flashing green light, was placed in the lantern room when the lighthouse was automated in 1964.

A ship approaching New York City’s East River can take a clear channel by keeping south of the Great Captain Island and Execution Rocks lighthouses and then staying north of Stepping Stones Lighthouse.

A couple of notable keepers served at the Stepping Stones Lighthouse over the years. Ernest Bloom, who started his service at the station on April 20, 1910, was awarded the Lighthouse Service's efficiency pennant for the meticulous manner in which he maintained the lighthouse. The pennant was flown next to the Stars and Stripes at the lighthouse to honor Bloom. Keeper Stephen Holm served at Stepping Stones in the early 1920s and during his time rescued several unfortunate mariners. One example of his lifesaving skills occurred on July 18, 1923 when two men ran the sailboat Mistral onto the rocks just east of the lighthouse. Holm hurried to rescue the two men, and later towed their damaged boat to Long Island.

Devil’s Belt has a tricky way of stirring up unexpected storms. On the morning of February 9, 1934, the mercury at Stepping Stones Lighthouse hit 14 degrees below zero. With the sound frozen, Keeper Charles A. Rogers, could not row ashore for supplies. The weather only got worse. On February 20, the wind blew in a blizzard, which dumped 17 inches of snow overnight, the worst storm since 1888. Trapped and with only two days worth of food for his small family, Rogers hung the flag upside down , on March 1 hoping someone would notice the distress signal. Captain Sioss of the tug Muxpet spotted the signal and gradually broke the Muxpet through the ice to the lighthouse. The captain offered Rogers food, but Rogers refused stating that it was the Lighthouse Service’s responsibility, and asked that the depot at St. George, Staten Island be notified of the situation. Shortly after being apprised of the situation, the depot dispatched the lighthouse tender Hickory to the station with supplies.

Today, wicked storms still race across the sound and mariners continue to be safely guided through a clear channel, past the hidden reef, by the faithful beam of the lighthouse.

In 2006, the lighthouse, deemed excess by the Coast Guard, was offered at no cost to eligible entities, including federal, state, and local agencies, non-profit corporations, and educational organizations. The Town of North Hempstead submitted a letter of interest along with five non-profit organizations: Asian Americans for Equality in Manhattan; Beacon Preservation Inc. of Ansonia, Conn.; Crabber Cup of Greenwich, Conn.; Historic Preservation Society of America of Washington, D.C.; and Korstad Marine Preservation Society of Brooking, Conn. Eventually all suitors save North Hempstead withdrew their applications, deciding it was too big an undertaking. The the National Park Service has yet to announce if the town will gain ownership of the lighthouse.

References
  1. Lights & Legends, A Historical Guide to Lighthouses of Long Island Sound, Fishers Island Sound, and Block Island Sound, Harlan Hamilton, 1987.
  2. Northeast Lights: Lighthouses and Lightships, Rhode Island to Cape Mary, New Jersey, Robert Bachand, 1989.
  3. Lighthouses of New York, Greater New York Harbor, Hudson River & Long Island, Jim Cowley, 2000. 

Operational Characteristics
Position 40° 49' 28.1" N
073° 46' 28.7"
US Coast Guard Light List Number 21505
Light Characteristics Flashing Green 4s
Focal Plane 46 Feet
Light Visual Range 8 Nautical Miles
Color Red
Sound Signal None
Sound Characteristics N/A
        
Stepping Stones
 
Last Modified 9/19/2013