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 taken.
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 approved.
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 and passed the 19th Day of May, 1761, for raising
the Sum of 3000£ to be employed for and towards
purchasing so much of Sandy-Hook as shall be necessary,
and there on 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 deducted.
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 Peace, or other respectable
Freeholders of every county, who are empowered 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 consummated 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 Public
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 neighboring 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
completing 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 Public: 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 the Corporation.
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
This second lottery was drawn on June 14, 1763, "'in
Mr. Burn's 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 lantern is 7 feet high; the
Circumference 33 feet. The whole Construction of the
lantern 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 Feet.
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 lamps installed in the crown were of copper encased
in a lantern of ordinary glass. The keeper lived in a
stone dwelling beside the tower. His "contract of
service" allowed him the privilege of "keeping and
pasturing two cows," but also warned him that he should
not use the tower as a "public-house for selling strong
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 averaged £451 per year, which would
indicate that the lighthouse was a mostly 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 twenty panes of the Glass Lantern 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 metallic
Conductor, and that if it was really so, there would
not be wanting those, who from the Prejudice 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 Edifices, &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 Appearance, or Signs thereof
whatsoever, and that the Veracity of the Informant is
indisputable, as well as his knowledge of the
Premises, which he derives from his Proximity thereto.
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
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 entrance 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, situated at the entrance 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
The inside walls of the tower have been recently
whitewashed 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 entered
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
The lights are not lighted at sun- setting, and kept
burning until sun rising, in compliance with
instructions. The Keeper uses his own discretion in
this matter, generally lighting about dusk and
extinguishing at daylight. 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 place.
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
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 emitted
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
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 accommodations 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 navigation.
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
Gateway 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
In 1996, the ownership of the lighthouse was
transferred from the Coast Guard to the National Park