National Lighthouse Museum


Edification value
Entertainment value
Should you go?
Time spent 47 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The largest Fresnel lens in the U.S. was installed at Makapu’u Point Lighthouse on Oahu in Hawai’i in 1909.  It was made in France and was featured at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

The National Lighthouse Museum is a museum in its infancy.  Located a short stroll from the ferry terminal in St. George, Staten Island, the museum describes the history, technology, and design of lighthouses.

The location couldn’t be more fitting.  Unbeknownst to even many Staten Islanders I’d wager, Staten Island was home to the US Lighthouse Service General Depot from 1864 through 1939.  During that interval, lighthouses were centrally managed there.  All equipment, supplies, fuel, everything needed by every lighthouse in the US was designed, built, requisitioned, stored, and/or dispatched from Staten Island. Lighthouses and their keepers had standardized lamps (of course) but also hinges, clocks, buttons, and even toilet paper holders.

It is hard for me to imagine that 80,000 gallons of oil (at first whale, later lard then petroleum) was stored at this facility, to be distributed to lighthouses across the land.

The Light House Service was merged into the Coast Guard in 1939, but the Depot continued in operation until the 1960s, when increasing automation eventually doomed human lighthouse keepers to obsolescence (an early example of the robots taking over our jobs). The Coast Guard shut the facility down and consolidated its operations on Governor’s Island across the harbor, and the campus has been mostly vacant, it seems, since.

Fortunately, most of the historic buildings have largely survived (though many need a lot of tender loving care) and they now at the start of being renovated and redeveloped (plans are afoot by the NYC Economic Development Corporation and a private partner).  The museum will be the cultural cornerstone of that development effort.

The museum today has a collection of model lighthouses representing beacons from around the world and through history (available to be sponsored/adopted, if there’s a particular lighthouse you love). 

It also features a timeline and small collection of artifacts, profiles of a few  noteworthy lighthouse keepers, and a little bit on the physics of lenses and lighting technology.  It also has Bobby, who seems to run the place generally, and who I get the sense has been a huge force in making the museum happen.  He gave my friends and I a fun impromptu tour.This was a great little museum.  I like its focus, and I’m always interested in the story behind things (like lighthouses) that we take for granted. I would not go to Staten Island just to visit, but if you are going for a ferry ride, a baseball game, Sri Lankan food, or to ride the giant wheel (someday), by all means add a side trip to the National Lighthouse Museum.

For Reference:

Address 200 The Promenade at Lighthouse Point,
Staten Island
Cost  General Admission:  $5
Other Relevant Links


One Reply to “National Lighthouse Museum”

Comments are closed.