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Plum Island's First Lighthouse

LongIsland.com

Many are familiar with the current lighthouse on Plum Island. Although it has been abandoned since 1978 (more on this in a future column), many thousands of people see it each year from the Cross ...

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Many are familiar with the current lighthouse on Plum Island. Although it has been abandoned since 1978 (more on this in a future column), many thousands of people see it each year from the Cross Sound Ferry, as well as charter boats and private boats. There was a previous lighthouse on the site, from 1827 to 1869. The following call for proposals, from the August 28, 1826 issue of the Sag Harbor Corrector, describes the original light:

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Proposals will be received at this Office, until the 20th day of September next, for building, a Light-House and Dwelling-House on the west end of Plumb Island in the state of New-York, of the following materials, dimensions, and description: The Light-House to be of stone, the form octagon, the foundation to be of stone, laid as deep as may be requisite, to make the fabric perfectly secure, and to be carried up three feet above the surface of the earth, to the bottom of the water table. The wall to be four feet thick. The diameter of the base from the bottom of the water table to the top thereof; where the octagonal pyramid is to commence, to be eighteen feet, and the diameter ten feet at the top or floor of the lantern. The water table to be capped with hewn stone, at least eight inches wide, and sloped to turn off the water. From the surface to the top of the building the wall to be thirty feet in height, and graduated as follows: The first nine feet from the foundation wall to be three feet thick: the next ten feet to be two and a half feet thick; and the next eight feet to be two feet thick. The top of the building to be arched, reserving an entrance on the side to the lantern, and to have a stone cornice on which to be laid a sope stone or granite stone deck twelve feet diameter, four inches thick, on one side of which to be a scuttle to enter the lantern, the scuttle door to be framed with iron and covered with copper, the joints of the stone deck to be fitted with lead. The ground floor to be paved with brick or stone, and a sufficient number of strong wooden stairs, with a safe hand railing, to lead from the ground floor to within 6 feet of the top, and an iron ladder from the top of the stairs to the entrance of the scuttle, with steps 2 inches wide; substantial plank floors to be fixed to the stairs on the joists of each story. The Light-House to have three windows, each to have 8 panes of glass 10 by 12 inches, in strong frames with shutters and proper fastenings, painted with two coats of paint, and a substantial pannel door three feet wide and five feet and a half high, on hinges, lock and latch complete, on the lower floor. A complete iron lantern on the octagonal form, to rest on the platform of the pyramid, to be 6 feet 6 inches in diameter and 7 feet high, the eight corner pieces of which to be two inches square above the platform and two and a half inches square below it, to run six feet into the stone work, and to be there secured with anchors. The space between the posts at the angles to be occupied by the sashes, which are to be of iron, moulded on the inside, struck solid, and of sufficient strength so as not to work with the wind; each sash to be glazed with strong double glass 10 by 12 inches, of the first quality Boston manufactory, excepting on one side, where so much of the space as would otherwise be filled with sashes is to be occupied by an iron framed door covered with copper, two feet four inches wide and four and a half feet high. The top of the lantern is to be a dome three and a half feet high, and covered with copper 33 ounces to the square foot formed of sixteen iron rafters concentrating in an iron hoop at the top, which forms the funnel for the smoke to pass out of the lantern into the ventilator in the form of a ball sufficient to contain 40 gallons, and large enough to secure the funnel against rain; the ventilator to be turned by a large vane, so that the hole for venting the smoke may always be to leeward. The lantern to be surrounded by an iron balustrade two feet high, each [rail] or rod to be three quarters of an inch square, inserted in the braces between the eight posts. The lantern and balustrade to be covered with three coats of paint; the door, sashes, window frames, &c.; to be well painted, and the building whitewashed and furnished with two electric conductors or rods, with points.
The Dwelling-House to be of stone, thirtyfour feet by twenty, one story of eight feet high, divided into two rooms, with an entry between, the stairs to be in the entry to go into the chambers, a chimney near the middle of the house, with a fire place in each room, iron or stone mantelpiece; cellar under the whole of the house, with sufficient walls of stone, laid in lime mortar, 20 inches thick, six feet deep; the walls of the house to be twenty inches thick, ten and a half feet high from the ground floor, laid up in lime mortar, with split undressed stone, well pointed and whitewashed twice over. The roof to be rectangular, the boards of which to be jointed and halved, and well secured, and covered with good merchantable shingles; three windows in each room, of sixteen lights of 8 by 10 glass each, and one of the same dimensions in each chamber; the doors to be four pannelled, with good hinges and thumblatches to each, and a good lock on the outside door; closets in each room back of the chimney; all the floors to be double and well nailed; the inside walls and ceilings to be lathed and plastered, and all the inside work to be finished in a plain decent style, with good seasoned timber.
A well to be sunk, sufficiently deep to procure good water, at a convenient distance from the dwelling-house, to be stoned & furnished with a curb, windlass & an iron chain, and a strong iron hooped bucket. The whole to be completed by the first of July next.
Separate proposals will be received for fitting said Light-House, within one month after it shall be built, with patent lamps and reflectors, ten butts for keeping the oil and all the necessary apparatus, in the same manner as the Light-Houses in the United States have been fitted up by Winslow Lewis.
No payment made until the whole work shall be completed and approved by the superintendant of the establishment.

HENRY THO'S DERING,
Superintendant of Light-Houses.

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No photos or plans of Dering's lighthouse are known to exist, but we can expect it was built as described above. The original Old Field Point Light and keeper's dwelling, built in 1824, were likely to have been nearly identical (the keeper's dwelling at Old Field still stands).

Few American lighthouses still exist from the 1820-1852 era, suffering from poor materials and construction. This was the case with the original Plum Island Light, too, as it crumbled, leaked, rusted, and had a poor illuminating apparatus. This changed after Congress reorganized the lighthouse service in 1852, with many Long Island lighthouses being replaced, mostly in the five years following the War Between the States.