Over the past week, I’ve been scouting for islands around New York City, easily one of the more fun scouting assignments I’ve had in recent memory. After a boat ride out to take some pictures last Wednesday, we were heading back to shore when I noticed a small lighthouse on a rocky island in the distance.
I asked my guide about it, and was told it was known as Execution Rocks, home to a lighthouse and keeper’s house that have not been inhabited since 1979.
Of course, I asked to go in for a closer look.
How did Execution Rocks gain its ominous monicker? The most oft-told legend has it that during the Revolutionary War, the British would execute American revolutionaries by chaining them to the rocks at low tide, leaving them to drown as the tide came in.
Sadly, the truth is slightly less exciting. The name actually refers to the dangerous submerged rocks in the area, a hazard for ships passing through. The 1806 American Coast Pilot notes “To the northward of Sand’s Point…lie the Execution Rocks which have a spear on them, with a board pointing to the SW which you must take care to avoid, leaving them on your starboard hand.”
Following an act of Congress in 1847, the 55-foot Execution Rocks Light was constructed in 1849, made of granite brought in from Manhattan. The keeper’s house was later built in 1867 (until then, the keeper lived in the lighthouse). Below, the Execution Rocks Light prior to the addition of its brown stripe in 1895:
A fire in 1918 destroyed the fog signal building, seen to the right in the above picture. The lighthouse was finally automated on December 5th, 1979.
In 2007, the lighthouse station was identified as excess by the Department of the Interior, which essentially meant it was up for adoption by any non-profit group willing to care for its ongoing preservation. A Philadelphia couple, Craig Morrison and Linell Lukesh, jumped at the chance and started the non-profit Historically Significant Structures. They were the only applicants, and now have custody of the station.
To give a sense of how unbelievably well-built this place is, the group had just redone the interior with new walls and paint when Hurricane Sandy swept through, pictured below. There was no interior damage to the house or tower.
But the best part about Execution Rocks? Not only can you visit – you can also spend the night!
As part of ongoing fundraising efforts (the group is hoping to raise $1.2 million to secure a matching $600,000 grant), trips out this summer go for $75 a person to tour both the light and the keeper’s house, and $300 to spend the night. Be sure to book in advance via their website.
While amenities are on the Spartan side (you’re provided with an air mattress, bottled water, and a portable camp toilet), a stay in a formerly abandoned 19th-century lighthouse keeper’s home has to be one of the most unique overnight experiences you’ll find in New York, and you’ll be helping a good cause. Once restoration work is complete, Morrison and Lukesh hope to open a true bed-and-breakfast on the site.
The island is also available for film shoots, events, weddings, and pretty much anything else. For my money, an abandoned lighthouse would make a great lair for the next Spiderman villain…
More island posts coming soon! Special thanks to my guide from PortWashingtonWaterTaxi.com, which I can’t recommend highly enough if you’re in need of a charter boat. I was on the water less than two hours after I called for a very affordable price, and they were more than willing to cater to my endless requests to motor by anything that looked remotely interesting in the harbor.
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