A Trip To Execution Rocks: New York’s Most Unusual B&B

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.

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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.

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Of course, I asked to go in for a closer look.

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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.

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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.”

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Picture from LighthouseRestorations.org

But the best part about Execution Rocks? Not only can you visit – you can also spend the night!

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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.

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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.

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Photo from LighthouseRestorations.org

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…

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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.

-SCOUT

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26 comments

    • I believe it was 1966, I was on the US Coast Guard Cutter Arbutus. We were giving fresh water to the light station when the tide went out very quickly. We went hard aground and we’re in danger of capsizing. We had to abandon ship. If the sea water hit the boilers, we would have exploded. She eventually righted herself with the incoming tide, with some hull damage. For the skeleton crew that stayed aboard (I was one) it was an extremely dangerous and nerve racking experience. TM USCG RET.

  1. That is super cool! I am putting it on my list for places to stay in NYC!

  2. I remember seeing this location on an episode of the Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures” so I’m not too sure I’d want to spend the night there. Cool place, though.

  3. This is so cool. And I love your site! Keep up the great work!

  4. Used to go bluefishing near there but stopped after we destroyed our propeller one trip!

  5. Awesome blog post. there’s a great organization that restores properties and you can rent them :

    http://www.landmarktrust.org.uk/

    They have other properties like lighthouses you can rent out…love your blog!

  6. I can recall, when working on the grounds at Planting Fields, between my Jr. and Sr. years, how on hazy days the Ex. rocks fog signal could be heard in Oyster Bay.

  7. This is so cool! And here I thought we’d get through a post without the obligatory “sadly”, but you found a way to fit one in!

  8. “Sadly, the truth is slightly less exciting.”

    So you’re sad that the British didn’t used to chain Americans to the rocks to drown in the tide?

  9. What’s this near? Where is it exactly?

  10. Ghost Adventures did a show there a few years ago… the rocks were used for water executions reportedly & the island is considered haunted.

  11. Made a visit to the light house last summer. What a terrific job of restoration! The hosts give a nice tour too.
    Well worth the trip. Their website is a good source of of info–weekend excursions and direction to the dock for shuttles.
    P.S. No ghost sightings!!

  12. I grew up in Port Washington and Execution Light was a landmark in our sails from Manhasset Bay. The fog horn is part of my nighttime memories. A family ‘joke’ was that if we kids didn’t behave we’d get tied out at Execution Rock. Wonderful that it’s going to be saved and cherished.

  13. I’m another ex-Port Washingtonian and also have many fond memories of sailing the waters near Execution Rocks and even once fetching up on the rocks when our Captain sailed too close to the lighthouse. I wasn’t paying attention and when I looked over to port to see the Lighthouse looming 20 or 30 yards away I was about to inform our skipper that the light marked notorious rocks but it was too late, we had run aground, caught on the rocks!

    Fortunately a couple of us were able to jump out and get enough footing (in the middle of LI Sound!) to push the small (rented!) sailboat off before it sustained any damage.

  14. Thanks for every other informative site. Where else may
    I get that type of info written in such a perfect way?
    I have a mission that I’m just now working on, and
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  15. From 1975-1978…Execution Rocks was my playground. As a young teenager, my friends and I would drive our boats out to the lighthouse and hang out with the crew living there. They had a great pool table and an amazing dog living there with them. They used to “steal” our boat and go to city island to make “beer runs”..probably why they let us hang out there so much. Spent many nights hearing wonderful stories about the light house. Miss those days very much. May have to make a run out there just to reminisce…wonder what ever happened to those guys? For those of you who never had the chance to visit…you wont be disappointed….just wish I could go back in time…just for a moment…such care free days.

    • I was station there from 1975 to early 1977.I don’t recall a Mike hang out there.Dicky Dee and Semore.Myself TJ he passed away few years ago.Sam and Ralph.Any ways miss those days.

      • Michael Schwartz

        Hi Kim:

        You mention Dicky Dee….wow…that a name from the archieves! Thats who we used to go with…Dicky Diamond (used to work with the coast guard auxillary)….I have great stories about some of those adventures!! do you know what ever happened to him?? I may have just missed you since we hung out there from 1977-1979….but we were there all the time. Me, Dicky and two other friends named Danny. Have you been back?

  16. I paddled out to the Throgs Neck bridge with some friends and the lighthouse was clearly visible. Some of us are hoping to paddle out there to stay overnight some time.

  17. come stay with us next summer!!

    • Michael Schwartz

      I might just do that Craig….if you read some of my posts…I was there all the time in the late 70’s. Had some great memories and great stories from the guys living there.
      Best,
      Mike

  18. is it haunted? aSK THE LONG ISLAND PSYCHIC!

  19. call me to reserve an overnight stay 215 906 5103

  20. The few months that I spent on Execution Light during the winter of 1960 were not quite boring, as we
    always seem to have had to do the odd paint up, fix up, clean up jobs, plus cooking meals (and washing
    dishes), and once a night, one of us had to climb the winding steps in the old stone tower the wind up the
    weights that turned the light.  And you didn’t want to watching one of those creepy old Bela Lugosi just before heading up them steps either.  A couple of times after winding the weights, we had to step outside and smear jellied gunkum of some sort on the windows to keep them from icing up.  Wind would just cut through your jacket and freeze your ass off.  And our biggest problems was watching for the ‘Old Man’ coming down from Group to try and catch us sleeping in.  First thing he always did was run upstairs to the sleeping quarters and feel the beds to see if they were still warm.  We always opened the windows (for some fresh air – of course) just in case.  Oh yeah, we also had 17 zillion paperbacks to read.  During my time on Execution Rocks, we never had a hint of anything supernatural or paranormal.  Of course, climbing up the old stone tower to re-wind the weights all be your self at 03:00 could make them little hairs on the back of your neck stand up just a bit. 

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