Race Rock Lighthouse

Oct. 8, 2019

Race Rock Lighthouse, Race Rock Reef, Long Island Sound, southwest of Fishers Island, Suffolk County, New York

Built in 1879.


Station Established: 1879
Year Current Tower(s) First Lit: 1879
Operational? YES
Automated? YES 1978
Deactivated: n/a
Construction Materials: GRANITE
Relationship to Other Structure: ATTACHED
Original Lens: FOURTH ORDER, FRESNEL 1879

Historical Information:

  • Race Rock Lighthouse, in Long Island Sound, 8 miles from New London, Conn., was built under great difficulties.  The builder was Captain Scott. His engineer was F. Hopkinson Smith, who later became famous as a writer of lighthouse stories. Race Rock Lighthouse is off Fisher’s Island Sound, at the mouth of the Race, where the waters of the Sound rush both ways, according to the tide, with great velocity and force, and where, in heavy weather, the waves run high.  By 1837 eight vessels had been lost in 8 years on Race Point reef.   In 1838 Congress appropriated $3,000 for erecting a lighthouse at Race Rock but the money was never expended. In 1852 the Lighthouse Board reported: "Various efforts have been made, and numerous appropriations expended, in endeavoring to place an efficient and permanent mark on this point. Buoys cannot be kept on it, and spindles have hitherto only remained until the breaking up of the ice in the spring." In 1853 $7,000 was appropriated "for a beacon on Race Rock."  This took the form of a daybeacon completed in 1856.
  • In 1854 Congress appropriated $8,000 for a lighthouse but only $1,600 of this was spent, mostly in surveys. In 1869 $90,000 was appropriated "for a lighthouse at or near Race Point, Fisher’s Island, Long Island Sound."  After preliminary surveys costing $6,52857, an additional appropriation of $10,000 was made in 1870, after the Board had estimated that $200,000 would be required to build the lighthouse.  In 1871 $150,000 more was provided by Congress.
  • Construction of the riprap foundation began in April 1871.  In all 10,000 tons of granite were used in the foundation.  "The proposals for the construction of the foundation and pier of this structure were so excessive in rates" the Board reported in 1872, "and so much above the amount of the appropriation on hand ($95,539.66 had been expended out of $261,000 appropriated to June 10, 1872) that no more than the landing and the enrockment of the foundation, and two courses of the pier, could be contracted for."
  • In 1873 Congress appropriated a further $75,000 and the lighthouse was completed at an additional expenditure of $175,048.09 between 1873 and 1878.  The total cost of the lighthouse was $278,716.33.
  • The ledge on which the lighthouse is built is under water and three-fourths mile from Race Point Reef. It has one large and several smaller spurs of rock rising above the general surface.  The least depth at mean low water on the principal spur or Race Rock proper, is 3 feet.  The greatest depth at mean low water, within the circle of 69 feet, is 13 feet.
  • The ledge was, with the help of divers, made approximately level with small broken stone and riprap.  Upon this was placed a circular-stepped mass of concrete, 9 feet thick, built in 4 concentric layers.  The lower layer is 69 feet in diameter and 3 feet thick.  To form the layers of concrete, cylindrical bands of half inch iron, of the height and diameter required for the respective layers, were used.  The upper surface of the concrete, 8 inches above mean low water, carries a conical pier, 30 feet high, 57 feet in diameter at the base, and crowned by a projecting coping 55 feet in diameter.  The pier is made of heavy masonry backed with concrete, in which cisterns and cellars are located.
  • The pier is surmounted by a granite dwelling one story and a half high.  From the center of its front the granite light tower ascends. A  landing-pier, 53 feet long and 25 feet wide, built of heavy masonry, gives access to the lighthouse.  The whole structure is surrounded and protected by riprap. T he tower, which is square at the base and octagonal at the top, carries a fourth-order alternating flash white and red electric light of 90,000 candlepower, being 67 feet above sea level and 45 feet above land, and visible 14 miles at sea.