There’s not a boater navigating the Long Island Sound at the mouth of the East River that isn’t familiar with the one-and-a-half-story, red brick Victorian structure that has been guiding ships for over a century. Situated just 1,600 yards from Kings Point and within sight of the Throg’s Neck Bridge, the Stepping Stones Lighthouse was built in 1877 to help commerce ships define a clear channel through the Long Island Sound’s western end, where a collection of rocky reefs lurks beneath the water.
Hundreds of commercial vessels pass by the lighthouse on their way up New York City’s East River and countless recreational boaters, as well. For ships entering Long Island Sound from the East River, it is the first beacon that comes into sight as these vessels keep the lighthouse to their starboard side to avoid the rocky reefs. Ships headed towards the East River can take a clear channel by keeping the Lighthouse to the port side.
While advances in navigational technology make many lighthouses, like the Stepping Stones, considered “surplus” by the U.S. Coast Guard, their value lies in their historical significance. The Stepping Stones’ sister lighthouse is the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse on the Hudson River, built in 1875.
The historic lighthouse was awarded to the Town of North Hempstead in 2008 as part of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. The National Park Service (NPS) serves as the town’s federal overseer for the lighthouse project, with the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), the entity that manages federal properties, the Great Neck Park District and the Great Neck Historical Society. As part of the lighthouse stewardship agreement, the town agrees to file yearly reports with the NPS, keeping them apprised of any capital improvements undertaken to preserve and restore the structure within its historical accuracy, and to educate visitors about the lighthouse and its historical significance.
An evaluation done approximately five years ago estimated that the total restoration project would cost approximately $4 million, according to town officials. Under the partnership agreement, the town will not be providing direct funds for the restoration, but rather will provide in-kind services to assist with repairs and will also seek grants and private donations.
“Preserving the history and character of the landmarks in town is of paramount importance to this administration,” said North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth. “But the safety value of lighthouses for our boaters should also be recognized as a key element to the significance of this restoration effort.”
Earlier this year, Bosworth announced the formation of a partnership with the Great Neck Park District and the Great Neck Historical Society to restore and preserve the lighthouse. The partnership was announced following a meeting last year between the Supervisor, representatives from the GSA.
“We’ve taken a small but significant step towards restoring our Stepping Stones Lighthouse,” said Bosworth. “We are pleased to be working alongside the Great Neck Park District and the Great Neck Historical Society as we search for ways to raise the money we will need to restore this historical structure.”
Anyone wishing to learn more about, or donate to, the Stepping Stones Lighthouse Restoration project, visit: www.greatneckhistorical.org/stepping-stones-lighthouse-1.html.