To raise funds for the restoration of Stepping Stones Lighthouse, which has guarded the Long Island Sound entrance to New York Harbor since 1876, the Town of North Hempstead and the Great Neck Historical Society have partnered to host the inaugural 5k Run/Walk to Save Stepping Stones Lighthouse at Steppingstone Park in Kings Point on Oct. 22.
Situated just 1,600 yards from Kings Point, the lighthouse was built to warn mariners of a shoal and extensive rocks that extend north of Kings Point, and was occupied by a succession of lighthouse keepers and their families, who were responsible for keeping the lamp full of oil and the glass continually cleaned.
According to a legend, back in the 1600s, the devil came down from Connecticut, which angered the Long Island inhabitants, who chased the devil out. But, as he tried to get away, the devil threw boulders over his shoulder to stop them from catching him. While trying to escape, the devil supposedly built a path of stepping stones—like an underwater mountain range—to get away, explained Ronald B. Brinn from the Town of North Hempstead Committee to Restore Stepping Stones Lighthouse.
Over the years, the lighthouse has decayed and suffered serious structural damage. Without repairs, it is in danger of collapse or being torn down and replaced with a navigational beacon. The total restoration project is estimated to cost approximately $4 million.
Still a vital aid to navigation, Stepping Stones Lighthouse was built in Second Empire-style brick in 1877 and was modernized in 1944. The brick house and tower are constructed on a granite pier that rests on the outer edge of a rocky reef at the western end of Long Island Sound, at the mouth of the East River. Stepping Stones Lighthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005 for its association with the rise of the Port of New York in the late 19th century to become one of the world’s most important centers for maritime commerce.
Although the Coast Guard is responsible for the operation of the light, it can no longer afford to maintain the structure of the lighthouse. In 2006, the Town of North Hempstead applied for and was granted stewardship of the building, with a charge to maintain and improve the decaying condition of the lighthouse.
Stepping Stones 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 General Services Administration. As part of the agreement to have stewardship of the lighthouse, the town files yearly reports to the NPS keeping them apprised of any capital improvements, to preserve and restore the structure within its historical accuracy, and to educate visitors about the lighthouse and its historical significance.
In 2014, the Town of North Hempstead 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 three groups have been working together to raise the money needed to restore the historical structure.
The town received a $165,000 NPS grant to rehabilitate the lighthouse in 2016. The grant funding has allowed the town to begin to address some of the major structural projects that need to be completed as soon as possible. One of the most pressing projects is gaining safe access to the lighthouse, which currently can only be accessed during high tide and low winds. The funding will be used to build a floating dock, ramp, boneyard and construction staging area so that other restoration projects can begin. Work on this commenced this past summer with soil borings to be conducted to determine the design and where best to locate the dock.
“The goal is to not only repair the crumbling foundation, masonry, roof and interior damage, but to restore the inside features, and create an understanding of the lighthouse’s role as well as the role of its hardworking keepers in the rugged, often unfriendly, environment,” said Great Neck Historical Society President Alice Kasten. “Hopefully, groups will be able to visit the lighthouse one day to learn about its integral role in the life of the harbor. It will become a museum of a life gone by, and a wonderful educational resource for little ones.”
Registration for the race costs $25 before Oct. 20; $30 after and on the day of the run. All athletes who register prior to Oct. 12 are guaranteed a free T-shirt. Check-in and registration will begin at 7 a.m. on race day and the 5k will start promptly at 9 a.m., rain or shine. An awards ceremony will follow the run. All proceeds will go toward the restoration of the Stepping Stones Lighthouse. For details and to register, visit www.eventpowerli.com.