Old Field Village Trustee Rebecca Van Der Bogart inspects damage...

Old Field Village Trustee Rebecca Van Der Bogart inspects damage at the Old Field Point Lighthouse on Jan. 4. Credit: Thomas Lambui

Rebecca Van Der Bogart stepped carefully around a bucket catching rainwater dripping from a hole in the ceiling as she recently began a climb to the top of the Old Field Point Lighthouse.

The Old Field Village trustee reached the spire after passing paint chips, rotten window frames and rickety wooden steps.

The structure's 50-foot-high beacon has guided boaters and ship captains for 155 years from its perch on a peninsula jutting into Long Island Sound. But it's in need of assistance itself, Van Der Bogart said.

Old Field officials have launched fundraising for a $2.3 million project aimed at restoring the station to its original condition. It isn't in imminent danger of collapse, according to a 2022 report an architect prepared for the village.

But decades of pounding rain and wind have left it with significant deterioration, from its cast-iron lantern dome down to its foundation and basement.

“It must be saved,” Van Der Bogart said. “If you lose a building like this, we lose our history.”

The village is in the early stages of raising money for the project, according to the village official, who added that funds must be cobbled together from myriad state and federal grants and private donations.

The Old Field Point Lighthouse isn't in imminent danger, but...

The Old Field Point Lighthouse isn't in imminent danger, but Old Field Village officials are still concerned. Credit: Thomas Lambui

The campaign received a boost late last month when Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that the state Board of Historic Preservation had recommended the lighthouse for inclusion on the state and national Registers of Historic Places.

Besides the distinction itself, the designation would make the lighthouse eligible for state and national historic preservation grants, the governor said.

With such a designation, Old Field would join the Montauk, Fire Island, Plum Island and Stepping Stones lighthouses on the state and national lists.

“This designation is long overdue,” Brookhaven Town historian Barbara Russell said in an interview. “It's such an important structure in the community. Look where it’s standing — it gets the brunt of every storm that hits the North Shore. It’s kind of amazing that it’s standing where it is.” 

The current lighthouse, which the federal government built for $12,000 and first lit in 1868 after establishing the station in 1823, is an active U.S. Coast Guard facility. Its electric beacon sweeps about 30 miles in either direction along the undulating North Shore coastline.

The light station was transferred in the 1920s from the federal government to the village, which maintains the structure under an agreement with the Coast Guard, according to Old Field officials.

The first floor houses Old Field's village hall, and board meetings are held in the former lightkeeper's quarters.

The Coast Guard didn't respond to a request for comment about the restoration project.

The lighthouse is a “stellar site” that was built “in an exemplary way,” with then-innovative telegraphs to communicate with other lighthouses, Manhattan architect Walter Sedovic said in an interview.

But Sedovic, who prepared the 2022 study, said the lighthouse is vulnerable to rainwater that collects around the foundation and floods the cellar. His report recommended “high-performance” coatings to protect the lantern and improved drainage to move stormwater away from the structure.

“Unless and until water is kept out of the building, Old Field Point Lighthouse will continue a trajectory of needless deterioration,” the report said.

Lighthouses were built in “treacherous conditions by definition,” Sedovic said. But he noted that the building wasn't designed for the types “of storms that we now face.”

Van Der Bogart said it's too soon to say when the restoration will be finished, adding her goal is to keep the lighthouse active “for another 200 years.”

“This is a national treasure,” she said. “This isn't just for the people of Old Field. This is for everybody.”

Point of history

Old Field Point is believed to be the only location in the Northeast region of the United States to have had three female lighthouse keepers in the 19th century. They were:

  • Elizabeth Shoemaker (1826-1827)
  • Elizabeth Smith (1830-1856)
  • Mary A. Foster (1856-1869)

SOURCES: U.S. Coast Guard, Brookhaven town historian Barbara Russell, Newsday files.

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