Race Rock Lighthouse


Location: 3/4 mile west-southwest of Race Point (off  the western tip of Fishers Island), on the northern side of The Race.

Description: 67 feet; granite tower; originally a Fourth Order lens with alternating red and white flashes every 30 seconds;  Gothic Revival style structure similar to that of Stratford Shoal; there is a ledge 3 to 13 feet below the water line.

History of light:

  • 1671: The British warship John and Lucy runs aground at Race Rock, with the loss of several lives.

  • 1806: A light is erected on Little Gull Island in the hopes of making The Race safer for marine navigation. It had limited success. The light would be rebuilt in 1869.

  • 1846, November: The steamer Atlantic runs aground. 45 lives are lost.

  • 1847: Congress appropriates $400 for the placements of buoys near Race Rock and Watch Hill Reef.

  • 1853: Congress appropriates $1000 for the erection of an iron spindle on Race Rock. It was soon swept away by ice.

  • 1868: Congress appropriates $90,000 for a light on race Rock. The light would be tended to by a keeper living ashore.

  • 1869: The Lighthouse Board suggests that a light with keeper's quarters be erected on Race Rock. The structure called for in their report is described as "a keeper's dwelling two stories high and octagonal in plan, with a circular stairway in the center, to be carried a sufficient height above the roof of the dwelling to support the lantern and illuminating apparatus; the wholoe to be of granite and fire proof." The report goes on to estimate the cost of the proposed light to be $200,000. Not only did Congress not go for the plan at first, in 1870 they returned $80,000 of the original appropriation to the treasury.

  • 1870: Work building a riprap foundation began. The Board's annual report recommends that $150,000 be appropriated.

  • 1871, March 3: Congress appropriates $150,000. The contract is awarded to Francis Hopkinson Smith. Once the rocks were piled high enough above the water, the top of the pile was blasted to level it. One of the foreman's boats, the Wallace, blows up, causing the loss of several lives and the injuring of others.

  • 1872: The annual report requests another $75,000. The foundation is completed and the work stops in September due to bad weather.

  • 1873: The plan for the foundation had to be modified due to instability of the riprap foundation. Work to implement the changes began in May and lasted until September.

  • 1874: The foundation is finished and work starts on the wharf and pier.

  • 1875, November: The working season ends with the completion of the second course of the pier and wharf, and the beginning of work on the third course.

  • 1876: The eighth course is completed despite several storms.

  • 1877, March: Plans for the dwelling and tower are approved.

  • 1877, May: Work begins for the season. The first tasks involve repairing damage done by the storms of the previous year.

  • 1877, July: The pier was finished to the thirteenth course.

  • 1877, August and September: Work is delayed while waiting for the stones for the fourteenth course.

  • 1877, December: The pier was completed and work had begun on the lighthouse.

  • 1878: The lighthouse is completed.

  • 1879, January 1: The light is lit.

  • 1883: The characteristic of the light is changed to alternating red and white flashes every ten seconds.

  • 1896: A second class fog siren is established.

  • 1978, November: Automated. Fresnel lens replaced with rotating beacon.

Current use: Active aid to navigation.

The surrounding area: The area surrounding Race Rock is a dangerous waterway. It has claimed many ships.

Public access? No, but it is visible by boat.

Similar Lights: Stratford Shoal is similar in design.

Other information: Construction took six years and cost $278, 716. Was built by Francis Hopkinson Smith and Captain Thomas Albertson Scott. Smith also built the seawall at Governor's Island and the foundation for the Statue of Liberty. Race Rock and Little Gull Island work together to show the boundaries of The Race, a very deep passage through which much water flows at high speeds. It is a dangerous waterway because of the velocity of the water and the shallower, rock-strewn water on both sides of The Race. Wayne Wheeler, President of the US Lighthouse Society, wrote an excellent article on Race Rock in the Fall 1998 edition of The Keeper's Log. Find a copy and read it if you wish to understand the difficulty with which this light was constructed.


Race Rock Lighthouse


Here you can see the solar panels on the left side of the base, and the pier at the back of the structure.


A closer view of the panels.


The view from between Fisher's Island and the light.
Note the pier.













Research materials for this lighthouse can be found at the East Islip Public Library, East Islip, New York.
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