National Lighthouse Museum Opens on Staten Island

The National Lighthouse Museum will open in the old General Lighthouse Depot, Staten Island, on August 7, 2014, the 225th anniversary of George Washington signing the act that created the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment in 1789. A full weekend of events is planned as part of the celebration.

General Depot, Staten Island, New York.  Photo courtesy National Archives
General Lighthouse Depot, Staten Island, New York ca. 1885. The tower in the center was used for experiments in electricity. Photo courtesy National Archives

The General Lighthouse Depot was once the central hub of the lighthouse system. According to the 1867 Annual Report of the U.S. Light-House Board, “Previous to the establishment of this depot the reserve material for the light-house service was stored in the several districts, involving the necessity for a multiplication of storage, buildings, mechanics, workmen, supplies of all kinds, apparatus, etc., and it frequently happened that articles were purchased for use in one district when there was an excess of the same in other districts. To reduce to the minimum the supply of the service and consequent expense, it was evident that there must be one storehouse, one workshop, one oil vault, etc., gathered together at one spot and called a depot, from which all needed supplies and apparatus could be issued as they might be wanted, upon requisition from the inspectors or engineers of the several districts, approved at the office of the Lighthouse Board. For the convenience of purchase and shipment, it was just as evident that this depot must be at or in the immediate vicinity of New York city.”

A lampist at work in the depot's lamp shop.  All Fresnel lenses were shipped through the depot. Most testing and repairs of lighthouse equipment took place at the depot.  1930 photograph courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard.
A lampist at work in the depot’s lamp shop. All Fresnel lenses were shipped through the depot. Most testing and repairs of lighthouse equipment took place at the depot. 1930 photograph courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard.

According to the National Register nomination prepared by Larry E. Gobrecht, Historic Preservation Field Services Bureau, in 1981, the “Office Building and United States Light-House Depot complex are historically significant for the role they played in the development of lighthouse technology in the United States. The Light-House Depot conducted experiments that led to the improvement of lighthouse equipment and set national standards for the operation of lighthouses. The depot also served as a supply center. All of the structures in the complex—the office building (Old Administration Building), the warehouses the former laboratory and the stone retaining wall (which provided access to oil vaults)—served important functions in the complex. The office building (Old Administration Building) is also architecturally significant. It is an excellent example of a small-scale government building in the French Second Empire style. Designed by Alfred B. Mullet and built in 1868-71, it is the only example of his work surviving in New York City.”

Staten Island Depot Buoys & Bells Library of Congress
The General Lighthouse Depot manufactured buoys and bells for the U.S. Lighthouse Service. Photo courtesy Library of Congress

The museum will initially open an Education Resource Center in Building # 11. According to their press release, the museum’s goal is “to promote and support historical, educational, cultural, recreational and related  activities at the site, while maintaining the navigational significance and maritime heritage of lighthouses throughout the world.” Visit their website for more information.


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