Keepers' Quarters, Then and Now

Main Floor Keeper’s Rooms

There were numerous keepers who were stationed here at this lighthouse over the years. As you enter the lighthouse, you will enter the “parlor” or main room, which was used as the keeper’s primary living space. It served as the kitchen and living area for the keeper. Through the door on thelight was the bedroom. This 9 ft by 12 ft room with a small closet was the only sleeping area for the lighthouse keeper. The walls of the lighthouse are approximately 24” inches thick at the base and 8 inches thick in the living quarter. The wall construction consists of a 4" thick outer layer of concrete, a layer of terra cotta tiles with a final coat of cement to provide the finished wall along with the beaded wainscoting. There is NO insulation in these walls .A small potbelly coal stove to the left of the door was the only source of heat. It was also used for cooking and keeping the coffee warm. The Light keeper hardly slept, as he had to be up several times during the night to check the light and refuel the lantern. The oil or kerosene for the lantern and the coal for the stove was stored in the basement. A dumbwaiter or ”silent butler” was used to bring the coal and kerosene up from the basement. The two lower cabinets, sink and stove are original to the lighthouse.

Before & After

Interior Restoration - Living Quarters 2010

The Kitchen Area

The kitchen was the heart of the lighthouse; something was going on there a good part of the day with the preparation of meals, baking, and of course coffee brewing. As was everything in the lighthouse, cooking methods were rather primitive. The coal stove meant that it was nice and warm in the winter but a bit toasty during the summer months. Water was collected from the roof into a cistern located under the kitchen. It was then pumped by hand when needed, using the old-fashioned hand pump on the sink.


Originally, there was no bathroom in the lighthouse. Bathroom facilities consisted of an “outhouse” mounted on a set of stilts that were attached to the east-facing walk of the lighthouse, opposite the front door. A fun experience in the winter for sure. As the story goes, this allowed the keeper to do his business and allowed him to fish at the same time. There was no indoor plumbing until 1928 when a bathroom was installed in the basement of the lighthouse. Laundry was done by hand in the old days. Ironing was done with a cast iron flat iron that was heated on the kitchen stove.

The Stairway

The spiral stairway, which is narrow and winding, is integrated into the lighthouse tower. The stairs provide access from the basement to the watch deck. The spiral staircase is built around a large hollow column. Within the column is a set of weights that powered the Stevens Fog Bell striking apparatus & mechanism that rang the bell. The weights moved up and down the column just like a grandfather clock. Today the weights are rusted together inside the hollow column. One of our future projects is to free up these weights.

The Watch Deck

The watch deck is located on the second floor beneath the lantern room. It has a ladder, which provides access to the lantern room thru a small hatch. This is the heart of the lighthouse. It is here that the keeper did his work. A door leads out onto the roof of the watch deck. This deck was the water catcher to fill the cistern in the basement. Looking out through the windows he could watch for incoming ships. Under the stairs is a small cabinet built into the wall. Here he would store extra lamps, wicks and several cans of kerosene. A lamp maintenance box was also kept in the cabinet. It contained the tools and polish he needed to maintain the lamp.

The Fog Bell

The first fog bells were rung by hand, but around 1912, the Lighthouse Board installed mechanisms to ring them mechanically. Falling weights were used at first, but the "clock work" system as we have here (where the falling weight is the source of power) was soon adopted, as it was both more practical and reliable. The Huntington Harbor fog bell was manufactured in Jersey City, N.J. in 1911. It rang once every fifteen seconds. The fog bell chores of the light keepers improved with the installation of semiautomatic ringing mechanisms. It is fixed in a steel frame. The striker or hammer was mounted on the outside and is controlled by the Stevens machine in the watch room below. The system used in the lighthouse is a weight and pulley escapement system that used weights that could be "wound" to start a timed session. Not unlike a grandfather clock, the system needed to be periodically rewound every 3½ ~ 4 hours to insure that the fog bell continued to sound throughout the duration of fog conditions. In the basement, the original weight has been rusted in place. An effort is under way to loosen the rust and restore that part of the system.Should the escapement mechanism fail, the keepers then had to sound the bell manually, at timed intervals and for the duration of the storm or fog. Consider the conditions of this effort between the hard and seemingly endless labor and the close-by clang of the bell. This dedication to duty and to the safety of others is a landmark of the US Lighthouse Service and its successor, the US Coast Guard.Today, an electric foghorn is used at Huntington Lighthouse to replace the original bell. The last thirty or forty years has seen the development of the soundless fog signal: the radio beacon and GPS (Global Positioning System), which uses satellites orbiting the earth to pinpoint your position.As you go up the ladder into the lantern room, look to your left. On one of the metal beams you will see the marking “Carnegie 09” The writing is upside down but it is clear as to who supplied the structural steel for this lighthouse. This is the marking of the Carnegie Steel Company, with the “09” signifying it was manufactured in 1909. In another location another steel beam is marked Roebling Iron Works, which is the same steel plant in Brooklyn, New York that produced the materials for the Brooklyn Bridge. A wooden door provides access to the deck of the lighthouse, which was used to collect rainwater for the cistern. A beautiful view of the surrounding area can be seen from the watch deck and lantern room.

The Basement

Descending the spiral staircase leads to three chambers in the crib or basement of the lighthouse. Down here the walls of the lighthouse are approximately 24” inches thick. On the left is the “Oil Room”. This is where the lamp oil (kerosene) was stored to fuel the light. The dumbwaiter “Silent Butler” was installed in the corner and was used to take both the oil and coal up to the living quarters to assist the keeper in his chores. In the middle chamber was the Cistern. It was used to store the fresh water for the lighthouse. The rainwater was collected from the roof and piped down into the cistern. A hand pump took the water from the cistern into the kitchen sink. The cistern is constructed of a double layer of bricks to hold the water for the lighthouse. On the right was the Coal Room. Here the coal was stored to heat the lighthouse in the single potbelly stove in the main room. An interior bathroom was added in 1928 to replace the outhouse (privy) located on the lighthouse platform.

The Lantern Gallery

This is a platform in the lantern room where the fifth order Fresnel lens of the lighthouse was located. Before modern technology and automation, the keeper would have to keep the light shining. Every night he would have to light the lamps and make sure that they burned brightly and did not run out of oil. This usually meant several trips a night up and down the stairs. During the hours of darkness, the "light" was never to go out and if the Lighthouse Service received complaints that the light was not lit or that it was poorly lit, the light keeper would be in danger of losing his job. In the morning he would have to clean the soot from the lantern room, clean the lens, polish the brass and make the lamps ready for the following night. This was a common task that had to be done every day. The lantern room as well as the entire lighthouse was subject to periodical inspection by a Lighthouse Service District Inspector. If all were not in ship-shape condition the keeper would be written up and warned. If the lighthouse continually did not meet the Lighthouse Service standards, the keeper would be replaced. However if all was well, he would receive praise and usually a written commendation. The Lighthouse Service had very strict regulations as to how a lighthouse should be kept. The original light of both lighthouses was a fixed 5th order fresnel (Pronounced freh-nell) lens light. The focal plane of the light is 42 feet above high water mark. The lens did not rotate but cast a steady light. In the center was the kerosene-powered lamp. The lamp would burn 3 to 4 ounces of fuel for each hour of operation. When kerosene burns, it produces a light, heat, oil vapor and carbon or lamp-black. This layer of dirt had to be removed from the lens daily, as it coated the lens and cut down on the light emitted from the lens. The original 5th Order Fresnel glass lens was approximately 22 inches tall and 15 inches in diameter and weighed 400 pounds. One of the keepers many jobs were to polish the glass and its brass frame daily. Materials he needed were kept in the cabinet in the watch room. When the light was in proper working order it could be seen from 7 to 9 miles away. Red panels were added to the southern-most windows to warn the mariners of the rocky shoal on the West Bank of Huntington Harbor. The color sector was used to mark special areas such as the shoal and channel. Fresnel’s priceless, hand-cut lenses have disappeared from most of the lighthouse in the United States as the Coast Guard replaces them with more modern, economical plastic lenses. Today the light has been changed to a 300-MM optic, with a flashing white light every 6 seconds, which was automated in 1949 and is turned on at night by means of light sensor.

This electric lamp was said to be seen for a distance of approximately 8 to 9 miles although many locals disagreed vehemently! There was a small (Ferris wheel) type mechanism inside the lens. It contained six 2-½ Watt bulbs. Only one bulb is lit at any time. If the bulb burns out, this mechanism automatically moves the next bulb into position so the light is always functioning. Today, only four lighthouse in the Long Island Sound to the Block Island Sound still have Fresnel lenses, as a working lantern: Eaton Neck Light (working 3rd order, Block Island SE Light (working, 1st order); Point Judith Light (working, 4th order); and Lynde Point Light (working, 5th order). Other Fresnel Lenses can be seen on display at the following locations: Little Gull Island Light (on exhibit, 3rd order); Horton Point Light (on exhibit 4th order), Plum Island Light (on exhibit East End Seaport Museum 4th order), Fire Island Light (on exhibit 4th order), and Little Gull Island Light (on exhibit, 3rd order); and Montauk Point light with four lenses on exhibit: 3.5 order bivalve, two 4th order and a 5th order). Looking out from the light chamber you can see three solar panels mounted on the railing. These panels charge the three batteries that keep this modern light functioning as a temporary measure. In 2006, the USCG has updated this system with much larger panels to supply power to the lamp and foghorn. Electric power is no longer supplied to the lighthouse from a shore source. This was due do the expansion of ice which cut the cable in the winter of 2002. The USCG does not want the responsibility of maintaining the power cables. So in the future, all offshore lighthouses will be solarized.

A fog detector (white box) is installed outside the lantern room, which operates the foghorn when the visibility is drops below half mile.

Recently the USCG refitted the Huntington Lighthouse with a new modern LED pancake style lens. The difference in the intensity has proved to be quite substantial and made many boaters happy. Although the look of the lens is quite unusual is has been a vast improvement over the previous lens and therefore a welcomed addition!

USCG Solarization of Huntington Light

All Equipment is located on the Watch deck.

    A 501-c3 Non-Profit Corporation.

Huntington Lighthouse
PO Box 2454
Halesite, NY 11743

Phone: 631-421-1985

Home  ·   About Us  ·  Tours  ·  Events
Donate  ·   Volunteer  ·   Store
In The News  ·   Contact Us