Staten Island Range Light
Also known as the Ambrose Channel Range Light, Staten Island Lighthouse serves as the rear range light companion to West Bank Lighthouse. The 90-foot tower is located on Staten Island’s Richmond Hill, at a point that is 145 feet above sea level and over five miles northwest of West Bank Lighthouse.
Staten Island Rear Range Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
In June 1906, Congress authorized the establishment of Staten Island Lighthouse and the raising of West Bank Lighthouse at a cost not to exceed $100,000. A sum of $50,000 was provided for the project that month, and by July 1908, West Bank Lighthouse had been raised for $9,197.96, and $9,253.16 had been spent for purchasing land and performing preliminary work on Staten Island. Congress appropriated an additional $50,000 in March 1909, and a contract for Staten Island Lighthouse was awarded later that year. As evidenced by the year inscribed in the base of the tower, most of the lighthouse was completed in 1909. In fact, by July 1910, the lighthouse only lacked its lantern and iron staircase.
Plans and specifications for the nearby keeper's dwelling were drawn up in 1910, and by July 1911, twenty-five percent of the residence was finished. The light was finally put into operation on April 15, 1912, when all work at the station had been completed except for grading, laying the sidewalks, and installing a lightning rod atop the tower. This additional work was not completed until 1915, and the total cost of the station came to $73,972.64.
The stately, architecturally pleasing tower looks more like something you would expect to see on an isolated, rugged coastline in Maine rather than in New York’s harbor. When Staten Island Lighthouse went into operation in 1912, the New York Times wrote that it was “destined to take its place among famous beacons of the world, such as Eddystone Lighthouse, on the Eddystone Rocks, about fourteen miles from Plymouth, England.”
The octagonal, brick tower has a gray limestone base and limestone trimmings, is lined with beautiful red brick, and rests atop a concrete foundation that extends seven feet below the grade line. The tower's spiral staircase consists of six flights of stairs and six landings, and ends at the watchroom, which is encircled by a gallery supported by ornamental cast-iron brackets.
The tower’s original light source was an incandescent oil vapor lamp that was set inside a second-order Fresnel range lens, made up of six refracting and seven reflecting prisms on its seaward face and nine reflecting prisms in its opposite face. The 300,000-candlepower white light shone in a narrow beam that could be seen “on range” for a distance of twenty-one miles. The light had a focal plane of 231 feet above mean high water. In 1939, the light source was changed to electricity.
The keeper’s duplex, located 150 feet east of the lighthouse, was constructed in a complimentary design, using the same cream-colored bricks and limestone. The spacious dwelling was originally divided into two apartments, each with an entrance hall, sitting room, dining room, and kitchen on the first floor, and three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. Bins for coal and vegetables were found in the cellars, and dormers windows provided light for the attics. An electric bell in the dwelling was connected to the tower's watchroom to facilitate communication between the two structures.
In 1992, after a series of Coast Guard budget cuts, Joe Esposito asked the Coast Guard about the possibility of becoming caretaker of the light. The generous offer was accepted, and Esopsito, a local resident, lighthouse enthusiast, historian, master electrician, carpenter, and mason, did everything around the station, from cutting the grass, explaining the station’s history to visitors, and, of course, keeping the light going twenty-four hours a day.
In 2001, after nine years at the unpaid volunteer position, the then sixty-tow-year-old Esposito was forced to step down due to medical problems. The Coast Guard recognized his service in a ceremony on April 18, 2001, during which Esposito was awarded a citation for his meritorious service. The Certificate of Merit stated that Esposito’s “hard work on this proud remnant of Staten Island and Coast Guard history is sincerely appreciated...” and that Esposito had “upheld the highest traditions of the United States Coast Guard.”