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NYC - Roosevelt Island: Lighthouse

This small lighthouse stands at the northern tip of Roosevelt Island on a projection of land which was at one time a separate island connected to the main one by a wooden bridge. Local legend maintains that during the 19th century a patient from the nearby Lunatic Asylum was permitted to build a stone fort on this outcropping since he feared an invasion by the British. When plans were formulated to build the lighthouse, this patient allegedly was persuaded to surrender the fort only after a bribe of bogus money. The tale continues that the patient himself demolished the fort and built the new lighthouse, carving the inscription:


This is the work Was done by John McCarthy

Who built the Light House from he bottom to the Top

All ye who do pass by may Pray for his soul when he dies.


Urban legends usually take root on the heels of some truth, and the warden of the Lunatic Asylum wrote in his 1870 annual report of an "industrious but eccentric" patient who had built a large section of seawall, reclaiming a sizeable piece of land. He further remarked that the patient is "is very assiduous, and seems proud of his work, and he has reason to be, for it is a fine structure, strong and well built." Whether or not this patient served as the inspiration for the structure can be debated, but the asylum's connection cannot be. In May 1872, City officials resolved to "effectually light" the Asylum and the tip of the island. The following September, the lighthouse was completed, with lamps furnished by the U.S. Lighthouse Service. The stone structure was built under the direction of the Board of Governors of the Commission of Charities and Correction, under supervising architect James Renwick, Jr.


The lighthouse is approximately 50 feet tall and is constructed of rock-faced, random gray ashlar. The stone (gray gneiss) was quarried on the island itself, predominately by convict labor from the island's Penitentiary. The lighthouse is encircled by a small yard paved with flagstone. An entry walk at the south is flanked by stone bollards adorned with pyramidal tops carved with simple trefoils. The lighthouse is octagonal in plan and vertically organized according to the tripartite division of the classical column-base, shaft and capital. The base is separated from the superstructure by a series of simple moldings which are interrupted to the south side by a projecting gable above the single entrance doorway. This doorway, which an incised pointed arch above a splayed keystone with flanking corbels, is designed in a rustic version of the Gothic style. The stepped stones of the lighthouse are pierced above the doorway by two slit windows which light the interior staircase. The top of the shaft is adorned with Gothic foliate ornament in high relief, separated by simple moldings from the brackets which support the observation platform. TThe octagonal lantern, originally surmounted by a picturesque conical roof is of glass and steel and is surrounded by a simple metal railing.


The Lighthouse on Roosevelt Island was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1975.


National Register #72000876 (1972)

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Taken on July 21, 2007