150th Anniversary Celebration for Fire Island Lighthouse

Poster for 150th Anniversary Celebration of Fire Island Lighthouse.

On November 1 & 2, 2008, Fire Island National Seashore and the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society will be hosting two days of special events and activities to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the lighting of the present Fire Island Lighthouse.

You're invited to join the festivities and celebrate the longevity of this significant cultural resource along the south shore of Long Island, New York.

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Learn More About the Fire Island Lighthouse


On Saturday, November 1, maritime-related exhibits, special programs and demonstrations, tours, music, children’s crafts, and a special birthday cake are some of the highlights of the day. Parking is available at Robert Moses State Park Field 5 (a small fee is charged for parking). A free shuttle is available from the parking lot to the Fire Island Lighthouse on Saturday from 10 - 5, or you may take the ¾-mile boardwalk trail to the lighthouse.

Arrive early and catch the 9 a.m. ranger-guided bird walk, or tour the exhibitor tent and Keepers Quarters museum, which open at 9:30 a.m. Tower tours and other programs begin at 10 a.m. and run throughout the day. The special recognition ceremony will be held at 1 p.m., followed by the cutting of the birthday cake.

Poster for Fire Island Lighthouse Junior Ranger Day.

On Sunday, November 2, the celebration continues. The focus of Fire Island Lighthouse programs on Sunday is on the future stewards of our resources. Activities will be offered especially for children from noon to 4 p.m.

Kids can participate in ranger-conducted programs or complete workbooks to earn their own Fire Island National Seashore Junior Ranger patch or badge.

The new Fire Island National Seashore Advanced Junior Ranger activity booklet will be available.


View from wooden platform, lighthouse on the horizon.
Arrive early and learn about the natural history of Fire Island. The 9:00 a.m. bird walk makes a stop by the hawk watch platform, where you can see the Fire Island Lighthouse in the distance, and perhaps spot a passing raptor or passerine.
Historic drawing of first Fire Island Lighthouse.
The first Fire Island Lighthouse was constructed in 1826. The 74-foot high, cream-colored octagonal structure was made of Connecticut River blue split stone. It was built on the east side of the Fire Island Inlet, on approximately 31 acres of land transferred from the State of New York to the federa

Plan Your Day — Discover More Than One-and-a-Half Centuries of Maritime History

On Saturday, November 1, arrive early to catch a Fire Island naturalist-guided bird migration walk at 9 a.m.

Meet Park Ranger MaryLaura Lamont at the east end of Robert Moses State Park Field 5 parking lot, and stroll along the beaches, boardwalk and trails to the Fire Island Lighthouse.

This 2-hour program includes a stop at the hawk watch platform staffed by the Fire Island Raptor Enumerators.

Birds, butterflies and dragonflies are not the only things that migrate on Fire Island. When the first Fire Island Lighthouse was constructed in 1826, it was built on the western end of Fire Island beside the inlet. Since that time, the barrier island migrated westward for more than five miles until the Fire Island Inlet was stabilized in the 1940s.

Historic image of Fire Island Lighthouse and Surf Hotel, as seen from the bay.
In 1857, at the recommendation of the United States Light House Service (USLHS), construction began on a new Fire Island Lighthouse just east of the first Fire Island Lighthouse. That same year, the David Sammis transformed his chowder house into the new Surf Hotel, which could accommodate 100 guests.The Surf Hotel was expanded to accommodate 400 guests in 1870.

When the new Fire Island Light was activated on November 1, 1858, its larger 168-foot-tall tower was painted a cream color. In 1891, the Fire Island Lighthouse exterior was changed to its new day marks: bands of white and black, which we still have today.

In 1892, during a cholera epidemic in Europe, the Surf Hotel was sold to the State of New York to house quarantined immigrants arriving by ship to the port of New York City. In 1908, New York Governor Charles E. Hughes established the first state park in New York on the 125-acre Surf Hotel property.  The hotel was destroyed by fire before 1917.

Wooden Western Union Tower on barrier island with Fire Island Lighthouse in background.
During 1868-1870, the Western Union Telegraph Company constructed a signal tower (marine observatory) and telegraph station near the Fire Island Lighthouse, between the Surf Hotel and the ocean. Members of the Western
Union Telegraph Company’s marine service watched for approaching ships, then alert

While at the Field 5 parking lot, look for the Great South Bay Amateur Radio Club. Members will be transmitting to other radio operators around the world, carrying on another historic use of the Fire Island Light Station.

From the parking lot at Field 5, it’s a ¾- mile stroll down the boardwalk to the lighthouse.

The Fire Island Lighthouse museum and the exhibit tent will open at 9:30 a.m.

The free shuttle bus service starts at 10 a.m., when the special programs and demonstrations, tours, music, and children’s activities begin.

While you tour the historic grounds of the Fire Island Light Station, you can catch a morning performance of sea chanteys by a new local group, the Shipmates, at 10:30 a.m. inside the lighthouse. Or be serenaded by the West Islip String Ensemble while sitting on the lighthouse terrace. Both groups are donating their time and talents in support of the Fire Island Lighthouse celebration.

Under the exhibitors’ tent, make your rounds to learn more about the area's rich local maritime history, and the partnerships that are helping preserve and promote your enjoyment of maritime resources on Long Island’s South Shore.

  • The Long Island Maritime Museum plans to have a table-top display at the Fire Island Lighthouse on November 1.
  • The Long Island Chapter of the United States Lighthouse Society will also be there, along with
  • Long Island Traditions (with information about its upcoming Maritime Film Festival), and more.
  • Traditional maritime crafts, such as decoy carving by local artisan Jamie Reason, will be demonstrated.

Authors Vivian Farrell and Robert Muller will also be at the event, signing their books which may be purchased at the book store/gift shop.

Life Saving Station on island.
In 1871, the U. S. Life-Saving Service was established. The USLSS built the first of its formal lifesaving station on Fire Island near the Light Station in 1878. The statio moved to another neraby site in 1893. In 1915, the USLSS merged with the U. S. Cutter Revenue Service to form the U. S. Coast Guard.

Other organizations involved in the history of lifesaving include the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, with their boating safety exhibit and Fire Island National Seashore’s new Bernie the Boater Junior Ranger booklet.

Another significance of the Fire Island Light Station has been communications, and the Long Island Wireless Historical Society is expected to be under the tent. The nearby Surf Hotel became the site of the New York's first state park on Long Island, when Fire Island State Park opened in 1908.

Also on hand under the tent are organizations that help promote this and other special sites along the Great South Bay. The Fire Island Lighthouse and Robert Moses State Park are both recognized as designated Bayway Destinations within the South Shore Estuary Reserve. A new tourism group called Explore the South Shore will be available with additional information.


Also at the special event on November 1 will be former and current members of the United States Coast Guard. Weather and resources permitting, you may walk to the Great South Bay at noon to see them in action. They hope to demonstrate a simulated helicopter/water rescue. A rescue boat will be on display.

The U. S. Coast Guard has a long history on Fire Island.

In 1915, the U. S. Life-Saving Service merged with the U. S. Cutter Revenue Service to form the United States Coast Guard. In 1920, the U. S. Coast Guard at Bay Shore, New York, established U.S.C.G. Station No. 83 on the Fire Island Light Station tract. Following the Reorganization Act of 1939, control of the Fire Island Light Station was transferred from the Bureau of Lighthouses to the U. S. Coast Guard.

In 1934, after completion of a new U.S.C.G. Station near the Robert Moses Causeway terminus, Station No. 83 was gradually abandoned. Fire Island National Seashore was established in 1964, and gradually began using the lighthouse property.

On December 31, 1973, the U. S. Coast Guard decommissioned the Fire Island Lighthouse, and turned off its beacon. In 1976, management of the Fire Island Light Station tract was transferred to the National Park Service.

On May 25, 1986, the light of the Fire Island Lighthouse was relit, having been recommissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard following the restoration of the Fire Island Lighthouse.

In January 2006, the U.S. Coast Guard transferred ownership of the Fire Island Light Station beacon to the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society, to be maintained and operated as a private aid to navigation.


Plan to spend some time at the children’s craft tables, where kids can create their own aquarium in a plate, a lighthouse, keepers’ hat, message in a bottle, sand art, and more.

Tower tours, which allow you to climb 192 steps to the gallery at the top of the lighthouse, are reduced to $2/person during this event.

The bookstore at the base of the lighthouse in the Keepers Quarters Museum is stocked with an abundance of items to help you remember your visit.

For that special souvenir, pick up a copy of Vivian Farrell’s Robert’s Tall Friend (the official book of Suffolk County, Long Island, New York, and the official children’s book of the Town of Babylon) or Robert Müller’s Long Island Lighthouses.

Authors of these two engaging books, which feature the Fire Island Lighthouse, will be on hand to sign copies of their book. Members of the Norris family, main characters in Robert’s Tall Friend, are also expected to be here for the celebration. All sales help support the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society, which was formed in 1982 to help restore and preserve the deteriorating lighthouse, and which is now the official National Park Service cooperating association that keeps the Fire Island Lighthouse open.

To help you find your way around the festivities and answer your questions, dedicated National Park Service volunteers who regularly work at the Fire Island Lighthouse will be on hand.

Patchwork quilt with nautical patterns and images.
The winner of this beautiful custom-made quilt will be announced after the ceremony. Lighthouse volunteers Doris and Sue created the handcrafted 65"x80" work of art this past year. 

Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society

Special Programs Conducted Throughout the Afternoon

A brief recognition and awards ceremony, escorted in at 1 p.m. by Boy Scout Troop #46 from Massapequa, New York, will honor the Fire Island Lighthouse and its partners. Bundle up and welcome our distinguished speakers as they share their appreciation of this nationally significant cultural resource. Respresentatives from local, county, state, and federal offices are expected to speak. The Presidential Volunteer Service Award will be presented during this ceremony.

Afterwards, you can enjoy a very special birthday cake created by the Suffolk County Community College Culinary Arts Program.

Soda and hot dogs will be available, as long as supplies last.

While the exhibitors are still under the tent, formal programs continue throughout the afternoon.

  • At 2 p.m., Fire Island’s Living History Timeline will be presented on the lighthouse terrace. This custom program will take you from the beginning of the barrier island’s human occupation to the present day.
  • At 2:30 p.m., you can retreat to the Keepers’ Quarters to meet a Fire Island Lighthouse Keeper’s Family, with Marilyn and Gottfried Mahler. The Mahlers actually lived in the lighthouse from 1948 – 1954, and gladly share their experiences as the keeper and his family.
  • At 4 p.m., you can end your day by learning what life is like on Fire Island in Winter, presented by a Fire Island National Seashore seasonal ranger and year- round Fire Island resident.

A free shuttle will be provided from Robert Moses State Park Field # 5 during Saturday’s event, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. A small parking fee ($6/car) is charged, but there is no entrance fee for this event.

Last updated: January 29, 2019

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