The current Fire Island Lighthouse, completed in 1858 with a state-of-the-art revolving first order Fresnel lens and Funck hydraulic lamp using whale oil, had a focal plane of 166 feet above sea level, so that this light could be seen from ships at least 21 nautical miles at sea. This was a part of a national initiative to improve maritime safety. It is significant today as a symbol of the commercial and maritime heritage of the United States, and the evolution of communication and navigational technologies. The Fresnel lens helps tell that story.
This original first order Fresnel lens, an intricate beehive-shaped mass of brass and glass prisms, served as a beacon to mariners from the top of the Fire Island Lighthouse from 1858 to 1933. After being taken out of service, it was displayed at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia from 1939 to 2000.
A "Return of the Lens" has long been envisioned. In 1986, Fire Island National Seashore (FINS) identified the lens as an important artifact that was envisioned for inclusion in the park's cultural history collection. When the lens was slated for removal from the Franklin Institute in 2000, FINS and FILPS began formal discussions with USCG for the transfer of the object to the National Park Service (NPS) on a long-term, renewable loan. By 2001, more than 30 crates of the disassembled lens were being stored by the NPS, awaiting construction of a suitable display facility.
On March 8, 2011, the Fire Island Light Station's first lighting apparatus - now more than 150 years old - made its way back to Fire Island...still in crates. Its future home, an intriguing new building designed specifically to display the impressive 16-foot-tall artifact, was completed in 2011.
The Fresnels Lens Building was open to the public in July, 2011. The new facility is open during regular hours for the Fire Island Lighthouse, which is operated by the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society. There is no charge to enter the Fresnel Lens Building, but an interpretive fee is collected for lighthouse tower tours.
For more information, please call 631-661-4876.