L I G H T H O U S E   S E R V I C E   D E P O T

A ship in the harbor is safe, but that's not what ships are built for --John A. Shedd

U.S. Lighthouse Service Depot/Coast Guard's Third District Headquarters, Staten Island, New York

U.S. Lighthouse Service Depot/Coast Guard's Third District Headquarters, Staten Island, New York

explored & photographed by: Shady

One day while meandering around aimlessly in Staten Island, we stumbled onto the vacant remains of the U.S. Lighthouse Service Depot... a really fascinating, historic site that has lain nearly-forgotten by most for many, many years. While there was no way for us to explore the insides of these majestic old structures (the entire place was surrounded by really high fence, and on top of that the lower level entrances had been totally cemented over), their outsides were so intriguing, and the entire place just so... interesting, we decided to just wander through the huge, silent compound to see what we could see...

Located along the North Shore Esplanade, the Lighthouse Depot used to be the central base of operations for the national Lighthouse Board during an era when lighthouses were of vital importance to the security and well-being of the country. The Depot designed and supplied U.S. lighthouses for nearly a century, starting in 1862.

There were so many huge, incredibly designed buildings remaining on the site- my favorite, the elegantly decrepit Administration Building (above & below), is not only on the National Register of Historic Places, it is also a designated New York City Landmark... it's such a very cool looking building. It was built in 1869 for the offices of the Superintendent and Engineer of the Lighthouse Depot and their staff.

And just as historic are the Vaults- the granite masonry storage vaults built into the hillside behind the buildings... they were probably built mid-1870's, and were used for storing volatile lighthouse fuels. On one side of the Administration Building lay the Barracks (below, left 2 pics)- the oldest building at the Lighthouse Depot (built 1864). Behind the Barracks sits the laboratory, a smaller structure that was used by engineers to experiments with different lamp designs and to test fuels...

On the other side of the Administration Building lay the old lamp shop (above, right 3 pics), built in 1868 for assembly and repair of lighthouse lenses- some of which were nearly 18 feet tall and weighed thousands of pounds. It's first floor was built at double-height with semi-circular bays in the floor above so that the gigantic lenses could be assembled and repaired from two levels; the two-story-high windows on the south wall provided much-needed light for the immense workshop.

The new lamp shop (above) was built in 1907 when the depot outgrew it's lamp shop; this huge building had space for blacksmith, tinsmith, and other workshops and storage rooms.

The next intriguing old structure we came across as we wandered through the Depot was the machine shop (above, upper left), which was built in 1912; it was a foundry where lightship anchors, chains, buoys, sinkers, and parts for lighthouse fabrication were made. Looming up behind it, we saw what appeared to be an enormous, spooky deserted condo building (above, lower row). A tattered banner advertising lofts for sale still fluttered from it's wall, despite the obvious, desolate decay of the place; we couldn't find any history on the condo building anywhere, so it's presence and condition remains a mystery.

When we reached the very far end of the esplanade we went up onto a really awesome 'lighthouse bridge' which has unfortunately has been kinda screwed up by the graffiti of vandals, but is nevertheless still pretty neat... great view from up there. As we left the Lighthouse Depot, we looked back and noticed that we could barely see the entire place from the street level, it's really hidden away down by the water's edge and surrounded by overgrown foliage, and a red brick wall studded with iron stars. If you didn't know what was there you might not even give it a second glance, I'm glad we found it and got to check it out. All in all, it was a very interesting place.

In 1939 the Coast Guard took over maintenance of the nation's lighthouses, and thus the duties at the depot. Eventually, lighthouses took on less of a role in navigation aid, and the site became the Coast Guard's Third District Headquarters. It was abandoned in 1968 when the Coast Guard acquired Governors Island. The National Lighthouse Museum now plans to restore the site and establish a lighthouse museum there... check out their site for more details, and lots of fascinating history, including some great old photographs of the Depot.

Do you have any background information or stories to tell about this historic site?

 

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