Location: Located in New York Harbor just off the
northern tip of Staten Island.
Latitude: N 40.65741
Longitude: W 74.06538
Year Constructed: 1883. Active
Tower Height: 45 feet Focal Plane: 56 feet
Cast iron sparkplug tower with lantern and double gallery, incorporating 3-story keeper's quarters, mounted on a granite caisson; 300 mm lens. Lower half of lighthouse painted brown, upper half white, lantern black.
* The original lighthouse was an white, octagonal stone tower built in 1839.
* In 1883 the tower was replaced by the present 46 foot, cast iron 'spark plug' tower built atop a granite foundation situated a few yards south of the old tower.
* It was first lit on July 10th, 1883 and showed on a focal plane of 56 feet.
* A fourth order Fresnel lens was installed in the tower in 1855.
* Automated in 1966.
In 1839, the first lighthouse to mark this navigational hazard was constructed: an octagonal stone tower, painted white, that stood atop a stone base. The light, which originally consisted of nine lamps in fourteen inch reflectors, had a focal plane of sixty-six feet. A fourth-order Fresnel lens was installed in the tower in 1855.
In 1883 a four-story, iron sparkplug tower was erected. The bottom story served as a kitchen and dining room, and was originally encircled by a partially enclosed porch. A pair of bedrooms was located on the second floor. To give the tower a distinctive marking, the top half was painted white and the bottom portion brown. Just west of the tower, a small breakwater formed a protective cove to help the keepers reach their sanctuary in rough seas.
Many people still refer to Robbins Reef as “Kate’s Light” because of its connection to Kate Walker, principal keeper at the isolated lighthouse from 1894 to 1919. She served as principal keeper in spite of the fact that government regulations did not allow women to be in charge of an offshore lighthouse. When she retired after 19 years of service, she was asked about her difficult, isolated, and dangerous life. Her modest reply was “It isn’t much of a story. Just keep the light burning and the fog-bell wound up and the siren ready all the time. That’s all.”
Although Kate had capably served as assistant keeper, the position of head keeper was only offered to her after two men had turned down it down. Perhaps the Lighthouse Service doubted a petite, 4'10" woman, with two dependent children, could handle the job - and a tough job it was. Every day, Kate would row her children to school, record the weather in the logbook, polish the brass, and clean the lens. At night, she would wind up the weights multiple times to keep the fourth-order lens rotating, trim the wicks, refill the oil reservoir, and in times of fog, she would have to start up the steam engine in the basement to power the fog signal. As her son John matured, he started to help with the tasks and was later made an assistant.
Besides keeping the lighthouse in fine order, Kate also rowed out to assist distressed vessels and is credited with having saved fifty lives. Most of her rescues were fishermen whose boats were blown onto the reef by sudden storms. Kate observed, "Generally, they joke and laugh about it. I've never made up my mind whether they are courageous or stupid. Maybe they don't know how near they have come to their Maker, or perhaps they know and are not afraid. But I think that in the adventure they haven't realized how near their souls have been to taking flight from the body."