The National Lighthouse Museum concept was born out of the need to educate and preserve the navigational history of lighthouses being lost due to modern technology such as GPS’s, solar panels etc. As these structures become obsolete, their desirable locations drew developers eager to build on the magnificent sites.
In the 1940’s, the Shinnecock Light, on the south shore of Long Island, became unstable and U.S. Coast Guard safety concerns initiated the process of having it removed. Despite the desire of local residents to preserve the lighthouse, the iconic structure the lighthouse was demolished and eventually replaced by a golf course.
In the early 1980’s, concern for the fate of many lighthouses around the country led to the founding of the Lighthouse Preservation Society (LPS), a national organization based in Rockport, Massechusetts, in 1982, with James (Jay) Hyland III serving as its first Chairman. Noted Lighthouse Historian and author Ross Holland was an early force in this effort. Holland shared his dream of a National Lighthouse Museum in the forward of his classic book, America’s Lighthouses: An Illustrated History.
A similar fate to that of the Shinnecock Light seemed inevitable for the famous Fire Island Light in the 1990’s, when it too was targeted for destruction and development. The local community came to the rescue and the Fire Island Light Preservation Society saved the iconic structure from the wrecking ball.
The threat of destruction of the Fire Island Light, and many other of these fabled landmarks created a groundswell of public support for the preservation of lighthouses. Similar rescue efforts around the country, inspired the creation of a American Lighthouse Coordinating Committee whose purpose was to find a site for a prestigious national museum that would be entrusted to preserve such history for generations to come. LPS Chairman Paul C. Cabot, Jr. and Executive Director Valerie Nelson ensured that adequate funding for the selection process was provided by the Lighthouse Preservation Society, and participated in the selection process.
In 1998, the ALCC issued a nation-wide Request for Proposals (RFP) for a National Lighthouse Center and Museum. Seventeen proposals were submitted from groups around the country. After a series of presentations and deliberations, the former site of the U.S. Lighthouse Service (USLHS) General Depot at St. George, Staten Island, was selected as the winner.
The site was selected from the many deserving entries considered because of its historic significance and because of its high profile location in one of the busiest harbors in the country. The USLHS General Depot was established on the site in 1864. The Depot served as the central lighthouse technology and operations center for the entire country. In its heyday, the Depot consisted of eighteen buildings and a series of piers designed to design, fabricate and repair the components of the powerful lights that served to keep ships from harm’s way. This activity included experimentation on lamps, illuminants, and the all important Fresnel lenses.
The site’s location adjacent to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal was also a primary consideration in the selection. Millions of tourists automatically became potential museum visitors due to the location’s close proximity to the Ferry Terminal.
The opportunity to have a NATIONAL level museum on Staten Island and the cultural and economic opportunities of luring tourists off the Staten Island Ferry inspired the support from New York Governor George Pataki, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Borough President Guy Molinari, who provided over $7 million dollars to begin the renovation of the site.
The National Lighthouse Center and Museum was issued its Museum Charter by the NYS Board of Regents on November 9, 2001.
After a number of years of inactivity, a new Board of Trustees and a group of Museum Advisors and Friends have revived the Museum. A lease agreement has been signed for the Museum’s Educational Resource Center in Building 11 and limited exhibit fabrication and interior construction are underway. Fundraising efforts continue to be critical to the success of our new museum. With the help of generous donations and a cadre of loyal volunteers, the NLM team is moving forward to build and operate the museum in a way that will make all of New York proud.
National Lighthouse Museum Chronology
21-22 MAR 1997 – Representatives from the major lighthouse preservation groups in the United States hold a retreat to discuss the feasibility of a National Lighthouse Center and Museum. Additional meetings were held October, 1997, March, July and October 1998
1 JUN 1997 – American Lighthouse Coordinating Committee announce in a news release “Request for Expression of Interest” with desired “criteria” for the establishment of a National Lighthouse Museum. The news release was sent to all lighthouse preservation organizations in the United States, placed on the INTERNET through the National Park Service’s National Maritime Initiative, distributed to the Associated Press, all State Historic Preservation Offices in states with lighthouses and the National Trust for Historic Preservation which placed the release in their Forum Journal and Newsletter. Articles about the site selection process were published in the Boston Globe, Soundings, Fire Island Light, Bulletin of the U.S. Lighthouse Society, and Beacon, among others.
1 SEP 1997 – Deadline for receipt of “expressions of interest.” Ten formal “expressions of interest” and four informal or incomplete submissions were received. The completed submissions were from: City of Havre de Grace, MD; Town of Gay Head, MA; Town of Hull, MA; New Bedford, MA; City of Ludington, MI; Mackinaw Area Historical Society, MI; New York Harbor Lights (Staten Island), NY; Salmon River Lighthouse, Inc. NY; Saugerties Waterfront Project Team, NY; and Town of Narragansett, RI. After the deadline New London, CT. and Rockland, ME submitted submissions, which after much dispute were allowed to be included in the evaluation process. Based on a weighted criteria score, six of the above were selected for site visits: Hull, Mackinaw, New London, Narragansett, Rockland and Staten Island.
18 MAR 1998 – “Adaptive Reuse Proposal and Cost Analysis Former U.S. Third District Lighthouse Depot” completed by Pokorny Associates, Inc. et. al. Work contracted under New York City Economic Development Corporation.
27 MAR 1998 – Several Steering Committee members meet with Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari. The Staten Island group obtains a commitment of $1.2 million from discretionary funds of the Borough President, and $3.8 million from City and State funds.
21 AUG 1998 – The National Lighthouse Center and Museum produce “U.S. Lighthouse Depot, St. George, Staten Island, National Lighthouse Center & Museum: The Winning Plan.” The plan includes the entire depot property with an estimated capital cost of $17.67 million.
OCT 1998 – Staten Island unanimously voted as the home of the National Lighthouse Center and Museum. The American Lighthouse Coordinating Committee (ALCC) was established to continue cooperation between lighthouse preservation organizations and to foster preservation of lighthouses.
2000 – The National Lighthouse Center and Museum produce “National Lighthouse Center & Museum: The Site & The Buildings; Past, Present & Future
SEP 2002 – Lewis P. Johnson is hired as Executive Director of the National Lighthouse Museum. Under his leadership an exhibit plan for the Machine Shop was developed and an educational bus acquired and used for museum outreach programs.
20 JAN 2003 – 100% construction documents for Phase 2 Building No. 11 interior build out and site utilities upgrade is completed by Pokorny Associates, Inc. et. al. Work contracted under New York City Economic Development Corporation.
JAN 2005 – Jerry Roberts becomes Executive Director.
SEP 2005 – New York City Economic Development Corporation requests proposals for development of the depot site.
04 OCT 2006 – Staten Island Advance publishes article “Squandering a Treasure.” Discusses history of project and lack of progress of the museum and recent zoning issues.
JAN 2007 – New Executive Director Neil Cortell is hired.
14 SEP 2008 – Staten Island Advance publishes article “Lighthouse Museum Board is Ready to Give Up.”
19 SEP 2008 – Lighthouse Action Mobilization Planners (LAMP) group is begun through a grassroots effort of Ron Meisels to establish community support through a petition drive.
18 DEC 2008 – New York City Economic Development Corporation holds a meeting with Staten Island Borough President’s Office, Office of Council District 49, and members of the Board of the National Lighthouse Museum to update interested parties on the status of the museum project. NLM agrees to provide an updated strategic plan and capital development plan. Little if any work is accomplished.
APR 2009 – New York City Economic Development Corporation selects Triangle Equities Corporation to develop the Staten Island Depot Property. The National Lighthouse Museum is reduced from full development of the historic property to two buildings (Machine Shop, Bldg 11 and Lamp Shop, Bldg. 10).
11 JUN 2009 – Staten Island Advance “Letter to the Editor” publishes article “Death Knell for Lighthouse Museum is Premature” written by Ron Meisels on behalf of the LAMP group.
12 NOV 2009 – Article appears in Staten Island Advance re: “Leading the Way for a Lighthouse Museum” about Ron Meisels grassroots efforts to keep it open.
19 NOV 2009 – Linda Dianto, Vice President of the Grasmere Civic Association contacts Ron Meisels and they collaborate to begin the formation of the Friends of the National Lighthouse Museum & Waterfront Center.
15 May 2010 – On behalf of the newly established NLM Friends group, Linda Dianto & Frank Ninivaggi make a presentation to the ALCC Executive Board regarding the progress made and request a Letter of Support to maintain the Staten Island site’s “National” status.
5-13 JUN 2010 – The NLM Friends group makes first public appearances on site over two weekends, during ART at the Ferry Festival, receiving positive feedback from community.
JUN 2010 – Department of Education informs the NLM FRIENDS Group that the Museum Charter has expired. Linda Dianto immediately begins the process of petitioning Albany to revive the NLM.
7 JUL 2010 – Eight Board members hold the first meeting signing and notarizing the petition.
9 JUL 2010 – Petition sent to Department of Education to go before Board of Regents in September, 2010.
14 SEP 2010 – NYS Board of Regents approves the provisional Charter of the National Lighthouse Museum for the next five years.
01 JAN 2011 – First fundraising event to raise one million dollars, in one year to open Building #11 by 2012, is held at the home of Linda Dianto.
Winter 2011 – The new team works to restore credibility of the NLM Board in the eyes of the local community, elected officials, maritime historical associations, and within the Lighthouse community. New members sign on, a new website is established, and new brochures are printed and distributed.
NLM gains stature as presentations were made to numerous organizations, clubs, and senior centers; NLM marched in several parades; and was represented at numerous local events & festivals.
The NLM Educational Lecture Series begins with six vibrant maritime topics including Lighthouses on SI; History of the Fresnel Lens; Costa Concordia – Why?; Titanic- 100th Anniversary; The War of 1812 and the Role of the Lighthouse; the Story of the Staten Island Light and the History of the Site.
JUN 2011 – Lighthouse Boat tours are instituted successfully, viewing Lighthouses in the Harbor and New Jersey – becoming a successful fundraising opportunity to sustain the Museum…Several Board members become volunteer lighthouse narrators on the boat tours.
14 JUN 2011 – First Light Keeper’s Gala is celebrated, honoring the memory of Joseph Esposito, keeper of the Staten Island Light, preserver of the Battery Weed/Fort Wadsworth Light and who identified and researched the NLM site confirming it as the original home of the USLHS; the Sandy Hook Pilots were also honored as the last occupants of the site. Event held at The Vanderbilt on the boardwalk in South Beach.
2-4 AUG 2011 – First weekend in August is established as Lighthouse Weekend – Celebrated with a Baseball Game at the Richmond County Ballpark; a Lecture, site walks, participation in a maritime festival and a lighthouse boat tour.
11 SEP 2011 – NLM successfully hosts “ BEACON: Artists Respond to 9/11 (Curator: Sarah Yuster)” in Bldg. #11
11 DEC 2011 – Successful fundraiser held at the Richmond County Ballpark – honoring the 125th Anniversary of the Statue of Liberty.
15 May 2012 – Borough President’s Office sends letter in support of NLM.
20 May 2012 – 1st Official NLM Sponsored Lighthouse Boat Tour.
12 JUN 2012 – Board of Trustees holds Annual Meeting and hires Linda Dianto as NLM Executive Director. Jack Vokral becomes President of the Board of Trustees.
14 JUN 2012 – Second Light Keeper’s Gala held at the Richmond County Country Club, honoring, the USCG’s Aids to Navigation Team – Modern Day Light Keepers; The Staten Island Advance with the “Wind in Our Sails” Award and the memory of Frank Schubert, Keeper of the Coney Island Light for 43 years; last civilian light keeper nationwide, retiring after 66 yrs.
14 JUN 2012 – A Request for Proposals (RFP) for St. George Waterfront Arts & Cultural Use is issued by NYCEDC, with a deadline for submissions of July 31, 2012.
30 JUN 2012 – World Lighthouse Society sends a letter supporting the establishment of NLM in Building 11.
10 JUL 2012 – Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership (LHSA+DP) is hired to assist in the filing of the NLM proposal to the NYCEDC.
4-5 AUG 2012 – Lighthouse Weekend involving site tours; a lecture by Wayne Wheeler, renowned maritime historian, from North Carolina to discuss the NLM site; and a lighthouse boat tour.
9 AUG 2012 – Start of “Wall of Lights” Campaign seeking $1000 for sponsorship of lighthouses to be displayed in a feature exhibit in the museum.
25 AUG 2012 – NLM Lighthouse Hunt & Beach Party; co-sponsored with the NYC Parks Department to be held at the Midland Beach and Picnic Grounds with world-famous sand sculptor Matt Long, from the Travel Channel, building a Lighthouse sand sculpture.
29 OCT 2012 – Hurricane Sandy floods Staten Island waterfront including Building 11. Old Orchard Lighthouse is swept away by the storm surge.
17 APR 2013 – 1st Official walking tours of the site begin.
8 JUN 2013 – NYCEDC sends Letter of Intent (LOI) to NLM to establish National Lighthouse Museum Educational Resource Center in Building 11.
12 JUN 2013 – Third Annual Light Keeper’s Gala at the ABOVE Rooftop in the Staten Island Hilton Garden Inn. NLM honors Kingsborough Community College and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Peter Samton of Gruzen Samton Architects, is guest speaker. John Catsimatidis, chairman of the Gristedes Supermarket chain and the son of a lighthouse keeper, is honorary chairperson for the event.
12 JUN 2013 – Mr. John Catsimatidis donates matching gift challenge of $100,000 to the National Lighthouse Museum at the Gala event. Read more in Staten Island Advance…
DD JUN 2013 – NLM and NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) sign to letter of intent for lease of Building 11. Terms stipulate that the Museum must raise $350,000 in order to be considered for a lease of the building. Read more…
DD FEB 2014 – NYCED announces NLM will be issued a lease for Building 11. NLM “soft-opening” is targeted for 7 August 2014, to coincide with the 225th Anniversary of the signing of the National Lighthouse Act of 1789 by President George Washington. Read more…
21 FEB 2014 – NLM enters into project agreement with Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership (LHSA+DP) to begin design of Phase 1 of planned Building 11 interior spaces and exhibits.
28 APR 2014 – NYCEDC and Triangle Equities Announce Commencement of Transformative Staten Island Development Lighthouse Point. Plans include the National Lighthouse Museum.
1 JUL 2014 – NLM hires Claire Wilbert as first Curator and Site Manager.
7 AUG 2014 – Lighthouse Weekend festivites commence. 300 Museum supporters and guests celebrate 225th Anniversary of the National Lighthouse Act on the plaza with sneak peek at the interior of the NLM Educational Resource Center. Wall of Lights Exhibit and USPS First Day of Issue stamps are on display.
8 AUG 2014 – 4th Annual Light Keeper’s Gala onboard M/V CORNUCOPIA DESTINY. Over 200 guests attend dinner cruise in upper NY Harbor. The Modern Day Light Keeper Award is presented to Wayne Wheeler, President and Founder of the US Lighthouse Society, celebrating its 30th Anniversary. Louis Bauchan of the Point Betsie Michigan Light, the last Lightkeeper under the USLHS, is awarded the Past Lightkeeper Award. The award is accepted by his son, Michael Bauchan of Michigan. Major supporters New York State Assemblyman Matt Titone, the Catsimatidis Family and the Ritter Foundation are honored with NLM Wind In Our Sails Awards.
9 AUG 2014 – Lighthouse Weekend wraps up with a panel discussion on “Lighthouses in the 21st Century”. Distinguished lighthouse experts, Wayne Wheeler (US Lighthouse Society), Eric Martin (Florida Keys Reef Lighthouse Assoc.), Lens Preservationist Jim Dunlap, and Michael Allen (Hunting Island Light, Beaufort SC) provided the attendees with insight into the status of lighthouse preservation projects around the country.
13 AUG 2014 – Official NYCEDC Hearing for the lease of Building 11 by NLM.
22 SEP 2014 – NLM President Jack Vokral signs a lease with the City of New York for occupancy of Building 11. With key finally in hand, Executive Director Linda Dianto and Curator and Site Manager Claire Wilbert open the doors to the future of the National Lighthouse Museum’s Educational Resource Center. Folding chairs and tables are set up and operations began immediately with laptop computers and cell phones.
4 OCT 2014 – Noted local Historic Preservation Architect Mark Anderson makes first educational presentation in Building 11. Mr. Anderson discusses the “History of the US Lighthouse Depot at St. George,” featuring many historic images of the site. Following the presentation, Mr. Anderson leads attendees on a tour of the grounds for a closeup view of the buildings and features of the site.
4 OCT 2014 – New York State Assemblyman Matthew Titone announces grant of $300,000 to the NLM. Read more…
1 NOV 2014 – New expanded NLM website is launched.
7 AUG 2015 – Musuem opening and ribbon cutting ceremony