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Sixty-Something: The Lighthouse At Cedar Point

T.J. Clemente

The lighthouse was built with strong steady local stone, showing off the wealth the whaling trade was bringing to the old former Indian village. (Photo courtesy of the author)

I love sailing past the many lighthouses on the East End. One I see almost every day is the Cedar Point/Island Lighthouse technically in East Hampton, but for years the gateway to Sag Harbor.

According to Judge Henry Hedges, a 19th century expert on East End history, "The Lighthouse on Cedar Island was unknown until about 1838." Others claim it was originally built in 1839 and then altered in 1868 some 30 years later to look like it does today. Back then it was situated on a small island until the hurricane of 1938 turned into a point by hurling sand between the island and the end of the main land. The torch that so many whaling captains and crew saluted either coming home or embarking on long whaling excursions - some taking as long as three years - is now gone. Back then Sag Harbor, due to the red hot whaling trade of the early to mid-1800s, was one of the world's leading ports. Then one day whale oil, once so rare, was not needed. When kerosene was distilled from crude oil for the first time up in New Haven (Yale) around 1868 it was used to light the lamps whale oil once lit.

The large stoned lighthouse was not built like the usual tall cone ones like the Montauk and Fire Island lighthouses. Instead it was built with strong steady local stone, showing off the wealth the whaling trade was bringing to the old former Indian village.

Even today many sailors on their way from East Hampton's Three Mile Harbor must negotiate the tricky current, narrowness and lack of cooperative wind when sailing through what is now not Cedar Island, but Cedar Point. Deactivated in 1934, during the height of the great depression, the Coast Guard has installed the green blinking light on a steel tower that I have watched blink every six seconds when I sail home from Sunset Beach on Shelter Island after watching the sunset. Often the dark outline of the lighthouse at Cedar Point looks like the silhouette of a ghost with its giant windows closed up with cinder block like bricks. A far cry from the mammoth granite squares used to build it.

Once the first step to the Atlantic Ocean, it is a relic of a time when the custodians first had to light the whale oil and later kerosene and eventually flick the light switch. Every few years folks preach restoration, but over the last 20 years all the money raised has never gone into the lighthouse. Politicians a few years back had photo opportunities to say it would become a bed and breakfast, now two years later it still stands as a ruin of opulent whaling times now very much in the past.

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