Preservation Issues

Continued Assistance to Historic Sites - Six Months After Sandy

Alice Austen House, Staten Island

Alice Austen House, Staten Island

Alice Austen House (back view facing water)

Alice Austen on a fencepost; taking a photo

Interior, Alice Austen House

Alice Austen's grandfather

Photograph from the collection of Alice Austen

Robbins Reef Lighthouse, Upper New York Bay

Robbins Reef Lighthouse circa 1950

Lighthouse floorboard

Lighthouse door

Interior, Robbins Reef Lighthouse

Robbins Reef Lighthouse

Six months after Hurricane Sandy, the Conservancy awarded two additional Emergency Grants bringing the total given to $164,000. The latest grants went to two historic sites associated with remarkable women, the Alice Austen House Museum and the Noble Maritime Collection’s Robbins Reef Lighthouse.

Alice Austen House, 2 Hylan Boulevard, Staten Island
This National Historic Landmark overlooking the Narrows was the home of one of America’s earliest and most prolific female photographers. Named “Clear Comfort” by her grandfather, the historic two-story house is a museum dedicated to Alice Austin’s work. The original one-room Dutch Colonial house was erected in the 1690’s and gradually enlarged.

In 1844, it was acquired by Alice’s grandfather who remodeled it in a picturesque Gothic revival style. The house features a long porch facing the waterfront and a high shingled roof with gingerbread trim on the overhanging eaves and along the roof ridge. It is beautifully sited on a slight rise and commands a stunning view of the entrance to New York Harbor. Alice Austen’s photographs guided the restoration of the house and gardens after it was acquired by the City.

Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge did not quite reach the house but it came very close and thoroughly soaked the grounds, leaving moisture trapped in the basement where the photography collection is stored. The collection consists of glass plate negatives as well as original prints. A $10,000 grant will help move the collection to safe storage and repair the basement.

Noble Maritime Collection’s Robbins Reef Lighthouse, Upper New York Bay.
The lighthouse is a National Register property that dates from 1883. Hurricane Sandy blew in exterior and interior doors, and two feet of water entered, ruining floor boards, a generator, and other parts of the structure. The Conservancy’s emergency grant of $10,000 will be used primarily to replace the wooden floors.

A well-preserved example of an offshore “spark plug” style lighthouse, Robbins Reef’s primary historical significance lies in the story of Katherine Walker, who took over lighthouse duties when her husband John died in 1890. Mrs. Walker was one of a handful of women lighthouse keepers. During her tenure at Robbins Reef, she rescued 50 people from the waters around the lighthouse and rowed her two children to and from school on Staten Island.

The 49-foot structure is made of cast-iron and lined with brick. The first and second floors comprised the family’s living area, and many of the original architectural details, such as curved windows, closets, and shelves, remain.
The Noble Maritime Collection, a museum located in Sailors Snug Harbor, took ownership of Robbins Reef Lighthouse in 2011 from the Federal government. The Museum’s mission is to “celebrate the people and traditions of the working waterfront.”


Click here for more information about our Post-Sandy emergency assistance.

Learn more about Alice, watch our Tourist in Your Own Town video and then plan your visit.

Tourist In Your Own Town #19 – Alice Austen House from New York Landmarks Conservancy on Vimeo.