City Ventures Fund

Conservancy Grant Helps Restoration of 19th century Windows at Historic Lighthouse

Conservancy Grant Helps Restoration of 19th century Windows at Historic Lighthouse
Conservancy Grant Helps Restoration of 19th century Windows at Historic Lighthouse

July 2016

Eight windows from the 1883 Robbins Reef Lighthouse in the North Bay of New York Harbor are undergoing restoration by a master carpenter thanks to help from a $10,000 Conservancy grant. The Lighthouse is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The 49-foot Lighthouse is made of cast-iron and lined with brick. The first and second floors served as the lighthouse keeper’s living area, and many of the original architectural details remain, such as curved windows, closets, and shelves.

Roger Charles Sherry of Plank Road Studios in Virginia is restoring eight, double-hung original windows. (see video). The windows were sealed by the Coast Guard in 1966 when it vacated the Lighthouse, protecting the windows from complete deterioration.

The work includes: stripping multiple layers of paint, filling bolt holes, leveling divots and cracks with epoxy, inlaying Dutchmen into the split, broken, and damaged woodwork, replacing missing mullions bottom rails, and other elements of the windows, and weather stripping. Glass panes are being restored where possible.

Vacant for many years, the Lighthouse has been owned since 2011 by the Noble Maritime Collection, a museum located in Sailors Snug Harbor. In 2013, the Conservancy provided an emergency grant of $10,000 to repair the wood floors of the lighthouse, which had been damaged by Hurricane Sandy. The Noble organization is now restoring the lighthouse as funding becomes available and with dozens of volunteers.

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. His last words to her were, “Mind the light, Kate.” In 1894 the Lighthouse Board officially appointed her keeper, and she maintained the light station from 1894 until 1919.

Mrs. Walker is one of a handful of women lighthouse keepers. During her tenure at Robbins Reef, in addition to her duties as keeper, she rescued 50 people from the waters around the lighthouse and rowed her two children to and from school on Staten Island. She was paid $600 a year.