A look at the mysterious Gothic lighthouse that stands at the tip of New York City’s Roosevelt Island.

Did a lunatic named Thomas Maxey build the lighthouse? If so, why did a now-missing stone say that an unknown person named John McCarthy built it? Or was it designed by 19th century starchitect, James Renwick, Jr, who was also responsible for St. Patrick’s Cathedral?

There isn’t a lot of good information about this online, but a deep dive into newspaper archives had helped get some answers. Chris shares some theories about the lighthouse, as well as more about the industrious “lunatic,” Thomas Maxey, who may have had a hand in its construction.

Highlights include:
• More about Fort Maxey
• James Renwick, Jr, architect of St. Patrick’s Cathedral
• Drama with the US Lighthouse Board
• Plenty of wild speculation

Pictures of The Roosevelt Island Lighthouse

The Roosevelt Island Lighthouse

Seen from the ferry, October 2020

The Roosevelt Island Lighthouse

Seen from the ferry, October 2020

The Roosevelt Island Lighthouse

Sign at the Roosevelt Island Lighthouse, May 2020

The Roosevelt Island Lighthouse

Bollard at the Roosevelt Island Lighthouse, May 2020

The Roosevelt Island Lighthouse

Doorway of the Roosevelt Island Lighthouse, May 2020

The Roosevelt Island Lighthouse

Roosevelt Island Lighthouse, May 2020

The Roosevelt Island Lighthouse

Foliate details, Roosevelt Island Lighthouse, May 2020

The Roosevelt Island Lighthouse

Roosevelt Island Lighthouse, May 2020

 
The Roosevelt Island Lighthouse

The lighthouse seen from Hallet’s Cove, Astoria, November 2020

The Roosevelt Island Lighthouse

An 1851 nautical chart showing what the northern tip of Blackwell’s Island looked like, overlaid on the island on Google Earth

The Roosevelt Island Lighthouse

What the northern end of Roosevelt Island looks like today

You can listen to more audio on our patreon ($3/month): https://www.patreon.com/buriedsecrets

Follow us on instagram @buriedsecretspodcast

E-mail us at buriedsecretspodcast@gmail.com

 

 

Sources consulted RE: The Roosevelt Island Lighthouse

See the A Victorian Lunatic’s Fort: Fort Maxey, Blackwell’s Island, NYC, for additional sources for this episode.

Videos of The Roosevelt Island Lighthouse

Thomas Edison’s 1903 video of Blackwell’s Island, including the lighthouse.

Articles consulted RE: The Roosevelt Island Lighthouse

  • The Chicago Evening Mail (Chicago, Illinois) · Thu, Dec 29, 1870 · Page 3
  • https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/668142082 Downloaded on Oct 29, 2020
  • The Meriden Daily Republican (Meriden, Connecticut) · Thu, Jul 23, 1874 · Page 3. https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/674763408 Downloaded on Oct 29, 2020
  • The St. Albans Weekly Messenger (Saint Albans, Vermont) · Fri, Jul 31, 1874 · Page 6 https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/443287342 Downloaded on Oct 29, 2020
  • “Facts and Fancies” The Milwaukee Sentinel: July 31, 1874. Page 3.
  • Boston Post (Boston, Massachusetts) · Sat, Jul 25, 1874 · Page 4 https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/74392312 Downloaded on Oct 29, 2020
  • Wayne County Herald (Honesdale, Pennsylvania) · Thu, Aug 6, 1874 · Page 1
    https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/362447557 Downloaded on Oct 29, 2020
  • Fort Maxey, Wednesday, July 19, 1865, New Haven Palladium, 25 , Issue 179
  • The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · Wed, Jul 19, 1871 · Page 8 https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/167861583 Downloaded on Oct 29, 2020
  • Black River Gazette (Ludlow, Vermont) · Fri, Jan 13, 1871 · Page 1
    https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/355365618 Downloaded on Oct 29, 2020
  • The Times (Streator, Illinois) · Wed, Sep 11, 1889 · Page 1
    https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/543479332 Downloaded on Oct 29, 2020
  • FOR HARBOR IMPROVEMENTS: SACEESTIOUS AT A MEETING OT THE PILOT COMMISSIONERS
    New York Times (1857-1922); Dec 30, 1896; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times with Index pg. 8
  • A Blackwell’s Island Stampede. New York Herald. April 30, 1873
  • Paid for Twice. The Evening World (New York, New York) · Wed, Apr 24, 1889 · Page 1 https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/78637510 Downloaded on Oct 30, 2020
  • In the Court of Special . . . New York Tribune. August 8, 1870
    “On a flagstone in front of the lighthouse. . .” New York NY Press 1909 – 1257

Books consulted RE: The Roosevelt Island Lighthouse

Websites RE: The Roosevelt Island Lighthouse

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bollard

  • Dock Construction Guide

  • Sticks & Stones – A Traditional Les Cheneaux Crib Dock Replacement Project

  • https://web.archive.org/web/20090517003017/http://nyc10044.com/timeln/timeline.html

  • The Lighthouse

  • https://gothamist.com/news/the-strange-history-of-nycs-mighty-hell-gate

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hell_Gate_Bridge

  • https://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/HellGateRooseveltIsland-uscs-1891

  • Current nautical chart: https://charts.noaa.gov/BookletChart/12339_BookletChart.pdf

  • https://lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=75

  • https://www.liboatingworld.com/single-post/2018/05/30/Exploring-NYs-East-River-Some-of-Its-Rich-History

  • https://www.us-lighthouses.com/blackwell-island-lighthouse

  • The Lighthouse

  • https://rioc.ny.gov/179/The-Lighthouse

  • Mysteries of Roosevelt Island: The Madman’s Lighthouse

  • http://www.correctionhistory.org/rooseveltisland/

  • http://www.correctionhistory.org/rooseveltisland/html/chapincards4.html#lite2

  • http://www.correctionhistory.org/rooseveltisland/html/rooseveltislandtour_lighthouse.html

  • https://daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com/2010/10/mysterious-blackwell-island-lighthouse.html

  • The Lighthouses of NYC

  • https://rihs.us/2020/09/

  • https://www.stonehengenyc.com/blog/Roosevelt-Island-Day-Trip?_escaped_fragment_=#!

  • Lighthouse Park Roosevelt Island 900 Main Street New York, NY 10044

  • https://www.nps.gov/places/blackwell-s-island-new-york-city.htm

  • Lighthouse pics: https://www.loc.gov/item/ny0953/

  • Landmarks commission report: http://www.neighborhoodpreservationcenter.org/db/bb_files/LIGHTHOUSE-ROOSEVELT-IS.pdf

  • https://rihs.us/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/2018-August-Blackwells-Almanac.pdf

  • Tuesday, September 1, 2020 -SOME WONDERFUL LIGHTHOUSES NEARBY

  • The Lighthouse

  • https://joebrunoonthemob.wordpress.com/tag/the-whyos/

  • https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/mill-rock-park/history

  • https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/podcast/july17/nop08-historical-maps-charts.html

  • 1903 pic of lighthouse and island:
    https://picryl.com/media/panorama-of-blackwells-island-ny

  • 1886 map: https://picryl.com/media/blackwells-wards-and-randalls-islands-and-adjacent-shores-of-east-and-harlem-31f143?zoom=true

  • http://www.correctionhistory.org/rooseveltisland/html/rooseveltislandtour_lighthouse.html

  • http://americanyc.org/documents/10184/57129/AYC+2013+Spring+Cruising+Notes+Final.pdf/6594f92b-dc97-46ad-95fb-d6ee8c5a8b38?version=1.0

  • https://libraetd.lib.virginia.edu/downloads/1z40kt09r?filename=Dissertation_final_Libra.pdf

  • Report of the Welfare Island Planning and Development Committee : submitted to John V. Lindsay, Mayor, City of New York, February 1969. by Welfare Island Planning and Development Committee. https://archive.org/details/reportofwelfarei00welf/page/30/mode/2up?q=mccarthy

     

  • https://rioc.ny.gov/DocumentCenter/View/56/New-York-1960s-Chap-8-PDF

  • https://daniel-lanciana.medium.com/new-york-icons-harbor-islands-cdfe3097c66c

  • To Be Sane Amongst the Insane

  • http://www.asylumprojects.org/index.php?title=Blackwell%27s_Island_Asylum

  • CHARLES DICKENS VISIT • AN ISLAND IN THE MIST • ARTWORKS FOR SALE

  • Nellie Bly: Charles Dickens’ Visit to Blackwell’s Island Asylum 1842 – Part 4

  • https://www.melinadruga.com/blackwellsislandasylum/

  • ROOSEVELT ISLAND 2005

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackwell_Island_Light

  • https://lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=753

  • https://vos.noaa.gov/MWL/aug_07/hellgate.shtml

Listen to the Ouija board series:

Don’t miss our past episodes:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *