The lighthouses of Southold Town and three ways to see them up close

Orient Point Light at dawn. (Credit: Rick Berk)

Cross Sound Ferry is introducing a new way to explore Long Island’s historic lighthouses this summer, joining other local companies and non-profits that host lighthouse tours. 

Starting in June, the company will offer lighthouse cruises from its Orient Point dock. The two-hour tours take passengers to view six lighthouses and other points of interest. Highlights include North Dumpling Light, which supposedly helped signal to liquor smugglers during Prohibition.

“It’s a unique way to get out on the water,” said Stan Mickus, director of public affairs and marketing at Cross Sound Ferry. “You have the opportunity to get up close and learn the compelling histories of these lighthouses.”

The Long Island Lights Cruise takes passengers out toward Plum Gut for an afternoon aboard the ferry service’s high-speed SeaJet. The modern catamaran is equipped with two enclosed air-conditioned decks and a spacious outdoor deck for viewing the scenery.

The new tours are the company’s first lighthouse cruises to depart from Orient Point. Since 2015, Cross Sound Ferry has been operating two other lighthouse tours from its terminal in New London, Conn. The two New London packages are the Classic Lighthouse Cruise, which ferries passengers to nine lighthouses, and the Lights and Sights Cruise, which tours waterfronts from Watch Hill, R.I., to Fishers Island. Long Islanders who purchase tickets for these tours receive a free ride from Orient to New London.

“There is a tremendous amount of interest in these lighthouse tours … We figured, ‘Why not open it up to the Long Island side as well?’ ” Mickus said.

While GPS has largely taken over the functionality of warning sailors about dangers ahead, these beacons are a connection to our nautical past and continue to draw visitors every year.

The East End Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation in Greenport has long offered guided tours to Bug Light. The nonprofit restored the beacon in 1990 after it was destroyed 30 years earlier.

Proceeds from the outings help maintain the structure. Starting in mid-May, the museum’s Bug Light Cruise and Tour returns to take passengers on a narrated excursion to the iconic North Fork landmark.

“Our narrators then have everyone go inside, close their eyes and listen — it takes them back to a time with no cellphones, so they can imagine what it was like being a lighthouse keeper,” said Jen Curtin, director of the East End Seaport Museum. “It’s what differentiates our cruises from others. It brings maritime history to life.”

Another local lighthouse cruise option was added in 2017 when Captain Will Lieblein launched Peconic Cruise Line. Two-and-a-half-hour tours aboard the historic Peconic Star II are an opportunity to see Orient Point Lighthouse and Bug Light.

“People like the history,” Lieblein said. “I personally have a soft spot for Bug Light. The fact that it was restored is a testament to the way people feel about lighthouses.”

His Greenport tour company will start offering lighthouse tours in mid-June, in addition to a wide variety of other options, ranging from yoga cruises to seal-watching expeditions. He’ll also partner with the East End Seaport Museum on special four-hour lighthouse tours during the summer.

Cross Sound Ferry’s Long Island Lights Cruise will run Thursdays through Sundays from June 28 to Sept. 3. All cruises depart at 1:45 p.m. from the Cross Sound Ferry dock in Orient. Reservations are strongly recommended.


Want to know more?

Cross Sound Ferry

41270 Main Road, Orient

631-323-2525

longislandferry.com

East End Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation

Third Street, Greenport

631-477-2100

eastendseaport.org

Peconic Cruise Line

Railroad Dock at the foot of Third Street, Greenport

631-901-7899

peconiccruiseline.com 


Southold Town has more lighthouses than any other township in the country — get to know them with our quick guide before you board:

Credit: Jeremy Garretson

Long Beach Bar “Bug” Lighthouse

Commonly referred to as “Bug Light,” the Long Beach Bar Lighthouse is a cornerstone of local maritime history. The original structure was built in 1870 and earned its nickname because it resembled a giant water bug at high tide.

The lighthouse was destroyed by arsonists in the 1960s, but in 1990 it was restored by the East End Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation, which maintains the property in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard.

Credit: Vera Chinese

Orient Point Lighthouse

Orient Point Lighthouse was built in 1899 to guide mariners through the riptides and strong currents in Plum Gut. The circular cast-iron and brick-lined structure, dubbed “The Coffee Pot,” was scheduled to be torn down in 1970 but was saved by the public. Today, it is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Credit: Carrie Miller

Plum Island Light

Nineteenth century sailors enjoyed nicknaming lighthouses. Plum Island Light is also called Plum Gut Light. The tower was built in 1826 and powered by candlelight. It was decommissioned in 1978 and replaced by an automatic beacon a few miles away.

Credit: Jeremy D’Entremont

North Dumpling Lighthouse

The red brick lighthouse was constructed in 1849 on the north side of Fishers Island and has been helmed by colorful characters through the years. Its keeper was accused of signaling to liquor smugglers during Prohibition. In 1896, the inventor of Segway purchased the property, dubbing it the sovereign “Kingdom of North Dumpling,” according to the East End Seaport Museum.

Credit: Jay Petersen

Latimer Reef Lighthouse

Latimer Reef is the oldest cast-iron lighthouse still in service in the Northeast. The spark plug lighthouse in Fishers Island Sound was lit in 1884, automated in 1983 and sold for $225,000 in 2010. The U.S. Coast Guard still continues to maintain the lights.

Credit: Jeremy D’Entremont

Race Rock Lighthouse

Race Rock marks a dangerous location off the coast of Fishers Island, where hundreds of shipwrecks are believed to have occurred. It took seven years to build the lighthouse in part due to dangerous riptides that plague Race Rock Reef. The lighthouse is claimed to be the site of paranormal activity and was featured on a 2004 episode of “Ghost Hunters.” (If you believe in that sort of thing!)

Credit: Kickstand

Little Gull Island Lighthouse

Originally lit in 1806, the British seized control of Little Gull Island during the War of 1812 and forced the keeper to extinguish the light. The current Little Gull light was built in 1868.

Credit: Katharine Schroeder

Horton Point Lighthouse

There’s no need for a boat to tour Horton Point Lighthouse. The historic 58-foot tower is accessible off Lighthouse Road in Southold. The lighthouse was commissioned in 1790 under George Washington, but wasn’t constructed until 1857. It’s listed on both the national and state registers of historic places.

One Comment

  • My ancestors were keepers of the Plum Gut Light for 43 years in the late 19th and early 20th century. Thank you for any photos — I will never set foot there, living a continent away. And so photos are very welcome.