Little Gull Island forms the base for the Little Gull Lighthouse, which marks the southern gatepost of that notorious tidal passage known simply, and forebodingly, as “the Race.” Since 1869 the lighthouse has been an aid to navigation, a service to mariners which will continue even as the Federal Government’s General Services Administration carries out the auctioning off of the lighthouse.
For aficionados of lighthouses, this is one of many opportunities to own a private, operational, example of these lonely salients of the sea.
However, the affectation of “lighthouse keeper” not mere facade; the Coast Guard will retain rights of access to maintain the facility as an active aid to navigation. What’s more, for the seeker of a lone and quiet existence on an isolated island, there is a precaution: on foggy days Little Gull Lighthouse sounds a resounding foghorn every fifteen seconds, as warning to mariners. And sometimes the horn sounds continuously in perfectly clear weather.
Noises aside, there is much to spark the curiosity and imagination of those who are drawn to images of life tied inextricably to the sea, whether the ties be real or gossamer strands of dreams.
The island is an acre in size, enough land, really, for a man to live. Thoreau had, after all, a bare acre, and he had not the sea’s abundance to draw upon. Seven miles separate the island from Orient Point on Long Island; but a mere four-tenths of a mile lie between Little Gull and the vastly larger Great Gull Island.
The latter, home to critical and fragile nesting grounds for terns and other seabirds, has been a beneficiary of decades-worth of study and care. The American Museum of Natural History maintains dorms for staff, students, and volunteers who count the seabirds and clear the grasses to make nesting more productive.
Helen Hays has directed this research work since 1969; but of Little Gull Island itself she says, “it is not a significant habitat” for the species of seabirds common to the region.
“Great black-backed gulls nest on Little Gull,” she says, “as well as herring gulls, double-crested cormorants, and possibly a pair of oyster catchers.” However, she adds, “we of course would prefer that a private owner not have loud parties, lights, or loud music during May, June, July, or August.” Such unnatural additions to the soundscape would only cause stress for the nesting seabirds, who face enough human-borne stresses already.
A further caveat for the would-be lighthouse owner: these are historic landmarks, and so must be maintained in keeping with their original design and construction. Not, one may presume, that a stone and brick structure which has already survived some 143 winters, countless storms, gales, and hurricanes, represents a particularly high-maintenance undertaking. Major re-constructions would be another matter, though, what with the cost of cross-seas shipping and unloading.
This is why most lighthouse sales go to non-profit groups interested in maintaining these historic structures, whose genesis is linked directly to Alexander Hamilton. In 1789 Hamilton lobbied for a national lighthouse construction and maintenance program, another act of remarkable foresight by an American founding father.
There is still time to enter a bid for this historic lighthouse, for which bidding at press time had reached $60,000. Further information can be found at www.gsaauctions.gov, or call 617.565.5700.