To fresh eyes viewing the serene 72-foot tall lighthouse from a rented barge, it is hard to connect the picture with the mental image conjured by the phrase “execution rocks.” Yet, that is the name of this island about one-and-a-half miles north of the tip of Port Washington.
The Execution Rocks Lighthouse, which one can tour for $75 during some summer weekends, offers its share of intrigue. The ominous name stems from the era of American Revolution – and careful students of social studies will remember that the New York area was generally loyal to the crown. Some say that in 1775, when Great Britain disciplined colonists by executing them on the mainland, the locals were upset, so the British instead put them to death by tying their bodies to Execution Rocks at low tide. As the legend goes, the tide slowly came in, and the people drowned.
But that folklore hasn't prevented one couple, Craig Morrison and Linell Lukesh, from trying to restore the lighthouse. They jumped at the opporunity to do just that when, under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, the lighthouse became “excess.” That meant that as a locally historically significant site, Execution Rocks could be given to a non-profit or community organization. So Morrison and Lukesh formed Historically Significant Structures Inc., and became responsible for the lighthouse.
“The miracle is, if you believe in miracles, is that Linell and I are the only ones to apply for this lighthouse,” Morrison said.
"Look at this," he added, pointing to Sands Point. “These are multimillionaires. This is the Gold Coast of Long Island.”
The lighthouse, Morrison said, is not built on the actual execution rocks. In 1840, granite was imported from Manhattan to create a suitable place for a lighthouse, designed by Alexander Parris. For the next several decades, the light keeper lived in the actual lighthouse, until 1867 when the light keeper’s house was built adjacent.
Restoring the lighthouse is an ambitous undertaking, the couple concede.
“All the characteristics of the lighthouse have to be preserved,” Lukesh said.
The two hope to renovate Execution Rocks into a bed and breakfast within the year, through state grants, private donations, and money from visitors. Currently, Execution Rocks has been in somewhat disrepair since the U.S. Coast Guard left it in 1978.
Anyone interested in visiting Execution Rocks can go on alternating weekends (see schedule here.) The barge leaves from the at 10 a.m. Spendthrifts among us will appreciate knowing that everyone paying the cost of the trip gets a tax receipt because it is a historic landmark.
Visitors climb to the top of the lighthouse and can explore the light keeper’s house and surrounding area. The excursion has enough room for around a dozen people, and the setting is certainly very hospitable. Expect a warm reception and friendly conversation from everyone aboard.
“I have a passion for water and for boats, so what better place for me?” said Susan Bodossian, who works for Port Washington Taxi, which ferries tourists to the Execution Rocks Lighthouse. “After working in the city all week, this is a great place to be on the weekend.”
For special occasions, or just a day trip with friends, Execution Rocks Lighthouse is an excellent choice.