Bucks for beacon: City funds $4.5-million rehab of seaport’s lightship Ambrose

South Street Seaport Museum
Glory days: The city has provided $4.5 million to the Seaport Museum to reconfigure the lightship Ambrose to resemble its original design back in the early 20th century.


The city is floating the South Street Seaport Museum a $4.5 million grant for the restoration of the aging lightship Ambrose, one of five historic vessels moored at Pier 16’s Street of Ships.

The 110-year-old Ambrose served New York Harbor as a floating lighthouse from 1908 until 1932, and its beacon heralded the beginning of a new life for millions of immigrants and the end of their harrowing journey across the Atlantic, according to the executive director of the museum.

“The lightship Ambrose is an iconic symbol of New York,” said Captain Jonathan Boulware. “For millions of immigrants, Ambrose was the literal light of liberty. Passing Ambrose lightship meant that you had arrived at America’s shores.”

The $4.5 million in city funding will foot the bill for major mechanical overhauls to the aging ship, which will be reconfigured to match its original design and appearance as a working lightship back when its radiant lamps marked the mouth of the Lower New York bay between Coney Island and Sandy Hook, N.J.

Restoring the old sea gal to her former glory will require installing a fully functional steering system, reconfiguring the lightship’s topside cabins, and constructing new housings for the Ambrose’s all-important lamps, among other, less conspicuous improvements.

Once the restoration is complete, New York will be home to the only lightship of its kind, according to the man heading up the project.

“This is an ambitious project, at the end of which we will have an absolutely unique vessel and the only lightship in its original, as-built configuration,” said Jesse Lebovics, director of historic ships at the museum.

The museum plans to put the restored Ambrose to work as a floating classroom, where locals can be tutored about the watery parts of New York City’s history, with lessons including navigation technology, immigration in New York, and the role the shipping industry has played in the evolution of the greatest city on Earth.

South Street Seaport Museum
The lightship Ambrose marked the mouth of the Lower New York Harbor between Coney Island and Sandy Hook, New Jersey from 1908 until 1932.