Staten Island museum aims to be national beacon for lighthouse history

The National Lighthouse Museum on Staten Island on August 3, 2015.
The National Lighthouse Museum on Staten Island on August 3, 2015. Photo Credit: The Public Theater

A new national museum on Staten island has grand ambitions to be a beacon for the history of lighthouses. 

The National Lighthouse Museum on Staten Island marked the official opening this weekend of its 22,000-square-foot educational resource center with a three-day celebration including new exhibitions of optics, lighthouse keepers and artifacts such as a 1920s foghorn. 

Though it has been open to the public since November, the only display on view was of more than 100 model lighthouses donated from around the world. Now the museum is rolling out more of its collection and planning to expand to a second building next door. 

Linda C. Dianto, the executive director of the museum, said the collection will serve to inform people about the critical role of lighthouses in this country. 

“People forget the purposes were for safety and economic development,” she said. 

There are still 600 lighthouses in the U.S. and 15,000 in the world. While many of them are still operating as lighthouses, others are being repurposed and decommissioned, so the museum aims to preserve the history of the waning business that helped guide ships safely to port. 

The museum in St. George — just steps from the ferry terminal — is located at the site of the former U.S. Light-House Service General Depot, which coordinated all supplies and materials for lighthouses across the country. The educational resource center is housed in an old foundry. 

Dianto said that even though the development of the museum has been years in the making, it has now accumulated a large collection and has ambitious plans for the future.

That even includes raising the pieces of the Old Orchard Shoal Lighthouse — ripped from its spot by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 off the Staten Island coast — and rebuilding it at the museum site.