Sunday, July 10, 2011

Montauk

About 110 miles east of New York and about eighty miles east of my house, the oldest lighthouse in the 
state of New York, and the fourth oldest active lighthouse in the United States, flashes its light every five seconds.  According to the website, Montauk Point lighthouse was authorized by the Second Congress in 1792 and construction began on June 7, 1796. Five months later, a completed lighthouse began its official duty.  

Now, with a few recent renovating 'nips and tucks,' she looks pretty good for her 200-plus-year lifespan.  Visitors to the lighthouse museum can view two historic documents acquired by the Montauk Historical Society: One document, actually signed by President George Washington, authorizes the federal government to purchase a tract of land for the lighthouse; the other, signed by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, is the U. S. Congressional authorization to build the lighthouse. 
 
Before you reach the lighthouse, you pass through the village of Montauk.  Montauk derives its name from the Montauketts, a peaceful native tribe. Carbon dated Native American artifacts suggest tribes have inhabited this part of Long Island for over 4,000 years!  Settlers eventually displaced the herding and fishing natives around the 17th Century.  Now, Montauk's lifestyle includes beautiful waterfront homes and spectacular beaches.  Although the purported oldest working cattle ranch in North America [Deep Hollow Ranch] is here and could be a tourist draw, the lighthouse, beaches, and location probably bring more visitors.  

I feel fortunate to have journeyed several times to the easternmost beacon on Long Island.  My first visit a few years ago, by car, was off-season [no Hamptons summer traffic]; I distinctly remember the Indian summer day sitting on the rocks by the lighthouse and feeling the intense waves beating the coast.  Subsequent visits have involved a bicycle.  After cresting a somewhat annoying hill, a cyclist is rewarded with a picture-postcard view, complete with the blue ocean backdrop.  After a few more  [not too flat] miles, you can enter the park that contains the stoic looking old lighthouse.
 
Lighthouses sprinkle the Long Island coast and have also appeared in a few of my blogs.  Not only have they guided sailors, but they have also guided some of my curious choices for destinations here. While researching the history of Montauk lighthouse and the interesting story behind the Historical Society's acquisition of the historical document bearing George Washington's signature, I learned that many people were initially opposed to the construction of the lighthouse.  Apparently, the ship wrecks brought looters to Montauk point, and they profited from selling the purloined booty.  A lighthouse to safely guide ships would have changed their so-called livelihood. [see http://danhamptons.com/content/danspapers/issue35_2007/09.html ]  

As much as we may desire or resist change, it often cycles like the seasons, beyond our control.  My past three years on Long Island have tickled my wanderlust with destinations of history, beauty, and grace. They have also passed in the blink of an eye. At the end of this month I am trading beach sand for Brooklyn brownstones.  As I move closer to the East River, I bring many fond memories of friends and places.  I hope you will continue to share in my adventures.