The deep and narrow gap between Orient Point and Plum Island is called Plum Gut, and at ebb tide, the waters of Long Island Sound rush through at currents exceeding five knots, creating a churning mix of white-capped waves and dangerous riptides that is a challenge for even the most experienced mariners. Oyster Pond Reef, a dangerous obstacle lying just beneath the surface of the water, extends from Orient Point one-third of the way across Plum Gut, making the passage even more treacherous.
In 1855, the Lighthouse Service had a daymarker of the following description placed on a large boulder on the west side of the passage: “A wrought-iron beacon had been designed for this locality, and the iron-work manufactured, under a previous superintendence, composed of a centre shaft seven inches in diameter, rising thirty feet above low water, surmounted with a basket-formed cage-work. Five iron posts, five inches diameter, being established regularly around it at the distance of three and a half feet, and rising to the level of high water, to the tops of which the centre shaft was to be braced by iron stayrods, one inch and three-quarters diameter, the heads of the former being connected by similar rods. All these posts intended to be sunk in the rock by drilling three to four feet.”
The “uncommon hardness of the rock” and the “derangement of the temporary staging, caused by a trading vessel running foul of it in the night” delayed the completion of this beacon, and then in 1896, it was carried away by ice. At first, plans were made to upgrade the daymarker with a simple light beacon and fog signal costing $5,000, but after considerable debate, it was decided to build a caisson tower composed of curved cast-iron plates, bolted together through flanges on the inside of the plates. On June 4, 1897, Congress provided $30,000 for the lighthouse, which was erected right on the reef, out at its far end, where it would be most beneficial to mariners.
Construction began in October 1898, but it turned out to be the stormiest autumn in decades. Forty-eight prefabricated steel plates making up the lower part of the foundation had been barged to the site, fastened together and sunk into place on October 24. Three days later, a strong gale swept the entire caisson off its base and destroyed it, ending construction until the following spring. The lighthouse was completed in 1899 and exhibited its red light from a fifth-order lens for the first time on November 10th of that year. The new beacon proved too dim and was upgraded to a fourth-order lens on May 1, 1900. A blower siren, consisting of two, two-and-a-half-horsepower oil engines, a blower, a siren, and a trumpet, went into operation on June 1, 1900, and in 1905, the fog signal was upgraded to a second-class Daboll trumpet. Read more