In 1792, President George Washington authorized the construction on the Montauk Lighthouse and it became operational in 1797. Built on the Turtle Hill plateau, the Lighthouse was originally almost 300 feet from the bluff. Over the next 200 years, over 200 feet of Montauk Point washed into the ocean, at its worst losing 2 feet every year.
In 1967, the U.S. Coast Guard began "de-manning" lighthouses, replacing them with automated beacons, with plans to "de-man" nearly ⅔ of all lighthouses along the Eastern seaboard, Montauk Lighthouse among them. Over the next two years there were protests by thousands attempting to get the Coast Guard to change their decision and in 1969, they succeeded - the Coast Guard rescinded the order. Now the lighthouse may have been saved from man but Mother Nature was still a real and pressing threat.
Enter, a little old lady from "up island". Giorgina Reid (age 60) had saved her house, on a 95-foot cliff in Rocky Point, from falling in to the sea by building terraces on the cliff face and planting them with "reeds, phragmites and beach grass". She proposed this Japanese plan for "stopping the sea" in Montauk, and with no opposition from the Coast Guard but no real aid either, Giorgina, her husband and a handful of volunteers began terracing and planting on the cliff face of Montauk Point on the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970. Their work kept the lighthouse from falling into the sea by protecting the cliff face, but the ocean could still undercut their plantings. In 1992, a necklace of big boulders was installed around the base of Montauk Point replacing one dating back to 1946 that was failing. Together the plantings and the necklace have nearly arrested the erosion of Montauk Point.
Giorgina and "her gang" were out on the cliff face for 15 years and others including the Coast Guard have taken up the work and maintenance since. Thanks to Giorgina Reid, Montauk Lighthouse was saved but Mother Nature is a force to be reckoned with and there's now a need to add boulders to the revetment around Montauk Point.
Montauk Lighthouse became a National Historic Landmark in 2012 and is beloved by all of us who live on the East End. This rocky point is enjoyed by families, surfers, and fishermen. We are thankful that the lighthouse and "point" are still with us and fully appreciate what could have happened to this landmark as we see the inroads erosion is making year after year on the cliffs in nearby Camp Hero.