Another Lost Lightship

In previous research into missing lightships like LV-95, I encountered numerous stories of other sunk or missing lightships. As I had stated in other blog posts, compared to other historic ships, lightships had a comparatively unglamorous history. These vessels were built for a very specific purpose, to be sentinels at sea far from shore, warning others of danger and they did their job. With the last American lightship being decommissioned in 1985, these vessels have long hence been surpassed technologically with the advent of GPS Navigation. The caretaking of these vessels is continued by the work of a few passionate individuals when the public at large has forgotten them or are unaware of them. A total of 179 lightships were constructed in the U.S. between 1820 and 1952 and as of this writing, 9 of those are preserved to this day as museums on both coasts and on the Great Lakes. Comparatively speaking, having nine surviving examples is impressive in of itself and it begs the question: We have preserved nine lightships, is there value in preserving more? This is a question to ponder as this blog dives into the story of Lightship LV-84. The story of LV-84 mirrors that of LV-95 except for the fact that LV-84 had mysteriously met its fate comparatively recently, in a time where the internet exists and people are much more dutiful about documenting the world around them. It’s much more challenging to have a ship disappear without a trace now than it was when LV-95 disappeared in 1966. LV-84 only briefly had status as a museum ship when it was being cared for at the USS Intrepid museum.  For most of its post-lightship career, various owners wanted to use LV-84 as a floating restaurant like the Moshulu in Philadelphia, PA (more on this later). When confronted with the cost of the upkeep of a historic vessel, the restaurateurs quickly lost interest and abandoned the vessel to its fate. As stated at the beginning of the Museum Ships Series, these blog posts are to show these vessels and their history a modicum of respect since they no longer persist, provide insight into what ultimately drove these ships to failure, and learn from their example and LV-84 is a prime example having been so neglected throughout its history.

LV-84 Early in its Career.

Construction and Career

LV-84 was constructed in 1907 at New York Shipbuilding Company in Camden, New Jersey. The vessel was 135 feet long, 29 feet in beam, drafted 12 feet, and weighed 683 tons. LV-84 was constructed with a riveted steel hull and was steam-powered with two 9-foot boilers powering one compound reciprocating engine which turned one propeller 7 feet in diameter. Like LV-95, LV-84 was initially rigged for sail. Its initial lighting apparatus was a cluster of three oil lanterns suspended from both masts. Like all lightships, LV-84 was equipped with a steam fog signal and a fog signal bell. LV-84‘s initial assignment was marking the approaches to Brunswick, Georgia, at the entrance to the St. Simon Sound or the Satilla River in 50 feet of water. LV-84 was distinctive in that for her entire career on the Brunswick station, the hull was painted yellow. During WWI, LV-84 served in the Sixth Naval District as the USS Brunswick and at wars end returned to its original station. LV-84 was eventually equipped with a submarine bell, which was a way to transmit a signal through the water as a warning to passing ships. LV-84 had served on station for 22 years until 1929 when LV-84 was replaced with a whistle buoy. LV-84‘s next duty station was marking the entrance to the St. John’s River in Florida, five miles offshore from Jacksonville, Florida. LV-84 would be the only lightship to ever serve on this station.

LV-84 on St. John’s Station

Beginning in 1929, LV-84 would slowly be upgraded over the next decade. It was eventually equipped with a radio beacon, and its illuminating apparatus was upgraded to electric lanterns. In 1934 LV-84 was repowered with an Atlas Imperial 375 HP Diesel Engine and a new 5-foot diameter four-bladed propeller. The fog signal was upgraded to an air diaphragm horn and the radio beacon was synced with the fog signal. When the US Lighthouse service fell under the auspices of the Coast Guard in 1939, LV-84 had its hull painted red and received its Coast Guard designation WAL-509. During WWII, LV-84 remained on station marking the St. John’s River and was not armed but upgraded with radar in the last year of the war. At some point during this time, LV-84 had its beacon upgraded again to 375mm duplex electric lights. After 20 years the St. Johns River Station was discontinued in 1954 and LV-84 was used as a Relief Lightship for the 6th district, relieving southern lightships such as Savannah, Diamond Shoal, and Frying Pan. In 1960, LV-84 continued to serve as a relief lightship after being transferred to the 3rd district replacing the former Relief Lightship LV-78 which had been rammed and sunk by the freighter Green Bay while the light vessel was on Ambrose station on 24 June 1960.

Sketch of LV-78 wrecked on the bottom.

The remarkable thing is that LV-78′s Commanding Officer Joseph Young was on leave when the LV-78 had been sunk and then became the new Commanding Officer of the LV-84. Another crew member Bobbie Pierce was on watch and sounded the alarm when LV-78 was rammed and was also transferred to LV-84. Pierce always experienced some trepidation while being on Ambrose Station. LV-84 was used in this way until its decommissioning on 26 October 1965. LV-84 had served dutifully for 58 years and was eventually donated to an organization that could put the vessel to good use.

LV84 (1)
LV-84 towards the end of its career

A Series of Owners

After sitting for some time, LV-84 was donated on 7 August 1968 and later towed to Piney Point Maryland to be used as a floating classroom for the Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship for the Seafarers international union. They had apparently dubbed LV-84 “Big Red”. During this time, most of the original interior and fitting were removed, and eventually, its hull was repainted white. In 1987 the school had sold off the lightship where it was towed to Hastings-on-Hudson, New York just south of the Tappan Zee Bridge. These owners had plans to convert the lightship into a floating restaurant but due to bankruptcy these plans never came to fruition. LV-84 was left abandoned tied in a place where it began to deteriorate quickly. Until 1990 when the abandoned LV-84 caught the attention of Jerry Roberts who then was director of the USS Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, he had learned that the vessel was abandoned and its owners were in “some kind of default” and offered to pay the owners $1,000 for LV-84. In 1991, LV-84 was towed to the Intrepid Museum. Things began to look up for the lightship, the vessel had a home at a museum and basic maintenance had begun while the vessel was tied up next to the USS Intrepid.

LV-84 moored at the USS Intrepid Museum

Shortly thereafter in 1993 the USS Intrepid museum was offered the also struggling lightship LV-112 Nantucket which was fully restored and in comparatively better shape than LV-84. In September Jerry Roberts found two buyers for LV-84, Michael Anzalone and Patrick King who also intended on turning the former lightship into a floating restaurant. They paid $20,000 for LV-84 and in October it was towed to Caddell Dry Dock and Repair Company on Staten Island. The hull of LV-84 was in a deplorable state, with much rust and many small holes in the hull. Workers had filled most of the openings, replaced the propeller with a plug, and coated the hull with epoxy and paint. The final cost of work was $33,000 but the restoration of LV-84 was far from over. The owners had paid for the work but then proceeded to leave LV-84 behind at the dry dock. As a busy dry dock that needs all its space for work, they could not have one of its spaces occupied by a ship, so the dry dock owner got someone to tow LV-84 away to the pier of the abandoned Revere Sugar Refinery of Red Hook, Brooklyn.

The Death of LV-84

LV-84 beginning its descent at the Pier of Revere Sugar Company

The lightship was left abandoned and became a focal point for urban explorers. Locals would explore the ruins of the former Revere Sugar Refinery and then continue their tour to the abandoned lightships. As man vessels left abandoned in this way, LV-84 developed somewhat of status amongst the locals of Red Hook. It was left abandoned, hatches and doors were left open, and the light vessel was more of curiosity not something of historical value. Based on images it seems that at some point the entire pilothouse was removed. LV-84 remained floating for roughly three years, it’s uncertain precisely when in either 1996 or 1997, the LV-84 began to take on water. The door in the side of the hull once used to bring supplies aboard was left open, when the surface of the water finally reached that door, that was the point of no return. LV-84 sank next to the pier in 20 feet of water with both of the light masts and at low tide parts of its stack sticking above the water. Eventually, the New York Police Department would use the wreck of LV-84 as a training site for its Search and Rescue divers. The shelter of the Erie Basin and the relatively high visibility and low traffic gave the perfect opportunity for divers to learn in a safe environment. LV-84 had become a shipwreck and remained in place for the next ten years. The site of the former Sugar Refinery became highly coveted amongst real estate developers. Ikea had purchased the Todd shipyards located next to the Sugar Refinery and in the same year, Revere Sugars along with LV-84 were purchased by Joe Sitt of Thor Equities for $40 Million. Historic Preservationists had tried to convince them to preserve portions of the sugar refinery or incorporate the historic architecture into their plans but this never occurred. The Refinery had in fact been previously surveyed for historic buildings. The entirety of the Revere Sugar Refinery that LV-84 was adjacent to was demolished in 2006. At some point in January of 2007 in the dead of night, a crane barge was dispatched and removed LV-84 from her watery grave. Either they had unceremoniously sunk LV-84 somewhere offshore, laid it in another quiet backwater, or LV-84 was quietly scrapped at some unknown yard. There is the chance, however small that the masts were only removed and the wreck (or portions of it) are still in place. The ironic part of the story is that in the thirteen years that have elapsed since LV-84‘s removal and after multiple ideas Thor equities has apparently done nothing with the property as of this writing. LV-84 was apparently not as much as a barrier to progress as initially perceived.

Lightship 84 sunk at the pier of the Revere Sugar Refinery. The Travels of Tug 44.

 Missing Presumed Scrapped

What exactly happened to Lightship LV-84? Unless a member of the phantom crew that removed the wreck and spirited it away comes forward about what happened, its final disposition is unknown. The vessel disappeared without a trace, but it was not the product of a storm or a gap in the historical record such as the case with LV-95, the vessel was left abandoned and then swept away through human agency. LV-84 was already in rough shape leading up to its sinking, all of its original interiors had been removed, and outside of the hull, and very little of historical value remained. Sitting on the bottom would not have done any favors. Salvage would have been costly and challenging but restoring LV-84 may not have been completely impossible. There was the fact that LV-84 was in fact abandoned and it sank after being abandoned, therefore LV-84 could have been protected under the Abandoned Shipwrecks Act. LV-84 was a historic lightship built in 1907, it could have been eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. Much like the Governor McLane of the previous blog post, the wreck could have been incorporated into any plans for development. In the legal vernacular of the Abandoned Shipwreck Act for a wreck to be protected, it has to be “embedded in a state’s submerged lands.” this means that the wreck literally has to be partially buried in the sediment at the bottom of a body of water. LV-84 would have had to be buried in the sediment of the Erie Basin for it to have been lawfully protected if it was just laying atop the bottom, it would not receive the same protection. There would be no way to know for sure unless a diver was sent down to assess the wreck. There is the potential that Thor Equities could have done something illegal when they removed the wreck. Though they were a private entity developing lands they owned with private funds, legally they were not necessarily obliged to be concerned about historic structures on the property they were developing. If Thor Equities were receiving federal or state funds to develop this land it would be a different story, under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, federal agencies must consider public views and concerns about historic preservation when making final project decisions. Sometimes land developers consult with archaeologists even when they aren’t legally obligated to do so and this is called “Good Faith” archaeology and it’s not uncommon, I have personally worked on a few projects that were “Good Faith.” just to make sure that any cultural or historical resources weren’t being affected by their project. Although this blog reached out to Thor Equities for comment, they did not respond to my emails. From the outside looking in, perhaps I don’t know enough about how development and historic preservation occur in New York City. If nothing else, Thor Equities has something to answer for. Additionally, according to a comment on this blog post, the wreck of the LV-84 was removed by Weeks Marine of Cranford New Jersey, and the removal was “No Mystery”.

Postcard of LV-39 Brenton Reef

Adaptive Reuse & LV-39 The Lightship Restaurant

All across the United States historic buildings have been preserved through the strategy that has become known as Adaptive Reuse as a way to conserve it. A few examples from my experience are The Cannery Public Market in Green Bay, Wisconsin is a restaurant, bar, and stores all within a historic 1917 Vegetable Cannery.  There is also the Pratt Street Power Plant located on Pier 4 in downtown Baltimore, Maryland is a former historic power plant that has also been divided up into bars, restaurants, and stores. I’m sure you reading this can name a few examples for yourself. In essence, Adaptive Reuse means that in order to preserve a historic structure you remodel it to be used in a way that was not its intended purpose. The concept of adaptive reuse can be carried on to ships and there is already an existing example in the aforementioned Moshulu. The Moshulu is a four-masted steel-hulled barque built by William Hamilton and Company on the River Clyde in Scotland in 1904. As a windjammer, this vessel was a sailing freighter that eventually in 1970 was purchased and towed to the US from Finland first to South Street Seaport, in New York, and then finally to Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia where it has been ever since. This vessel has no ties to US history but remains a remarkable example of a wind jammer and is preserved purely because it is a high-end restaurant. There were also plans floated to have the SS United States adapted for use as a combination hotel and shopping center. There is a historical precedent of a lightship being reused as a restaurant after it was decommissioned and that is LV-39 Brenton Reef. LV-39 was built in 1875 at Pelham, New York by David Carli. It was wooden-hulled with iron fastenings and the hull was sheathed in copper. LV-39 had two masts and was schooner-rigged and sail-powered. It carried two steam boilers for operating a steam pump and the steam fog signal machinery. LV-39 was in fact the very first Lightship equipped with a steam fog signal. LV-39 had served as a lightship until 1935. LV-39 was stripped of its equipment and sold later that year. For a time afterward LV-39 was “The lightship” restaurant located in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Menu for the Lightship Restaurant
“Lightship” Restaurant. Lightship Alley

Although it wasn’t considered at the time using LV-39 as a floating restaurant made a restaurant in a very unique space that as the menu advertises “real marine atmosphere” and preserved and extended its life far beyond what could be achieved as an early wooden lightship. Although its use as a restaurant did not last forever, it eventually was used as a clubhouse for Coast Guard Auxiliary Lightship Flotilla 1504 and at some point was moved to Boston until 1974, where it was made seaworthy enough to be towed to Beverly, Ma. where LV-39 sank while on its way. LV-39 is still extant as a pretty well-preserved shipwreck in 180 feet of water. In the case of LV-84 being made into a restaurant would not have been a negative way to preserve the vessel through adaptive reuse. It would have made a unique space that would continue to preserve the ship. It could be a possible solution for the currently threatened LV-79 Barnegat, currently sitting in Camden, New Jersey.

Sources & Resources

Cohen, Ariella. History Being Sunk in the Hook. Going Coastal.

Cooper, Taylor. Lightship 84: The First USS Brunswick. The Brunswick News.

Flint, Willard. Lightships of the United States Government

Hampson, Rick. Voices: SS United States, Once Fastest Liner Afloat, Face’s Scrappers Torch. USA Today.

Jamieson, Wendell. A Long Voyage Down to the Bottom of the Erie Basin. The New York Times.

Knauth, Steve. Life on a Lightship. Soundings.

King, Kate. SOS Goes Up to Rescue Ship From Scrap Heap of History. Wall Street Journal.

McCarthy, J.F. LV-84 / WAL-509 Completing the Final Chapter of Her 100 Year History. USCG Lightship Sailors Association

Click to access LV-84%20…%20WAL-509,%20Completing%20the%20Final%20Chapter%20of%20her%20her%20100%20year%20History,%20March,%202013.pdf


Nedeepwrecks. Brenton Reef Lightship.

Northern Atlantic Dive Expeditions. Brenton Reef Lightship.

New Jersey Scuba. Relief – Lightship WAL-505.

National Park Service. NPS Archeology Program: Abandoned Shipwreck Act Guidelines

O’Connell, Gregory. The Story of Revere Sugar in Red Hook and The Rise and Fall of Big Sugar in Brooklyn. Red Hook Waterfront

Plevoets & Cleempoel. Adaptive Reuse as a Strategy Towards Cultural Heritage: a Literature Review. 

Red Hook Water Stories Team. American Molasses – Sucrest – Revere Sugar.

Red Hook Water Stories Team. Lightship No. 84 Sunken Red Hook Landmark

Schmidt Associates. Why is Adaptive Reuse Important in Today’s World?

Tug 44. The Travels of Tug 44: The Wreck of Lightship No. 84

United States General Services Administration. Section 106: National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

SS United States Conservancy.

United States Lighthouse Society. Brunswick Lightship Station (GA)

United States Lighthouse Society. St. Johns. (FL)

USCG Lightship Sailors Association. The Sinking of LV-84.

LV-84 as it sank.

4 thoughts on “Museum Ships: Lightship LV-84 (WAL-509)

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