Montauk Light Will Have New Resident Keeper

Joe Gaviola will soon take up residence at the Montauk Lighthouse. Jane Bimson

Since the Montauk Lighthouse was first lit in April of 1797, 19 civilian keepers, 14 Coast Guard keepers, and one civilian caretaker have lived at the property. The last of these, Marge Winski, was also the longest serving — 31 years — so when she departed last month to trade her Montauk view of the Atlantic for one in Maine, she left some big shoes to fill.

Last week, Joe Gaviola, a longtime member of the Montauk Historical Society’s lighthouse committee, announced that he would step into them. 

“When I heard that Marge was leaving, I put my hand up,” Mr. Gaviola said on Friday. He expects to take up residence later this year after the two-bedroom apartment above the museum gets a few upgrades — it hasn’t been renovated since the 1950s, he said. 

Like Ms. Winski before him, Mr. Gaviola will be the sole occupant at the easternmost property in New York State. Living at the light, which is either fantastically removed or unnervingly remote, depending on whom you ask, has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, it is not as private as some might like. “We get about 100,000 visitors a year,” Mr. Gaviola pointed out. On the other hand, on a quiet winter night, with the wind howling off the water, it could feel a bit eerie. “We have a ghost, Abigail . . . so when you’re out there in February. . . .”

“When I tell people, like 75 percent think it’s fantastic,” he said. As romantic as it sounds to become a lighthouse keeper, it is not a post for everyone, yet Mr. Gaviola knows Montauk and the lighthouse well.

“I really love it up there,” he said. “I’ve been fishing underneath the lighthouse, surfcasting under the lighthouse for about 40 years.” 

Mr. Gaviola is a stockbroker and an investment adviser who works in East Hampton with Janney Montgomery Scott. A former chairman of the now-defunct Suffolk County National Bank, he is now on the New York regional board of People’s United Bank. He served on the East Hampton Town Planning Board and was a vice chairman of the town’s budget and finance committee, among other involvements, “but the one I’ve most looked forward to going to for 20 years now has been the lighthouse. It’s a labor of love.” 

“Joe’s heart is in the lighthouse, there’s no doubt about it,” said Henry Osmers, the lighthouse historian and its assistant director. 

Mr. Gaviola is the director of finance for the lighthouse committee and knows well what it takes to keep it up to landmark status. “There are only eight national historic sites on Long Island that have structures that are landmarks,” he said, a note of personal pride in his voice. The lighthouse, which was commissioned by George Washington as a navigational aid, was named a National Historic Landmark in 2012. 

The historical society has owned the lighthouse property and the buildings on it, including the lighthouse tower, since 1997, but the “actual lighting equipment and fog signal equipment are owned and maintained by the Coast Guard,” Mr. Osmers explained. Technically, Ms. Winski was not a lighthouse keeper in the older sense of the word, and Mr. Gaviola will not be either.

These days, there’s no need for a keeper of the light to carry kerosene up the tower stairs — in fact, the light has been fully automated since 1987. Still, Mr. Gaviola’s presence on the property at the end of each day, all year round, will be an important part of keeping the lighthouse and its museum safe and secure. 

And one of the biggest pluses: You can’t beat the view.