My wife and I were moving our boat last weekend from her summer mooring in Oyster Bay to winter layup in Cheesequake Creek in Raritan Bay and passed Stepping Stones Light as we rushed to catch a favorable current through Hell Gate.
Even on a gray morning, the lighthouse is very attractive. Built in 1876, it is a Victorian design and has been called New York City’s “cutest lighthouse.” (It is technically just outside New York City.) I am not sure that I would describe it as “cute” but then again, I am not sure that “cute” is a wholly appropriate adjective when describing lighthouses.
The lighthouse marks Stepping Stones Reef, which is part of a group of the twenty nearby islands and rocks referred to as the Devil’s Stepping Stones.
A Siwanoy tribal legend tells that there was a conflict between local tribes and Hobbamock, a powerful manitou, an elemental spirit. Hobbamock wanted to take control of lands in what is now Westchester Country in Southern New York State. The local tribes drove him away with spells and attacks by native warriors. The story goes that Hobbamock was initially trapped on what is now called City Island. To escape, the manitou picked up huge boulders and threw them in the water, which he then used as stepping stones to cross the sound to Long Island.
The Native Americans had no clear concept of “the devil” in their religion but their description of Hobbamock sounded very much like the Christian Devil to the early British colonists, so the twenty or so small islands and rocks became known as the Devil’s Stepping Stones. Alternate versions of the story said that the islands were formed wherever the Devil’s cloven hooves touched the water. The rocks and islands themselves were probably left by glaciers, but the legend of the fleeing Devil makes for a much better story.