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 Greens Ledge, CT    
Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.
Description: Legend has it that Greens Ledge was named after a pirate Green, who sailed with the infamous Captain Kidd. When Green was captured by authorities of the day, he was reportedly executed and his body hung from the ledge in chains as a dire warning to others thinking of entering the buccaneering trade. Years later a lighthouse would be established on the ledge as a warning to vessels seeking to enter Norwalk Harbor.

Although severely damaged by fighting during the Revolutionary War, the city of Norwalk, Connecticut became a bustling center for shipbuilding, manufacturing, and commercial fishing after the war. In 1826, the Sheffield Island lighthouse commenced operation in Norwalk Harbor, but as the size and number of ships calling at Norwalk increased, additional navigational aids were needed. In 1896, the Lighthouse Board recommended that a lighthouse be placed on Greens Ledge, at the western end of a long and dangerous shoal extending from Sheffield Island. The construction of Peck Ledge Lighthouse just to the north of Sheffield Island was proposed at the same time, along with the placement of five post lanterns to mark the shipping channel in the harbor.

Greens Ledge Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
Congress provided $60,000 for construction of the lighthouse on Greens Ledge in 1899, and the tower, equipped with a fifth-order lens that produced a flashing red light, commenced operation in 1902. No longer needed, the nearby lighthouse on Sheffield Island was discontinued. After just three months of service, the fifth-order lens was replaced with a larger fourth-order lens, increasing the range of the lighthouse.

Greens Ledge Lighthouse typifies a style of offshore lighthouse construction popular between 1871 and 1926. This design consists of a cylindrical cast-iron structure that serves as the keeper’s quarters with a round lantern room sitting on top. Such iron towers are typically perched on a solid foundation provided by a stone or concrete caisson. Because of their shape, these beacons have become known as “spark plug lighthouses.” However, as many of them were built before they invention of the gasoline engine, they were also referred to as “coffee pots” in the early days.

Spark plug lighthouses were normally prefabricated on land, floated to the site, and lowered into place using floating cranes. The iron towers proved to be an efficient and low-cost method of building offshore lighthouses. Most spark plug lighthouses were located in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States, although there was at least one in Texas (Sabine Bank, which was demolished in 2002). Offshore lights such as these required constant and vigilant maintenance, and so before the recent interest in lighthouse preservation, deactivated stations were quickly torn down. Even today, those wishing to restore and maintain a spark plug lighthouse face a daunting task, since the iron buildings rust and deteriorate quickly if they are not regularly painted. The lighthouses are also exposed to constant waves, ice in the winter, and even an occasional bump by a ship, which all take their toll on the structures.

Keepers at Greens Ledge participated in numerous heroic rescues of the victims of boating mishaps in the waters surrounding the station, but one assistant keeper named Frank Thompson found himself in a life-threatening situation one cold winter afternoon in 1917. Thompson had taken a rowboat to shore to get supplies. He left on his return journey at about 1:00 p.m., but was delayed by being forced to detour a number of times around ice floes in the harbor. As darkness approached, Thompson realized that he was still only halfway to the lighthouse, and he became trapped inside a large ice field, drifting with the tide toward open sea.

Fortunately a resident of South Norwalk named Charles Mills had been watching Thompson’s predicament from the shoreline and made some quick calls to the Lighthouse Service and local port authorities. The harbor was completely covered in ice by that time, preventing most vessels from leaving the harbor. Finally, the Bridgeport Towing Company was convinced to send a tug out to try to rescue Thompson, but only after collecting a $50 fee for the service. At 10:30 p.m. the tug located the cold and hungry keeper and returned him to Greens Ledge.

Over time the 62-foot tower settled and began tilting to the point where personnel stationed there complained that the vibrating generators located in the lower portion of the tower caused the furniture to dance across the room to its lowest point. The keepers adapted to the situation by placing the furniture at the lowest point of the room, but the resulting arrangement definitely violated all rules of Feng Shui.

The Coast Guard automated the light and fog signal in the 1960s, but even today a weekend sailor occasionally runs aground on the shoal between the two lighthouses at Greens Ledge and Sheffield Island. The large boulders in the area around Greens Ledge are a favored home for lobsters and blackfish, and so also a favorite for fishermen and divers.

References

  1. The Lighthouses of Connecticut, Jeremy D’Entremont, 2005.
  2. Northeast Lights: Lighthouses and Lightships, Rhode Island to Cape May, New Jersey, Robert Bachand, 1989.

Location: Located one mile south of the entrance to Five Mile River at Rowayton, and just over a mile southwest of Sheffield Island.
Latitude: 41.04165
Longitude: -73.44393

For a larger map of Greens Ledge Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: This light is best seen from a boat. Cruises that pass Greens Ledge Lighthouse are offered by Sound Navigation.

The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Tower closed.

Find the closest hotels to Greens Ledge Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
Greens Ledge Lighthouse can be seen in the movie, "The Thomas Crown Affair," when Thomas Crown is racing his catamaran on Long Island Sound. The view is brief, and others have thought it is Robbins Reef Lighthouse, but the foundation type, caisson versus rock, can be used to distinguish the two lights.

See our List of Lighthouses in Connecticut

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Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.