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 Fayerweather Island (Black Rock Harbor), CT    
A hike of some distance required.
Description: Black Rock Harbor, with its deep port sheltered by Fayerweather Island, was a developing shipping center in the 18th century, and it seemed only natural to build a lighthouse on the island to guide ships into the harbor.

The first Fayerweather Island Lighthouse, a 40-foot octagonal wooden tower, was built in 1808 on a 9 ½ acre tract of land purchased from David Fayerweather the previous year for $200. It was only the second site to be purchased for the purpose of a lighthouse on Western Long Island Sound. The keeper’s dwelling was originally a 1 ½ story home which had a kitchen, living room, and one bedroom. Over time, it would grow to eleven rooms. The first keeper, John Maltbie, died only five months after coming to the station.

Despite the short tenure of the first keeper, the position at Fayerweather Island rarely turned over, with only seven keepers in its 125 years of operation. Isaac Judson, the second keeper, served from 1808 to 1817, then the position went to Stephen Moore. Two years later, Keeper Moore was injured, and unable to tend the light. He remained the official keeper for fifty-two more years, until his death at age 100. Tending the light, without title for all those years, was his daughter Catherine.

Fayerweather Island Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
Catherine began assisting her father in lightkeeping duties at age twelve and was fourteen years old when her father became disabled, and she took on his duties. She would continue as official keeper after his death, until she retired in 1878. She died in Bridgeport at age 95. Not only did she keep the light burning, but was also credited with saving twenty-one lives during her sixty-two years at the light.

In an interview at age 84, she recalled keeping the light, “Our house was forty rods (about 700 feet) from the lighthouse, and to reach it I had to walk across two planks under which on stormy nights were four feet of water, and it was not easy to stay on those slippery, wet boards with the wind whirling and the spray blinding me.”

The storm tossed seas wrecked havoc on September 3, 1821, as a hurricane ripped through the island. The winds were so furious that “every vessel went ashore in this harbor . . . the Lighthouse laid flat.” The lighthouse was destroyed. It would take two years to construct a new one. The builder of the new light, a 41’ tower made of coursed sandstone ashlar with rubble mortar, claimed it would “withstand the storm of ages.” Edmund Blunt, in American Coast Pilot, disagreed, stating, “a more contemptible Lighthouse does not disgrace Long Island Sound, most shamefully erected and badly kept.” The tower has survived storms and vandals for over 180 years.

The lifesaving beam was first cast by a whale oil spider lamp, the old apparatus from Stratford Point. It was upgraded to a system with eight lamps and parabolic reflectors in 1830 but the light was barely visible in hazy conditions. In 1854 a fifth-order Fresnel lens was installed.

After Catherine retired, a new keeper’s dwelling was built in 1879. The next keeper, Leonard Clark, was a Civil War Veteran and former whaling captain. He served as keeper for 28 years, until his death in 1906. Once again, a woman took over the duties. His wife, Mary Elizabeth Clark was named keeper, until his replacement, John D. Davies, arrived 2 months later. Davies, a veteran of the Irish Lighthouse service, would be the last keeper, serving until the lighthouse was officially discontinued on March 3, 1933.

Congress deeded the lighthouse to the City of Bridgeport in 1934, but over time it became the victim to the elements and vandalism. The keeper’s dwelling burned to the ground in 1977. In 1983, Friends of Seaside Park and the Black Rock Community Council showed interest in the structure, and began restoration and preservation efforts, but sadly the tower was once again neglected and vandalized.

Two citizens of Bridgeport, David Grant Grimshaw and Patricia Roche, could not let the tower fall into further decay. In 1993, they began a fundraising effort to preserve the lighthouse. In 1998, they saw their dream realized, when the tower was restored. Paint and mortar were carefully analyzed to restore it to its original color. Graffiti resistant paint was applied and vandal proof steel panes, which from afar appear as glass, were installed in hopes that the restoration will hold this time. While the tower is not an official aid to navigation, solar panels and lighting equipment have been installed, so that the tower can be illuminated. With much time and effort, the tower is once again set to withstand the storm of ages.

In 2014, the Coast Guard honored the service of Catherine Moore by placing a marker on her grave, which had never had a headstone, and by naming a 154-foot Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutter after her.

Head Keepers: John Maltbie (1808 - 1809), Charles Isaac Judson (1809 - 1814), Daniel Willson (1814 - 1816), Joshua Lester (1816 - 1817), Stephen T. Moore (1817 - 1871), Catherine A. Moore (1871 - 1878).

References

  1. “Fayerweather Island Light Brought Back to Life,” Jeremy D’Entremont, Lighthouse Digest, July 2000.
  2. Lights & Legends, A Historical Guide to Lighthouses of Long Island Sound, Fishers Island Sound, and Block Island Sound, Harlan Hamilton, 1987.
  3. Northeast Lights: Lighthouses and Lightships, Rhode Island to Cape May, New Jersey, Robert Bachand, 1989.
  4. Women Who Kept the Lights, Mary Louise Clifford and J. Candace Clifford, 1993.

Location: Located on Fayerweather Island at the eastern side of the entrance to Black Rock Harbor.
Latitude: 41.14235
Longitude: -73.21733

For a larger map of Fayerweather Island (Black Rock Harbor) Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: Fayerweather Island is now attached to the mainland by a breakwater. To reach the light, take Exit 26 from Interstate 95 and go east to Iranistan Avenue. Turn right on Iranistan Avenue and follow it until it ends at the water. Turn right on Soundview Drive, which will become Barnum Drive. At the end of Barnum Drive you will find Seaside Park, where you can park and walk the breakwater to the lighthouse. Out-of-state guests must pay $40 to enter the park.

The lighthouse can also be viewed on Harbor Cruises out of Black Rock Harbor.

The lighthouse is owned by the City of Bridgeport. Grounds open, tower closed.

Find the closest hotels to Fayerweather Island (Black Rock Harbor) Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
These pictures were taken during two separate trips to the lighthouse: one by land, and the other by sea. If you trek out to the lighthouse, be prepared to slosh through some soggy patches of land, at least the area was marshy for us in the fall. I suppose you shouldn't glorify graffiti, but the painting on the rock in front of the lighthouse is not too bad. Let's just call it lighthouse art.

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