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 Stratford Shoal, CT    
Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.Photogenic lighthouse or setting.Boo! Lighthouse haunted.
Description: The Stratford Shoal Lighthouse is frequently classified as a New York lighthouse, and the land ("less than one acre") for the lighthouse was indeed ceded to the federal government by the State of New York on May 11, 1874. However, official maps today place the lighthouse on the Connecticut side of Long Island Sound by a good 1,000 feet. With valid arguments on both sides, the debate over whether the lighthouse should be classified as a Connecticut one or a New York one will likely never be settled.

The earliest known maps of Long Island Sound, charted by Adrian Block during his explorations of the area in 1614, show two islands where the Stratford Shoal Lighthouse now stands. Over the following hundred years or so, the sea washed the islands off the map, leaving behind the dangerous Middleground Shoal measuring three-quarters of a mile long. The rocks were located roughly in the middle of Long Island Sound, 5.5 miles from Stratford Point, CT and 5 miles from Old Field Point, NY, and covered by less than two feet of water Ė a constant and dangerous threat to Sound ship traffic.

The earliest known attempt to mark the rocks was around 1820, when a couple of spar buoys were placed on the north and south sides of the shoal. In 1831, a contract was awarded to a man named Hicks to erect an iron spindle on the reef, but no one seems to know whether the spindle was ever put in place.

Stratford Shoal Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
The Lighthouse Board placed a lightship at the southeastern edge of Stratford Shoal in 1838. The one hundred ton ship was alternately known as "Middle Ground floating light", "Stratford Shoal Light Vessel," or "Stratford Point Light Vessel" until it received the designation of LV15 in 1867. The ship showed lights from each of two masts and carried a crew of six. However, the single anchor that was holding the ship in position was sorely inadequate, and only eight days after going into service the ship drifted off position. Despite adding two larger anchors, the problem persisted and the ship dragged anchor many times over the years. During the winter of 1875, pack ice pushed LV15 aground at Orient Point. The following year, the ship was reported missing, and finally found near Faulkner Island, over twenty miles away.

In 1872, the Lighthouse Board recommended that a lighthouse be built to replace the aging and troublesome lightship, and $150,000 was requested for the project. The schooner Mignonette was being used at the construction site to house men and store supplies. As the lighthouse was nearing completion, the ship was driven onto the shoal by a severe winter storm on November 8, 1877 and sank, although no lives were lost. The crew took up residence in the lighthouse, but due to this and prior weather-related mishaps, the activation of the lighthouse was delayed until December 15, 1877.

The lighthouse's foundation, built with huge undressed blocks of granite attached together with thick cast-iron staples encased in lead, stands nineteen feet tell. The interior of the foundation was filled with concrete, with a space left vacant for a brick lined basement and two storage cisterns.

The architecture used at Stratford Shoal Lighthouse shows a touch of Gothic influence, and the lighthouse is nearly identical to the one at Race Rock in New York. The bottom portion of the tower is square, while the upper section is octagonal. The tower rises three stories high and is attached to the south side of the building. A cast-iron ornamental frieze covers the cornice between the top of the lantern room and the eaves of the roof, featuring panels of embossed leaves, circles, and double lines. The keeperís dwelling has a living room, kitchen, five bedrooms, a sitting room, and a supply room. An iron spiral staircase leads up the tower to the lantern room.

LV15 was retired upon completion of the lighthouse and sent to the lighthouse depot at Staten Island, where it was used as a floating barracks during the construction of the Great Beds Lighthouse. Finally, the ship was sold at auction for $1,010 in 1881.

The first keeper at Stratford Shoal was an Irish immigrant named William McGloin, who had previously been captain of the LV15 lightship. Even though the keeper had two assistants, the station was very isolated and windswept, and there was a quick turnover of personnel over the years. Visitors were urged to bring stacks of the latest newspapers with them to help the keepers stay in touch with news on the mainland.

The isolation may have driven at least one assistant keeper mad. In 1905, the head keeper was ashore for vacation, leaving the two assistants to take care of the stationís duties. The First Assistant Keeper was 54-year-old Long Island native Morrell Hulse, a former sailor who had just arrived from two years of duty at the Whale Rock Lighthouse in Rhode Island. The Second Assistant Keeper was a Lighthouse Service rookie named Julius Koster, from New York City.

Newspaper reports state that suddenly and without warning, Koster charged at the other man with a razor tied to the end of a pole. Completely surprised, Hulse managed to fight him off, and Koster seemed to calm down for the time being. But similar events reoccurred over the next few days, forcing Hulse to resist falling asleep at any time. Besides fearing for his life and being on the constant lookout for attacks, he had to keep the light going. This went on for five harrowing days, culminating when Hulse found Koster in the lantern room preparing to destroy the lens with an axe. Somehow Hulse prevented the destructive act.

Kosterís moods became increasingly suicidal, and when help finally arrived he had a number of self-inflicted wounds on his body. He was returned to his New York City home, where he soon was successful in his suicide attempts. Later keepers at Stratford Shoal reported disturbances at the station that they blamed on Kosterís ghost, including doors slamming by themselves, chairs being thrown around, and pots of hot water jumping from the stove.

The original beacon was a fourth-order Fresnel lens showing a flashing white light and powered by a clockwork mechanism. In 1894, a new Fresnel lens powered by a kerosene lamp was installed, and in 1978 the light source was converted to electric with a wet battery supplying the necessary current. The Fresnel lens has been removed and solar-powered batteries run the current aerobeacon. The station was automated in 1970, and much of the interior detailing has been taken out since then. The Stratford Shoal Lighthouse can be seen from a distance aboard the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson ferry.

Head Keepers: Lewis J. Allen (at least 1940).

References

  1. Northeast Lights: Lighthouses and Lightships, Rhode Island to Cape May, New Jersey, Robert Bachand, 1989.
  2. Americaís Atlantic Coast Lighthouses, Kenneth Kochel, 1996.
  3. The Lighthouses of Connecticut, Jeremy DíEntremont, 2005.

Location: Located in the middle of Long Island Sound, over eight miles offshore from Bridgeport Harbor.
Latitude: 41.059806
Longitude: -73.101306

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


Travel Instructions: Stratford Shoal Lighthouse is best seen by boat. Distant views are possible from the Bridgeport, CT - Port Jefferson, NY ferry. A lighthouse cruise that passes this lighthouse along with several others is offered by Sound Navigation.

The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Dwelling/tower closed.

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