|Stratford Point, CT|
Description: There was no gathering storm in the October night air in 1871 as the steamer, Elm City, passed by the Stratford Point Lighthouse. No apparent reason why the light burned unusually dim, but even still, the captain was grateful for that small light warning of the shifting sand bars and strong currents formed where the Housatonic River meets Long Island Sound.
It was many years later, when the Bridgeport Sunday Post interviewed the then grown granddaughter of the keeper, that the mystery of the dim light was revealed. On that night in 1871, Keeper Benedict Lillingston and his son, Assistant Frederick Lillingston, left the lighthouse to answer the call of a distressed vessel. Twelve-year-old Lottie Lillingston, visiting her grandfather and uncle and left alone at the lighthouse, noticed the light had gone out. There was one thing she was certain off, the importance of the light. She lit a brass safety lamp, then carefully climbed the steps of the tower. Going only by what she had seen her grandfather do, she stopped the clockwork, suspended the safety lamp in the lantern, and then restarted the rotation. Now there is a story waiting to be turned into a children's book.
There was a light at Stratford Point long before a formal lighthouse was built. Tradition holds that in the beginning, a bonfire was lit at the point when a boat was expected on a foggy night. Later, wood was kept burning in an iron basket attached to a pole. Finally, in 1821, four acres of land were purchased from Betsy Walker, and a 28-foot wooden octagonal lighthouse was built under the direction of Judson Curtis. Only the third light station erected on Long Island Sound, it was established in 1822 and consisted of the light tower and a 1 ½ story keeper's quarters.
Autumn of 1822 brought one of the worst gales ever recorded at Stratford Point. Houses blew off their foundations, hundreds of trees were ripped from the ground. The seas were so high and the winds so strong that salt spray was recorded 3 ½ miles inland. Miraculously, the new lighthouse withstood it all.
The original light consisted of ten lamps and reflectors arranged on two tables with five lamps on each. It was refitted in 1855 with a clockwork and Argand lamp system with six lamps and 21 inch reflectors. In 1863, the light was changed to a third-order Fresnel lens.
A fog bell tower was added to the station in 1864. The bell was operated by a clock mechanism which took 20 minutes to wind and ran for a ½ hour. One February delivered a storm that kept the bell tolling continuously for 104 hours. The storm abated for a brief period, and then the bell was again necessary non-stop for another 103 hours. The unfortunate keeper had been kept at the winding the mechanism for nearly nine days.
In 1881, the tower and dwelling were razed and replaced with a 35-foot-tall, brick-lined, cast-iron tower, a new fog bell, and a two-story, eight-room dwelling. The all-white tower was later given the distinctive marking of a red band around its middle. A fourth-order Fresnel lens revolving in a bed of mercury replaced the third-order lens in 1906. The tower over the years has been a magnet for lightning, taking several strikes and grounding them in the concrete foundation.
Another improvement came in 1911, with the installation of a siren fog horn. The bell tower was removed and replaced with a building used to house the two engines needed to operate the small air compressor.
The light was automated in 1969 with a modern beacon. The lantern room was removed and the tower was sadly beheaded. The lantern was put on display at Boothe Memorial Park in Stratford. To prevent vandalism, the dwelling was restored and occupied by a Coast Guard family in 1982. In 1990, with the installation of a smaller optic, the lantern was refurbished and returned to the headless tower.
Today, the unfailing light still guides mariners past the shifting sand bars of the mouth of the Housatonic River. The light station, still occupied by a Coast Guard family, is closed to the public.
Located on Stratford Point at the western side
of the mouth of the Housatonic River. The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds/dwelling/tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds/dwelling/tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.