|Five Mile Point (Old New Haven), CT|
Description: Just south of the Five Mile Point Lighthouse lies the grave of British Ensign and Assistant Adjutant Watkins, who met his end on July 5, 1779. The British, with their sights set on New Haven, attempted a landing at Five Mile Point, but the Americans were waiting. As he approached the shore, Watkins cried out from the lead boat, “Disperse ye rebels!” But they did not, and Watkins was killed in the subsequent battle.
Five Mile Point, named for its distance from downtown New Haven, became the sight for a lighthouse in 1805, marking the entrance to New Haven Harbor. Mariners knew to give the light a berth of at least two miles to avoid a dangerous ledge to its southwest.
The original lighthouse was a 30-foot octagonal wooden tower, with shingled sides and roof. Its light consisted of eight lamps with 13-inch parabolic reflectors, and was visible for six miles. In 1835, a 2 ˝ story keepers dwelling was added to the station.
The first keeper was Amos Morris, the landowner from whom the government purchased the tract of land for $100. The property had been in the Morris family since 1660, as part of an original grant by the Colony of New Haven.
The British eventually succeeded in overtaking the point. Morris, hoping the British would spare his home, set his dining room table with all the food and luxuries he possessed, and then left the property. His hospitality didn’t pay off. The British burned his home and all the buildings on his estate to the ground. Morris’ rebuilt home can be seen today just outside Lighthouse Park.
Morris served as keeper for three weeks, until the post was turned over to Jonathan Finch, who held the position until his death in 1821. Keeper Finch’s son, William inherited the position, but died just a mere three years later. Under the watch of Elihu Ives (1824 – 1846), a new tower was constructed.
Mariners had been complaining for years that the light was not bright enough, nor tall enough to be seen over a row of trees to the east of the lighthouse. In 1845, a new tower was recommended, and it was suggested that a better placement would be on the Southwest Ledge that gave mariners so much trouble. However, it was not feasible to build on the ledge, so instead, a new tower was built at Five Mile Point for $10,000.
Completed in 1847, the new tower, painted white, stands 65 feet tall. The exterior is made of East Haven sandstone, the interior lined with New Haven brick, and the 74 steps leading to the lantern room are carved from solid granite. The new light, at a focal plane of 97 feet above sea, could be seen 10 nautical miles on a clear day, shining from a system of twelve lamps with 21-inch reflectors. The lamp system was upgraded to a fourth-order Fresnel lens in 1855.
A two-story brick dwelling was built just north of the lighthouse and was connected to it by an enclosed wooden walkway. The dwelling still stands today, but the wooden passageway disappeared years ago.
Elizar Thompson came to serve as keeper in 1860, but tales of Alaskan gold lured him away from the post in 1867. He returned two years later, out of luck and completely broke, but more content with the tedious life of a lighthouse keeper.
The possibility of a lighthouse at Southwest Ledge was reexamined in 1872. The ledge, located in the center of New Haven Harbor’s shipping channel, was a formidable obstacle, covered by only 7 ˝ feet of water at low tide. This time the technology was available to make it happen. Southwest Ledge Light’s first official night, January 1, 1877, would be Five Mile Point’s last. Elizar Thompson continued his service at Southwest Ledge until his death in 1897.
The War Department took ownership of Five Mile Point in 1896 and leased the property to Albert Widmann, who for a small fee allowed visitors to climb the tower. When the lease expired in 1922, the land was transferred to the State of Connecticut and the buildings to the city of New Haven. In 1949, Lighthouse Point Park was opened to the public.
The tower was renovated in 1986, complete with a new paint job and years of guano deposits steam cleaned from the staircase. Today, the tower graces the peaceful shore of Five Mile Point, where the only uproar is the occasional squeals from the nearby carousel.
Located in Lighthouse Point Park in New Haven. The lighthouse is owned by the City of New Haven. Grounds open, dwelling/tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the City of New Haven. Grounds open, dwelling/tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.