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 Saybrook Breakwater (Saybrook Outer), CT    
Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.
Description: Saybrook Breakwater Lighthouse is located near the picturesque town of Old Saybrook, at the mouth of the mighty Connecticut River. The first lighthouse in the area was established in 1803 at Lynde Point on the west side of the river entrance, but in 1831, a buoy was placed just offshore to mark the dangerous bar at the river mouth. In the 1870s the river mouth was dredged to accommodate increasing ship traffic, and two granite breakwaters were built, one extending from each side of the river mouth.

In 1882, Congress appropriated $20,000 for a light station at the end of the west breakwater, and the resulting Saybrook Breakwater Lighthouse started showing a fixed white light on June 15, 1886. A red sector was added in 1889, and the original fifth-order Fresnel lens was replaced with a fourth-order lens in 1890.

Saybrook Breakwater Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy Library of Congress
The Saybrook Breakwater Light was one of the first of a number of cylindrical cast-iron lighthouses constructed between the 1880s and the 1920s. G. W. & F. Smith Iron Co., the name of the Boston-based manufacturer of the tower, is inscribed over the entrance door. The 49-foot tower is supported by a cast-iron concrete-filled caisson sunk in seventeen feet of water. The caisson foundation has a diameter of thirty feet, a height of thirty-two feet, and its upper portion flares out to house a basement for the tower. As was customary with this type of structure, the caisson was assembled on land nearby and taken by barge to the site, where it was lowered into the water.

The tower is similar in design to the Stamford Harbor Lighthouse, also built in Connecticut in the 1880s. The tower has four floors of living space for the keepers, topped by a watchroom and a twelve-sided lantern room. To prevent heavy condensation from forming on the iron walls during cold weather, the inside of the structure was lined with brick.

Despite this brick insulation, life was cold, damp, and uncomfortable at the station for the keepers. Going to shore for supplies in the twelve-foot rowboat required a hazardous journey fighting the Connecticut River’s strong currents. A walk to shore along the half-mile-long breakwater was dangerous as well, and even impossible after ice built up on it in the winter.

Keeper Joseph Woods was living with his wife at Saybrook Breakwater Lighthouse, when in 1917 he pleaded for an assistant to be assigned to the station. “The railroad roundhouse in the village near here to cover about the same duties that I have to cover alone,” he informed his superiors, “has three watchmen for each twenty-four hours. Each man, in turn, is relieved, leaving each considerable time for rest and pleasure.”

Noting that the railroad watchmen were also paid more, Woods continued his complaint, “I am on duty twenty-four hours out of twenty-four hours and the only relief I get is when my wife begs of me to rest while she stands watch.” Woods' request was not granted. Rather, he was assigned to a new station, but a few years later, the position of assistant keeper was added to Saybrook Breakwater Lighthouse.

The lighthouse almost didn’t survive the legendary hurricane that hit New England on September 21, 1938. The short bridge from the tower to the breakwater and the station's twelve-foot rowboat did get blown away, along with two large oil tanks and much of the battery house, but the two keepers on duty at the time were terrified that the entire tower would be washed away. Although a window near the base of the tower shattered and seawater flooded the lower levels of the station, the main structure managed to stay intact through the storm. The following day, Keeper Sidney Gross recorded in the station's log, “Everything swept away by the hurricane except the tower.”

Saybrook Breakwater Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
Saybrook Breakwater Light was automated in 1959, and the Coast Guard began occupying the station only in bad weather, letting personnel at the nearby Lynde Point Lighthouse guard the river mouth the rest of the time. The tower received major face-lift in 1996, when a $64,000 project covered the repainting of the tower, the installation of new handrails, and the removal of a generator and 500-gallon fuel tank used as a backup power source in blackouts.

In 1993, Connecticut issued a special Preserve the Sound license plate featuring a portrait of Saybrook Breakwater Lighthouse. For each of these license plates sold, $35 goes into the Long Island Sound Fund, which is distributed to schools, municipalities, and environmental groups for projects that benefit Long Island Sound. 2,344 sets of the Saybrook Breakwater Lighthouse license plates were issued in 2010, making it the most popular of the more than sixty specialty plates available in Connecticut.

The lighthouse currently exhibits a flashing green light, guiding throngs of summer sailors and year-round commercial ship traffic.

After the Saybrook Breakwater Lighthouse was placed on the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Program for 2007, Selectman Michael Pace of the Town of Old Saybrook vocalized concerns over navigational safety and public access should divestiture of the lighthouse occur. On January 30, 2008, a meeting arranged by Congressman Joe Courtney was held so that Selectman Pace could air his concerns with representatives of the Coast Guard and the General Services Administration.

The outcome of the meeting was not highly publicized, but in June of 2008, a Notice of Availability was released making the lighthouse "available at no cost to eligible entities defined as Federal Agencies, state and local agencies, non-profit corporations, educational agencies, or community development organizations, for education, park, recreation, cultural, or historic preservation purposes." Two non-profit organizations reportedly submitted a letter of interest by the August 27, 2008 deadline, but no announcement of a transfer of ownership has been made. The Notice of Availability clearly states that the lighthouse can only be reached by boat and that access is via a ladder affixed to the base of the tower. Riprap around the tower forms a small protective harbor for boat access.

Transfer to an eligible entity did not occur, and on May 15, 2013, the General Services Administration opened an on-line auction for the lighthouse. Eight bidders participated in the auction, which ended on August 10, 2013 with a winning bid of $340,000. The lighthouse's new owner is Kelly K. Navarro, wife of Benjamin W. Navarro, founder of the debt-collection firm Sherman Financial Group. The Navarros also own two waterfront homes in Fenwick, where Katharine Hepburn lived, that have a view of the lighthouse.

References

  1. Northeast Lights: Lighthouses and Lightships, Rhode Island to Cape May, New Jersey, Robert Bachand, 1989.
  2. Capsule Histories of Some Local Islands and Light Houses, Benjamin Rathbun, 2001.
  3. "Coast Guard Gives Landmark Lighthouse a Face Lift," Hartford Courant, August 14, 1996.
  4. The Lighthouses of Connecticut, Jeremy D’Entremont, 2005.
  5. "Old Saybrook Lighthouses: Life wasn't all that romantic for 'keepers of the light'," Shoreline Times, July 28, 2011.
  6. "The Lure of the Lighthouse," Amy Gamerman, The Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2013.

Location: Located at the end of the breakwater on the west side of the entrance to the Connecticut River.
Latitude: 41.2633
Longitude: -72.3428

For a larger map of Saybrook Breakwater (Saybrook Outer) Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: During the summer, Sunbeam Fleet offers trips that pass the Saybrook Breakwater Lighthouse. To get a distant view of the lighthouse from land, take exit 67 from Interstate 95 and proceed south on Elm Street to Main Street (Highway 154). Turn right onto Main and follow it for 2.5 miles to the Saybrook Point Inn and Marina. At that point, turn right on Bridge Street, crossing over South Cove, and then turn left onto Nibang Avenue. From Nibang, turn right onto Fenwick Avenue, and then left onto Agawam Avenue, where you will get a distant view of the Saybrook Breakwater Lighthouse.

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

Find the closest hotels to Saybrook Breakwater (Saybrook Outer) Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
These pictures of the Saybrook Breakwater Lighthouse were taken in July of 2003, just two weeks after the passing of famed actress Katharine Hepburn. Hepburn’s house is located at the far left of the center picture, and just to the right of the tower in the lower picture. According to her will, a 4.17-acre parcel of land to the east of her driveway is to be donated to an "environmental or conservation organization" to "protect the lot from development ... for the benefit of the general public." Don’t let this announcement get your hopes up that the public will finally be able to get a decent view of the Lynde Point and Saybrook Lighthouses from land, as it is more than likely that Old Saybrook’s exclusive Fenwick area will remain off-limits to the lighthouse enthusiast.

See our List of Lighthouses in Connecticut

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