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 New London Ledge, CT    
Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.Lighthouse open for climbing.Interior open or museum on site.Fee charged.Photogenic lighthouse or setting.Boo! Lighthouse haunted.
Description: New London Ledge Lighthouse, with its square red brick quarters topped with a mansard roof and a circular lantern room, is one of the most striking and unusual-looking lighthouses in the United States. Local residents reportedly did not want to gaze out to sea at a structure that would be out of place among their large and historic homes; hence the Colonial and French architectural influences found in the lighthouse.

Interior of New London Ledge Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy Library of Congress
Mariners and other local residents begged and pleaded for over a century and a half for a lighthouse somewhere near the mouth of the Thames River and the harbor of New London, Connecticut. As early as 1794, the Connecticut Legislature passed a resolution that four buoys be placed in the harbor, but these small markers proved sorely inadequate. The New London Harbor Lighthouse was finally completed onshore in 1801, but it failed to adequately mark the ledges located offshore. Both citizens and ship pilots presented petitions in 1845, 1854, 1865, and 1890 demanding an offshore lighthouse. These petitions were fruitless until the Lighthouse Board detailed the inherent dangers to maritime traffic at New London to Congress in 1902 and 1903 and requested funds for constructing a lighthouse.

After a few more years of further debate, planning, design, and construction, the New London Ledge Lighthouse finally began operation in 1909. At first the new station was going to be placed on Black Ledge, but that would have left Southwest Ledge standing as an unmarked hazard between the new lighthouse and the shipping channel, so Southwest was finally chosen as the site. In 1910, the name of the new light was changed to New London Ledge, to avoid confusion with the identically named Southwest Ledge light at the New Haven breakwater.

To provide the foundation for the New London Ledge Lighthouse, a timber crib made of southern yellow pine and held together with nine tons of iron and steel, was first constructed on shore at Groton. Four tugboats towed the crib to Southwest Ledge, a short journey that took eight hours, and the wooden crib was then filled with concrete, gravel, and riprap and sunk into place in 28 feet of water. A concrete pier, rising 18 feet above low water, was constructed on top of the crib foundation, and the lighthouse, 52 square feet and 34 feet high, was constructed of brick on top of the pier. Every thirty seconds, the station’s fourth-order Fresnel lens, crafted in Paris by Henry-Lepaute, repeated the distinctive signature of three white flashes followed by one red flash.

Playwright Eugene O’Neill lived in New London for many years, and his famous play Long Day’s Journey Into Night was set in the town. During one scene in the play, the characters refer to the fog signal at New London Ledge, a sound familiar to residents of New London.

New London Ledge isn’t the only New England lighthouse said to be haunted, but its resident ghost Ernie is the most famous of the supernatural denizens. Before the station was automated, the Coast Guard crew on duty reported frequently hearing strange noise: mysterious knocks on their bedroom doors in the middle of the night, doors opening and closing, the television being turned on and off repeatedly, and even having the covers pulled off the end of their bed. Falling back to sleep after being awakened by a strange noise was often a problem.

Lens from New London Ledge Lighthouse
The lighthouse keepers were finally given a rest when Ernie was “rescued” by two psychics from Chester in 1981. Roger and Nancy Pile say that Ernie was an “earthbound” - a spirit that isn’t able to leave earth after a traumatic death. Ernie was reportedly an early keeper at New London Ledge, who one evening, after a bitter fight with his girlfriend, returned to the lighthouse and decided to end it all. No one seems to be sure exactly when this suicide happened, and the Piles say they forgot to ask when they were communicating with Ernie.

The Piles did learn how Ernie killed himself - by taking a fishing knife to the roof of the tower and cutting his throat. His body fell into the sea, never to be recovered. Ernie soon discovered that life didn’t end at death, and he was inexplicably linked to the lighthouse in spirit. Uncertain what to do, Ernie decided to do what he knew best, maintain the lighthouse. When visited by the Piles, Ernie was eager to finally leave the earthly plane, but harbored fear that he would miss his old lighthouse. The Piles generously gave Ernie permission for occasional visits to his old haunt.

New London Ledge was the last remaining manned lighthouse on Long Island Sound when it was finally automated in 1987. During its final years of manned operation, a four-man Coast Guard crew was typically on duty for tours of eighteen months at a time. Each crew member stood guard for a daily 12-hour watch, during which his duties included monitoring the light, transmitting weather information to ships and shore, and cleaning performing maintenance on the station. Every few weeks, the crew received six days of shore leave. Life on the remote station must have been less than exciting for some of the young crew members – the final day of manned operation shows a log entry reading, “Rock of slow torture. Ernie's domain. Hell on earth – may New London Ledge’s light shine on forever because I’m through. I will watch it from afar while drinking a brew.”

Today, the lighthouse is under the care of the New London Ledge Lighthouse Foundation. The lighthouse is used as a maritime classroom, while the Coast Guard continues to maintain the automated light.

On May 1, 2013, the General Services Administration announced that New London Ledge Lighthouse was excess to the needs of the Coast Guard and was "being made 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." Interested entities were given sixty days to submit a letter of interest. If the lighthouse is not transferred, it will be sold.

References

  1. The Lighthouses of Connecticut, Jeremy D’Entremont, 2005.
  2. Northeast Lights: Lighthouses and Lightships, Rhode Island to Cape May, New Jersey, Robert Bachand, 1989.
  3. Norwich Bulletin, October 30, 1983.

Location: Located at the entrance to the Thames River in New London, one mile offshore from the New London Harbor Lighthouse.
Latitude: 41.30597
Longitude: -72.07743

For a larger map of New London Ledge Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: This light is best seen by boat. Project Oceanology, in conjunction with the New London Ledge Lighthouse Foundation, offers tours to the lighthouse, which include landing at the lighthouse. The lighthouse can also be seen on Lighthouse Cruises offered by Sunbeam Fleet and Down East Lighthouse Cruises. Any of the ferries operating out of New London should also provide a decent view of the lighthouse.

The station's Fresnel lens can be seen at the Custom House Maritime Museum in New London.

The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard and managed by the New London Ledge Lighthouse Foundation. Dwelling/tower open during tours.

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