The crescent-shaped island, located about three-and-a-half miles offshore from Guilford, Connecticut, had a number of owners in its pre-lighthouse days. Andrew Leete, son of a Connecticut governor, owned it for a while during the 1600s. Brothers Caleb and Ebenezer Stone bought the island in 1715, and it remained in the Stone family for over a century.
In 1802, Woodward erected a forty-foot-tall, octagonal tower, featuring cut sandstone laid in lime mortar and a spiral wooden staircase that led up to the lantern room. In early years, the station exhibited a fixed light from twelve lamps and reflectors arranged on two separate tables, one above the other. In 1856, a fourth-order Fresnel lens was installed that varied its fixed light with a flash every ninety seconds. Another lens of the same size was supplied in 1901 to produce a flash at the rate of once every fifteen seconds.
The original keeper’s dwelling had eight rooms, but over the years it deteriorated so badly that a new one was constructed in 1858. The new structure was one-and-a-half stories high, and featured three bedrooms, a dining room, sitting room, and an attached kitchen that was connected to the tower by a covered passageway. This structure was so poorly built that during the winter large quantities of snow entered through gaps in the walls and roof. In 1871, another story, topped with a mansard roof, was added to the dwelling to provide room for an assistant keeper, and at the same time an iron spiral staircase was installed in the tower.
Faulkner’s Island light has had a number of interesting keepers over the centuries. In 1818, President James Monroe appointed Eli Kimberly, a Guilford native, keeper of the lighthouse. Kimberly relocated to the island with his pregnant wife Polly and two young children, and during their thirty-three years on the island, the couple had another nine children.
Although the island was lonely and remote during the winter, there could be hundreds of visitors in the summer, and the Kimberlys were known as excellent hosts. The keeper even built a bowling alley (!) with a well-stocked bar. Unfortunately, on the Fourth of July in 1829, a group of twenty young men from New Haven drank themselves senseless at the bar, then tore up the Kimberlys’ vegetable garden, smashed some lighthouse equipment, and destroyed the keeper’s boat. Soon after, a law was passed prohibiting the sale of liquor at American light stations.
Brooks received some notoriety in November 1858 when, during a winter storm, he managed to rescue five people from the schooner Moses F. Webb that grounded on the rocks near the lighthouse. For his bravery in assisting mariners, Brooks was awarded a gold medal from the New York Society for the Preservation of Life along with a silver set from the citizens of New Haven.
Throughout the nineteenth century, ships continued to be wrecked despite the presence of the lighthouse. Between 1851 and 1882, over one hundred wrecks were recorded in the station’s logs. In the spring of 1874, the Lighthouse Board received a petition from steamship companies and other parties interested in navigation on the Sound asking that a powerful fog signal be established on Faulkner’s Island. A fog bell had recently been placed on the island, but it was found to be wholly inadequate, and lack of a proper fog signal likely contributed to the steamer E.A. Woodward running aground on the reef north of the island on February 7, 1875. The fog bell was raised ten feet in 1877 so that its sound might be heard to better advantage.
Congress finally appropriated funds for a first-class steam fog signal on the island in 1879, and the apparatus was placed in operation the following year. In order to collect sufficient water for the steam whistle, a large shed and cistern were placed on the island. The whistle, which produced an eight-second blast each minute when needed, was in operation roughly 500 hours each year while consuming around thirty-eight tons of coal. A first-class siren, operated by twin sixteen-and-a-half-horsepower oil engines with compressed-air attachments, replaced the antiquated steam whistle in October 1902, after an experiment had been conducted on the island the previous month to determine the range of penetration of sound for a whistle, siren, and a diaphone.
Arthur Jensen replaced Elmer Rathbun as head keeper on the island in 1911 and held this position for five years. One day, Keeper Jensen sprained his back and was unable to stand, let alone work. As the assistant keeper was ashore, Ingrid Jensen, Arthur’s wife, was forced to take charge. The following account of her actions was carried in the Shoreline Times:
Mrs. Arthur Jensen, wife of Keeper Jensen of Faulkner’s Island Light Station, proved equal to the emergency, which recently arose at the light station, in a manner which commands the admiration of those who know the conditions. Keeper Jensen was ill and unable to rise owing to muscular ailment. The assistant keeper had gone ashore and was unable to return that night. There arose a dense fog requiring the starting of the oil engine, which runs the fog siren. Few women, even had they the skill, could have mustered the strength to perform this feat, which is a task for a strong man. Yet Mrs. Jensen, knowing that the siren must be started and that there was no one but herself to do it, took hold of the fly wheel, five feet in diameter, rolled it back against the compression, and so started into action the machinery which sounded the warning siren. Mrs. Jensen ran the engine four hours, until the fog cleared away, and also lighted the lamp in the tower and watched it all night long. Those who are familiar with the working of these oil engines, marvel that a woman could start the fly wheel, as considerable strength is required, as well as the knowledge and skill born of experience. …Mrs. Jensen kept the station running that night, single handed, by sheer force of ability, and is entitled to much commendation.
On March 15, 1976, despite there being two coastguardsmen on duty, a fire broke out in the keeper’s quarters and destroyed everything except the scorched tower and the fog signal building. After repairing the tower, the light was automated. It continues to flash a white light every ten seconds, although the fog signal has been discontinued.
A pair of rabbits was left behind when the station was automated, and over the next few years a rabbit colony had developed that threatened nesting birds on the island. Various means of controlling the rabbit population were considered, but a local humane society finally solved the problem by sending out a ten-person team in October 1980 that was able to capture 115 rabbits in a seven-hour period. The humane society officers herded the rabbits into an enclosed pen at one end of the island, and were able to capture eighty-one rabbits in the first sweep and another thirty-four in the second. After being found disease free, the rabbits were put up for adoption.
Falkner’s Island Lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.
Due to the dedicated efforts of a volunteer preservation group called Faulkner’s Light Brigade, Faulkner’s Island Lighthouse is one of Long Island Sound’s brightest lighthouse preservation stories. Since its founding in 1991, the organization has restored and painted the lighthouse multiple times. In 1999, International Chimney Corporation completed a $200,000 restoration of the lighthouse that was primarily funded by the federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Act. Between 2000 and 2002, a massive stone revetment was placed on the eastern side of the island using stones that weighed as much as three tons. Above this, hardy vegetation was planted to protect the island. The Fish and Wildlife Service repaired and restored the island’s pier and breakwater in 2007.