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.
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.
Click to view enlarged imageAfter a few more years of further debate, planning, design, and construction, the new 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.
Located at the entrance to the Thames River in New London, one mile offshore from the New London Harbor Lighthouse.