Pequot Avenue Lighthouse
..or the New London Harbor Light. When I read the description of how to get there, I did not think I would visit this lighthouse.
Lighthouse Friends page says "The keeper's residence is privately owned, and the grounds are not open to the public. In fact, during our visit, there was a "No Trespassing and No Photographs Sign" at the entrance to the property. I'm not sure how they can prohibit photographs..."
New London Harbor Lighthouse is Connecticut’s oldest and tallest lighthouse and provides an interesting architectural counterpoint to its much newer and flashier neighbor, the New London Ledge Lighthouse. It’s also a reminder of the glory days early in the country’s history when New London was the third busiest whaling port, behind New Bedford and Nantucket. The busy port also attracted several immigrants, leading to the beach area near where the lighthouse stands being used as quarantine ground in the 1750’s for recent arrivals to the New World infected with smallpox, a recurring problem at the time.
In 1760, the colonial legislature of Connecticut passed an act creating a committee to pursue the funding, construction, and staffing of a new lighthouse for the harbor entrance at New London. The following year, thousands of lottery tickets were sold to pay for the lighthouse (a popular method of raising funds for construction projects in those days). The lighthouse, a 64-foot stone tower with a wooden lantern at the top, was finished that same year at the west side of the harbor entrance. It was the first lighthouse in the harbor and only the fourth to be built in the American colonies.
By 1800, the New London Lighthouse had a crack extending ten feet down from the lantern. In addition, the light was so dim as to often be indistinguishable from the lights of the surrounding homes, and from the west the beacon was completely obscured by a point of land. Congress allocated funds for a replacement light, and in 1800 a New Londoner by the name of Abisha Woodward began construction on the current octagonal, tapered 80-foot tower. Sitting on a foundation of a mixture of granite, brownstone, and native stone, the tower was built of freestone, hammered smooth and laid in courses. The walls were nine inches thick and lined with brick inside. A wooden spiral staircase led up to the lantern room. Since construction of the tower, various renovations have been affected such as installing a new lantern with a copper dome, repainting the exterior walls with hydraulic cement and whitewash, and replacing the interior stairway.
When the new station opened in 1801, its flashing light was produced by oil lamps and an eclipser. This apparatus was replaced in 1834 by eleven lamps with 14-inch reflectors. Finally, a fourth-order Fresnel lens, which remains in the lighthouse today, was installed in the late 1850s. The first keeper’s house deteriorated quickly and was replaced in 1818. The current gable-roofed, 2 ½ story keeper’s residence was built in 1863.
During the War of 1812, the New London Harbor Lighthouse was extinguished. The British did not attack the station during the conflict, as it was guarded by colonial troops, but instead invaded the undefended Little Gull Island Light, taking all of its lamps and reflectors.
Click to view enlarged imageNew London was not the first town where landlubbers found themselves at odds with the maritime community. In 1904, the thorn in the town residents’ side was the fog siren newly installed in the New London Harbor Lighthouse. The sizable number of seasonal summer residents was especially dismayed after arriving for their annual period of rest and recuperation from big-city stresses only to have the new fog signal prevent any possibility of a good night’s sleep. While city residents complained about the “horrible groaning and shrieking,” local ship captains found the sound of the long-requested signal to be sweet music to their ears indeed when attempting to navigate the harbor through a typical pea-soup fog.
The problem was finally resolved in 1906 when a Daboll trumpet replaced the maligned fog siren. The whole issue became mute in 1911 when the New London Ledge Lighthouse was activated, and the Harbor light’s fog signal was turned off for good.
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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.
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