This small but mighty lighthouse stands on Fayerweather Island at the entrance to Black Rock Harbor in Bridgeport. Black Rock, sometimes known instead as Fayerweather Island Light, is the second tower at that location yet it is still quite old, 200 years old in fact.
Our story begins in 1807, when the US government purchased a small parcel of land for $200 from Daniel Fayerweather for the establishment of a light station. The island was naturally positioned in the perfect place protecting Black Rock Harbor, which had developed as a shipbuilding center in the 1700s. Historically, the island had been used for pasturing sheep. The original Black Rock light was a wooden tower completed in 1808 by Abisha Woodward and cost $5,000. Woodward was a contractor and architect based in New London, and he built many of the state's early lighthouses. The oldest surviving Woodward lighthouse is New London Harbor Light, about 70 miles north on the Connecticut coast.
The first keeper at Black Rock was John Maltbie, but he served for less than a year before his untimely death. Unsurprisingly, the original wood tower didn't stand much of a chance against a hurricane and it was destroyed less than 15 years later in 1821. It was rightfully determined that a more permanent construction material was required. The new stone tower was completed in 1823. It consisted of a granite rubble and brownstone block octagonal tower atop a fieldstone foundation. It cost $2,300 to build.
The original lens consisted of 8 lamps with 14-inch reflectors. The tower is white with a black lantern. The original light apparatus was replaced in the 1850s by a Fifth Order Fresnel lens with a fixed white characteristic visible for 11 nautical miles.
The light has predominantly been manned by 2 generations of the same family. The Moore family managed the original wooden light and then the second generation light until 1878. Stephen Moore was officially the keeper all that time until 1871, but nearly all the duties were actually managed by his daughter Catherine (known as Kate) after he became disabled in 1819. She then went on to become the official keeper from 1871-1878 when she was in her mid-sixties. Over her near-60 years as keeper, she is credited with saving more than 20 lives.
Kate was so inspirational to locals and lighthouse history buffs, that she is even celebrated in a 2022 children's book Courage Like Kate by Anna Crowley Redding & Emily Sutton.
After Kate, Leonard Clark became keeper for nearly the next 28 years. He was a Civil War veteran and former whaling captain. His wife served as keeper for a short time after his death in 1906. Fayerweather Island was a true island until 1917 when the mile-long breakwater was built. This made getting on and off the island much easier for the resident keeper and their family. John D. Davis, a former keeper in Ireland, served as keeper from 1906 until 1932 when the lighthouse was discontinued.
Black Rock became obsolete when the US Coast guard built 2 offshore lights. In 1934, the USCG donated the light and island to Bridgeport, where it became part of Seaside Park. The park became a reality largely because of the efforts of P. T. Barnum, yes the one you're thinking relating to the circus. Due to its relative isolation from the shore, Black Rock Light was heavily vandalized and the keepers house was destroyed by fire in 1977.
Over the years there have been various fundraising and restoration efforts. A tower restoration was completed in 1983, when the island was also designated as a nature preserve, and again in the late 1990s. The majority of the work was graffiti removal and painting. The light's continued stewardship is largely thanks to the Black Rock Seaport Foundation and Black Rock Community Council. The Council continues to raise funds for the ongoing care of the light including: replacing solar panels, installing LED lighting, and the timing mechanism.
Another restoration was done again in 2018 to remove signs of vandalism and to restore the stone foundation, repaint the windows, replace the door, and reset the stones in the surrounding water. Additionally, the cast iron lantern was restored and netted to deter birds from nesting at the top. If you look at the first picture in this post, you can clearly see an osprey nest on the lantern from prior to this restoration work. The restoration was completed by Kronenberger & Sons Restoration. You can donate to future restoration efforts here.
If you plan to visit Black Rock Light, make sure to take good walking shoes. You can access the light by walking atop the breakwater at the southernmost end of Seaside Park. The breakwater gets less and less flat on top the closer you get to Fayerweather Island.
In September of 2023, Black Rock Harbor Light celebrated 200 years of safeguarding the harbor. The US Lighthouse Society published a great presentation on more history of the light and it's continued protection. Watch it here.