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Stratford Point Lighthouse, Stratford, Connecticut

2016; Photo ⓒ Madeline Cameron

Like many New England coastal towns, Stratford, Connecticut has a long history. The area was originally called Cupheag, meaning harbor, and was part of the Pequannock tract. This tract of land belonged to the Lenape Native Americans and was cleared and ready for settlement. Colonists settled the area along the Housatonic River in 1639 and named their town after Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare's birthplace in England. Land titles and boundaries were set by 1685, and the local economy was built on shipbuilding and oyster fishing.

The federal government first established a light station on Stratford Point in 1822. Locals had been making do with fires and more rudimentary signals for years before. Construction began in 1821 under the leadership of Ezekiel Gilbert of nearby Derby and Robert Fairchild of Stratford. They were hired to build a wood frame lighthouse on a stone foundation with an accompanying wood frame keeper's house.

1898 nautical map; Courtesy of NOAA

The original 1822 lighthouse utilized 8 lamps to create a fixed light. Less than a year later inventor Winslow Lewis, who was an active figure in early American lighthouse innovation, installed his newly improved Argon lamp with parabolic reflectors. The apparatus consisted of revolving 10 lamps, 10 reflectors, and 2 spare lamps. This lighting system was used for the next 3 decades until it was replaced by a Fifth Order Fresnel lens in the 1850s.

Original 1822 Stratford Point Light; Courtesy National Archives

Surprisingly, the original wooden lighthouse lasted for nearly 60 years. But by 1880, the original light was in severe disrepair and the keeper's house was considered too small to house both a head keeper and assistant with their families. The current lighthouse was established on the site in 1881.

1908 postcard; Public Domain

The cast iron conical light is white with the middle third painted with a brownish red band. A new wood frame keeper's house was built alongside it as was a new fog signal bell tower. A brick power house was added in 1911. Although cast iron lighthouses had been in use since the 1820s and 30s, this is the earliest instance of a prefabricated cast iron lighthouse in Connecticut, and is one of the oldest in the nation. It is comprised of curved cast iron plates that are bolted into five courses.

Stratford Point Site Plan; Courtesy National Park Service, 1990

When the new light station was established, the Fifth Order Fresnel lens was replaced by a larger Third Order flashing light. The revolving range lenses were operated by a clockwork that required winding every 4 hours. By the 1930s this apparatus had been updated to a smaller Fourth Order electric incandescent light.

Undated; Courtesy USCG

In 1969, the cast iron lantern was removed for a new automated aerobeacon and the lantern was given to the Stratford Historical Society. Unlike most lighthouses in the US, it still remains an active station manned by the Coast Guard. It is used as housing for personnel. As such it is not open to the public, although there is public access to the beach behind it. 27 acres of land are open to explore and it's a great place to view the lighthouse and native shorebirds.

Undated; Courtesy USCG
Snowy Owl at Stratford Point, 2017; Photo ⓒ Madeline Cameron

In May of 1990, Stratford Point Light was added to the National Register despite not having a lantern at the time of nomination. It is one of the few lighthouses from that era that still retains the core structures of the lighthouse, keeper's dwelling, and fog signal. Later in 1990, the 1881 lantern was refurbished and reinstalled with a smaller optic. The lighthouse was repainted in the mid-1990s.

If you ever drive along the Connecticut coast, Stratford Point is worth a short side trip off of Interstate 90 and it is less than an hour and a half drive from New York City.

2017; Photo ⓒ Madeline Cameron


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