This lighthouse’s life as an active navigational aid (from 1944 to 1967) was relatively brief, and it never had a resident keeper like its older neighbors. But like every lighthouse, it has its own compelling story.
United States Coast Guard Training Station was soon established at
Avery Point, with Branford House serving as an administration building
and living quarters for the station’s commanding officer.
Thousands of Coast Guard personnel received training at the site.
Subjects included aids to navigation, advanced seamanship, gunnery,
electricity, electronics, radar, and administrative and clerical
work. During World War II, 100 people arrived every week to begin
13-week courses, and for years more than 3,000 people graduated
annually. Also on the same grounds was the Coast Guard Institute, which
trained Coast Guard personnel through correspondence courses and also
administered service-wide examinations.
Its debut as a lighted aid to navigation was delayed by war concerns. On May 2, 1944, it was lighted for the first time with an unusual array of eight 200-watt bulbs, creating a fixed white light 55 feet above sea level. The light was useful for vessels entering a cove east of Avery Point and for those navigating the Pine Island Channel.
The light also served a purpose for keepers at Race Rock Light Station out in Fisher’s Island Sound. When the fog got so thick that they could no longer see the light at Avery Point, the keepers knew it was time to turn the foghorn on.
In the 1994 edition of his book America’s Atlantic Coast Lighthouses: A
Kenneth Kochel states that “the tower was built as a memorial tower and
as a symbolic representation of the USCG lighthouse keeping
responsibilities.” If there are source documents to back up this
attractive notion, they’re hard to find. According to the listing
for the National Register of Historic Places prepared by the
Connecticut Historical Commission, this “misunderstanding” dates back
to a 1955 article in U.S. Coast Guard
magazine. The article, by Robert Miller, stated:
When the State of Connecticut gave the Training Station property to the Coast Guard there was one stipulation—“that a light tower be built at the extremity of the peninsula where day and night it would serve as a reminder of illustrious names from the past and an active and useful present.” Remember whose names, I don’t know, but maybe it’s the names of students—like the 1,462 who graduated last year.
“illustrious names” could also be interpreted to mean lighthouse
keepers of the past. In any event, no such language actually
appeared in the deed. Although the origins of the memorial notion are
hazy, it’s been repeated so often that for all intents and purposes
Avery Point Lighthouse has come to serve that very purpose for many
people. Whether or not it was originally built as a memorial
tower, it is one today.
The lighthouse in 1996
The lighthouse was used for a time by Coast Guard research and development personnel for various navigational aid experiments. But it was eventually abandoned, and the elements and neglect exacted their toll. The concrete blocks were pitted and began to crumble, the wooden lantern rotted, and chunks of the marble balusters fell to the ground. By July 1997 the university said the tower was in “dangerously poor condition” and declared it a safety hazard.
Restoration was first estimated at $150,000, but as time passed it became clear that it could run as high as $350,000 or more. By the fall of 2000, $12,000 had been raised. Many people also chipped in with in-kind donations, such as James Norden of Gibble Norden Champion Consulting Engineers of Old Saybrook, who provided an engineering study of the tower at no cost, and Don Perkins of Cape Cod, who created and donated a finely detailed replica of the lighthouse to be exhibited to raise awareness and donations. The New England Lighthouse Lovers (NELL), another chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation, donated funds for a new door for the lighthouse.
In September 2003, work began on the tower. Close examination of the crumbling concrete blocks revealed that they had been fabricated using a very high amount of sand. As the mortar between the blocks expanded and contracted over the years, the poorly made blocks began to crumble. After much study, it was decided that the only way to save the tower would be to remove the outer faces of the blocks and replace them with new block faces. At the same time the old blocks would be strengthened with cement and steel reinforcements.
The restoration was completed in early 2006, and the tower was relighted in a gala ceremony on October 15.
Contributions to the Avery Point Light fund can be sent to:
The tower can be reached easily by a short walk from the campus parking area. It can also be seen from various ferries out of New London. To find out more about the effort to save Avery Point Light, email JIMSTREETR@aol.com.
You can read much more about this lighthouse in the book The Lighthouses of Connecticut by Jeremy D'Entremont.
Webmaster's note: This tower is very close to Project Oceanology, which runs great trips to New London Ledge Lighthouse.