The quiet waters behind Fayerweather Island invited ships
to safe anchorage... Captains of commerce made their homes in
this neighborhood. Fishermen, warriors, mariners, pleasure-seekers,
builders and maritime industry have shared the life of the Port.
- Dr. Ivan O. Justinius, History of Black
Black Rock Harbor is a deep,
protected harbor that developed as a trade port and shipbuilding
center in the 1700s. The village of Black Rock was once part
of Fairfield, but now is a neighborhood of the city of Bridgeport.
Black Rock Harbor is sheltered by Fayerweather Island, which
made the island an ideal place for a lighthouse to mark the harbor
entrance. Seven-acre Fayerweather Island, now attached to the
mainland by a breakwater, at one time was a much larger island
used mainly for the pasturing of sheep.
In 1807, the federal government purchased 9 1/2 acres on the
island from Daniel Fayerweather for $200, and $5000 was appropriated
for the new light station. The following year the first Fayerweather
Island Lighthouse, an octagonal wooden tower, was built on the
south end of the island.
The first keeper, John Maltbie of Fairfield, died after five
months at the station. The 40-foot octagonal tower was destroyed
in an 1821 hurricane, and a new tower was completed two years
The builder of the second Fayerweather Island Lighthouse proclaimed
in a local newspaper that the tower was "built to withstand
the storm of ages." In his American Coast Pilot, Edmund
Blunt voiced another opinion: "A more contemptible Lighthouse
does not disgrace Long Island Sound, most shamefully erected
and badly kept."
The problem, according to Blunt and others, was that the exterior
of the 47-foot stone tower was filled in with small stones and
timbers. In spite of its less than perfect construction, the
lighthouse has survived for more than 180 years.
- The second (present) Fayerweather Island Light, c.
The most remarkable personality in the long history of Fayerweather
Island Light was Catherine Moore. The daughter of the light's
third keeper, Stephen Tomlinson Moore, Kate learned to trim the
wicks and care for the light when she was young. She later described
the importance of the light and the difficulties of maintaining
the early lamps:
Sometimes there were more than two hundred sailing vessels
in here at night, and some nights there were as many as three
or four wrecks, so you may judge how essential it was that they
should see our light.
It was a miserable one to keep going, too -- nothing like
those in use nowadays. It consisted of eight oil lamps which
took four gallons of oil each night... During windy nights it
was impossible to keep them burning at all, and I had to stay
there all night, but on other nights I slept at home, dressed
in a suit of boys' clothes, my lighted lantern hanging at my
headboard and my face turned so that I could see shining on the
wall the light from the tower and know if anything happened to
it. Our house was forty rods [about 700 feet] from the lighthouse,
and to reach it I had to walk across tow planks under which on
stormy nights were four feet of water, and it was not too easy
to stay on those slippery, wet boards with the wind whirling
and the spray blinding me.
Keeper Stephen Moore had become disabled after an accident
and Kate took over full duties at the lighthouse as a young woman.
Her father remained official keeper until he died in 1871.
An 1850 inspection reported "everything now pertaining
to the light is first-rate." A new lantern was installed
and the old lamps were replaced by a fifth order Fresnel lens
in the mid-1850s.
Over the years Kate Moore maintained a garden and cared for
a number of animals, including a flock of sheep. She also carved
and sold duck decoys and had a thriving oyster business. When
an outsider trespassed on her oyster beds, Moore would grab her
shotgun and tell them, "I represent the United States Government
and you've got to go." She was matter-of-fact about her
You see, I had done all this for so many years, and I knew
no other life, so I was sort of fitted for it. I never had much
of a childhood, as other children have it. That is, I never knew
playmates. Mine were the chickens, ducks and lambs and my two
- Kate Moore, courtesy of Bridgeport
Public Library Historical Collections.
- Kate Moore was credited with 21 lives saved during her 62
years at Fayerweather Island. There were frequently vessels wrecked
nearby in storms, and many times Kate and her father managed
to pull survivors to safety in the keeper's house.
- The shipwrecked men were given food and shelter, but according
to Kate Moore, "The government never paid us a cent for
boarding them." She said that the worst part of the job
was recovering the bodies of those who died in wrecks.
- After her father's death, Kate Moore was officially appointed
keeper. She remained at the station for seven more years, resigning
The house that Kate Moore and her father had lived in for
many years was described as a "dilapidated old edifice"
and was replaced by a new wood frame house in 1879.
The keeper's house stood from 1879
until 1977 when it burned down.
- Kate Moore lived in this house after
leaving the lighthouse. It was torn down in 1930.
Moore spent her last years in a cottage across from the Fayerweather
Yacht Club, with a view of Fayerweather Island and Long Island
When asked if she missed her island home, she replied, "Never.
The sea is a treacherous friend."
Leonard Clark, a Civil War veteran and former whaling captain,
was keeper for 28 years. He and his wife raised three children
on the island, and one of their sons became keeper of New York's
Execution Rocks Lighthouse. In 1906, Mary Elizabeth Clark became
keeper following her husband's death. Two months later she was
succeeded by John D. Davis, a veteran of the Irish Lighthouse
Davis remained keeper until 1932, when the lighthouse was
discontinued. It was replaced by two automatic offshore lights,
and Davis was transferred to Dutch Island Light in Rhode Island's
After its decommissioning, Fayerweather Island Light was given
to the City of Bridgeport and became part of Seaside Park, a
recreation area established in the nineteenth century largely
through the efforts of P. T. Barnum. The historic structure soon
fell prey to vandals, who gutted the interior. The 1879 keeper's
house was destroyed by fire in 1977. Luckily, the exterior of
the lighthouse was never seriously damaged and the tower remained
- Inside the lighthouse c. 1997
In 1983, the Friends of Seaside Park and the Black Rock Community
Council mounted a preservation effort. They replaced glass and
secured the door and windows. The Friends of Seaside Park also
cleaned Fayerweather Island of debris, planted trees and other
greenery, and established the island as a nature preserve.
Unfortunately, the lighthouse and island again became sad
victims of neglect and vandalism.
The door was forced open, and the interior of the lighthouse
appeared to be a favorite spot for beer drinking parties. The
future of the historic site looked bleak.
New hope arrived with a preservation effort initiated by two
Black Rock artist David Grant Grimshaw and caterer Patricia
Roche often wondered what could be done to save the lighthouse.
As a result of their concern, a lighthouse fund was established
and began raising money in 1993. A Preservation Ball was initiated
in 1994 by Grimshaw and became an annual event. Local artists
like Grimshaw and Mary Chandler donated paintings to help raise
- The lighthouse has been a target
of graffiti "artists"
The group, in association with the Black Rock Community Council,
raised $25,000 in cash and in-kind services, and the City of
Bridgeport's Board of Park Commissioners matched the amount by
The Black Rock Seaport Foundation, affiliated with the Black
Rock Community Council, oversaw the 1998 restoration. Under the
direction of architect and Black Rock resident David Barbour,
work on the lighthouse proceeded in earnest in the spring and
summer of 1998. Barbour and landscape architect Stuart Sachs
provided in-kind services, and the contractor was American Building
Group of Bridgeport.
Work was delayed for a few months while paint and mortar were
analyzed so that the original mortar and paint color could be
matched. By the end of the year the masonry was repaired, a coat
of graffiti-resistant paint was applied, the lantern room was
reglazed, rust on the railings was removed, and new doors and
windows were installed. The new windows have vandal-proof steel
panes, which from a distance have the appearance of glass.
A protective stone seawall was also reconstructed, affording
better protection for the foundation of the lighthouse.
The renovation was complete, except for one thing -- the group
felt the landmark should be visible at night. Two power companies,
United Illuminating and Bridgeport Energy, stepped in to help.
The companies donated solar panels and lighting equipment.
Workers and materials were transported to the island by Captain's
Cove Seaport and the Fayerweather Yacht Club, and the panels
were installed in the top of the lighthouse away from public
The lights illuminate the tower but are not meant to serve
as a navigational aid.
- Some of the people responsible for
the restoration of Fayerweather Island Light. L to R: Patricia Roche, Mary Chandler,
Steve Tyliszczak, David Barbour
- Solar panels provide power to illuminate
- Instead of glass, the windows now
have steel panes
According to an article in the Connecticut Post, the
lighthouse had been temporarily -- and mysteriously -- relighted
in April of 1996. David Grant Grimshaw arrived at the Black Rock
Yacht Club on the evening of the Preservation Ball and couldn't
believe his eyes. "Across the harbor was the eerie glow
of the lighthouse against the black sky," he said. "Everyone
thought I had arranged the illumination, but I hadn't."
Attempts to find the phantom "keeper" were unsuccessful
-- maybe the spirit of Kate Moore had grown tired of waiting
for the restoration.
All involved are pleased with the fruits of their preservation
efforts. "It was a real challenge. It does prove that people
can make a difference," says Patricia Roche.
There was a temporary setback in 2004 when vandals smashed
the solar panels on the tower. New panels with protective cages
were in place by early 2007.
- Fayerweather Island is accessible
via this breakwater from Seaside Park
- Fayerweather Island's only residents
today are egrets and other wildlife
The lighthouse preservation fund is managed by the Burroughs
Community Center in Bridgeport. For information on how you can
help with the continued preservation of Fayerweather Island Lighthouse,
call (203) 334-0293, or write:
Fayerweather Island Restoration Fund
c/o Burroughs Community Center
2470 Fairfield Ave.
Bridgeport, CT 06605
You can read much more about this lighthouse in the book The Lighthouses
of Connecticut by Jeremy D'Entremont.
list is a work in progress. If you have any information on the keepers
of this lighthouse, I'd love to hear from you. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyone copying this list onto another web site does so at their own
risk, as the list is always subject to updates and corrections.)
John Maltbie (1808-1809, died in service);
Charles Isaac Judson (1809-1814?, died in service); Daniel Willson
(Wilson) (1814-1817?); Stephen Moore (1817-1871); Catherine (Kate)
Moore (1871-1878); Leonard Clark (1878-1906); Mary Elizabeth
Clark (1906); John D. Davis (1906-1932); Charles H. Gilmore (caretaker?,