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 later.
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,
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
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 unique life:
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 in 1878.
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
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 Service.
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 structurally sound.
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 local residents.
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 funds.
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 granting
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
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 view.
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 the lighthouse
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 email@example.com.
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?, 1933?-1952)