one-of-a-kind building was one of the last lighthouses built in New
England, and it represents a rare case of an early 20th century
offshore lighthouse that is not of cast-iron construction. The stately
red brick building with its mansard roof and granite detailing makes a
striking picture standing off by itself near the entrance to
Connecticut's New London Harbor, at the extreme eastern end of Long
The lighthouse reportedly owes its distinctive
French Second Empire style to the influence of the wealthy home owners
on the local coast, who wanted a structure in keeping with the elegance
of their own homes. Many of the large homes near the shore in the area
were destroyed in the great hurricane of September 21, 1938.
By the early 1900s, New London, with its protected
harbor at the mouth of the Thames River, had made the transition from
whaling center to industrial city. New London Ledge Light was built
because New London Harbor Light wasn't sufficient to direct vessels
around the dangerous ledges at the entrance to the harbor.
U.S. Coast Guard
Lobbying for the lighthouse began in 1890. In 1903
the Lighthouse Board made this recommendation:
The necessity for establishing a light
and an efficient fog signal in such a position as to enable vessels to
enter and leave the harbor of New London, Conn., has become evident,
and especially so for the aid of those approaching from seaward.
The numerous outlying shoals and ledges
surrounding the entrance to this harbor make the approach to it
dangerous in thick weather. ... In view of these facts... it is
suggested that a light and fog signal station be established...
- The lighthouse was built by the Hamilton R.
Douglas Company of New London. This company also built Groton Town
Hall. The crib it stands on was constructed by the T.A. Scott Company
in Groton and was towed to the site, where it was filled with concrete
and riprap and sunk in 28 feet of water.
A riprap deposit, 82 feet square and 10 feet
deep, surrounds and protects the foundation. A concrete pier, 50 feet
square and rising 18 feet above low water, was constructed on top of
the foundation. The pier contains cellar space and two water cisterns.
The lighthouse was at first called Southwest
Ledge Light, but the name was changed to avoid confusion with the
lighthouse of the same name in New Haven Harbor.
The cast-iron lantern rises from the center of
the building's mansard roof. The lantern originally held a fourth-order
Fresnel lens (now at the Custom House in New London) from the
Henry-Lepaute Company of Paris, with an icandescent oil vapor lamp. A
clockwork mechanism had to be wound every four hours to keep the lens
Coast Guard photo
When it was first lighted, the New
London Day reported that the light could be seen up to 18
miles away. The characteristic was three white flashes followed by a
red flash every 30 seconds. A fog signal was added in 1911, replacing
the one at New London Harbor Light.
Howard B. Beebe was keeper during the hurricane of
September 21,1938. He was in the lighthouse with a second assistant
keeper and a tinsmith. Beebe's family was on shore at the time the gale
struck. "It washed out everything,"
Keeper Beebe later told the Providence
About 3:15, the engines conked out, but
the light was going. We moved to the lantern. It was a three-story
building. Waves were coming through the second floor. I've seen waves
before, in the Bay of Fundy, but I never saw them like that. There was
11 tons of coal in the cellar, and it boiled it all out.
William Ivan Clark was the last civilian keeper
(1954-59); he was
transferred from New York's Little Dumpling Light because of health
concerns and a desire to keep him closer to shore. Clark was keeper
until 1970 at Watch Hill Light in Rhode Island; he was among the
nation's last civilian keepers.
Coast Guard crews lived at the lighthouse from then
until its automation in 1987. The crew worked in three man shifts,
spending up to three weeks at the lighthouse followed by six days on
shore. Somebody once explained why there were three men at the
lighthouse at one time -- if two men had a fight, there would be a
third to break it up. According to Elinor De Wire, author of the book Guardians
of the Lights, they were occasionally driven to distraction
by the smells wafting from the mainland -- freshly mown lawns and
barbecues -- as well as by the sight, viewable by binoculars, of young
women on a nearby beach.
Ed Jonin, on the crew 1974-76, later recalled:
were a weather station so every four hours we sent the weather,
maintained the building and anything else we needed to do, with a buoy
tender coming out every so often to bring us fresh water and fuel . .
hurricane with winds up to 120 making the building move a bit when the
waves crashed up against the base, the snow and ice storms, fog for
weeks at a time, with those damn foghorns blowing every few seconds,
trying to sleep with them on. . . was not really the best of duty, but
it's what we had to do. We fished sometimes, tried to spot the girls on
the beach, watch the people run out of the water when someone cried
shark (the movie Jaws had
just came out), but come evening that little light bulb was turned on
and every so often someone would go up there to crank the weight back
up . . .
Ledge Light was generally considered
undesirable duty, but some enjoyed the solitude and beauty of the
place. Petty Officer 1st Class Timothy Grant, a Maine native, told the New
York Times in 1984, "After a week ashore, I can't wait to get
back here." He knew it wasn't for everybody, adding, "This
might be an ideal place for a loner, but it would drive whoever lives
with him up a wall." Seaman Don Place put it simply, "You get a lot of
time to think."
Probably the best-known part of this station's history and lore is the
lighthouse's infamous ghost, "Ernie." It's been claimed that in the
1920s or '30s, a keeper learned that his wife had run off with the
captain of the Block Island ferry. Distraught, the keeper jumped -- or
fell -- from the roof of the lighthouse to his death, the story goes.
Some versions of this story say that Ernie's real name may have been
John Randolf or Randolph. If there's any truth behind the legend, it's
But there does seem to be unexplainable activity
at the lighthouse. Doors have been known to open and close
mysteriously, decks have swabbed themselves, televisions have turned
themselves off, and the fog horn seems to turn on and off for no
reason. Securely tied boats have mysteriously been set adrift.
An investigation by New
England Ghost Project
produced the alternate theory that "Ernie" is actually the spirit of a
man who was part of a construction crew working at the lighthouse and
fell from the roof to his death.
In 1987, New London Ledge Light became the last
lighthouse on Long Island Sound to be automated. On the last day before
automation, a Coast Guardsman entered in the log:
Rock of slow torture. Ernie's domain.
Hell on earth -- may New London Ledge's light shine on forever because
I'm through. I will watch it from afar while drinking a brew.
painting of the lighthouse on a wall on the first floor was done by one
of the last Coast Guardsmen on duty at the light.
both sides of the Fresnel lens on display in the Custom House Museum of
Maritime History in New London. The lens produced a sequence of three
white flashes and one red flash.
The fourth-order Fresnel lens once in the
lighthouse is now at Custom House Museum of Maritime History in New
London. There is now a VRB-25 optic in use in the lighthouse.
Solar panels were added in 1998, providing power
for the light and fog signal. The rest of the electricity is provided
by a cable from Avery Point.
The lighthouse is leased to the New London Ledge
Lighthouse Foundation. This group, with the help of grants and private
contributions, has done some restoration of the building's interior. In
2009, the group became a chapter of the American Lighthouse
Volunteers have completed much more restoration work in
recent years, and an interpretive center has been established in the
|Project Oceanology in Groton offers
tours to the lighthouse; click here for information.
You can see the lighthouse fairly distantly from the
shore of New London, especially in the Pequot Avenue area, and you can
get a good view from the Fisher's Island and Block Island ferries
leaving New London.
You can also contact the New London Ledge Lighthouse
Foundation (a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation) for more
London Ledge Lighthouse Foundation
You can read much more about this lighthouse in the book The
Lighthouses of Connecticut by
P.O. Box 855
New London, Connecticut 06320
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.)
? Bloom (1910-?-); George Hansen (c. 1913-1916), Charles
E. Minkler (second assistant, 1914-?); Howard Beebe (1926-1938),
William Ivan Clark (1954-1959), Robert
Melick (Coast Guard, 1966-1970), Roland Ludington (Coast Guard, c.
1973-1974), Ed Jonin (Coast Guard,1974-1976), John
E. Ethridge (Coast Guard, c. 1981), Richard Mumenthaler (Coast Guard,
c. 1981), Vernon L. Smith (Coast Guard, c. 1981), Timothy Grant (Coast
Guard, c. 1984), Donald Place (Coast Guard, c. 1984), Dean Notte (Coast
Guard, c. 1984), Charles Kerr (Coast Guard officer in charge, c. 1985),
Mark DeBiase (Coast Guard, c. 1984-1985)