The harbor of Old
Saybrook, at the mouth of the Connecticut River, was limited in its
development by the presence of a large sand bar at the harbor
Buoys were placed to mark the bar, but the shifting sand made
navigation difficult. In the 1870s, two parallel stone jetties were
built and a deep channel was dredged between them. $20,000 was
appropriated by Congress in 1882 for the construction of a lighthouse
on the west jetty.
Saybrook Breakwater Light, also known as the Outer
Light, was first lighted on June 15, 1886. It's about 3,000 feet from
Lynde Point Light.
Saybrook Breakwater Light and Lynde Point
Light c. 1890s
collection of Edward Rowe Snow, courtesy of Dorothy Bicknell
The 49-foot cast-iron tower on a cylindrical foundation is
very similar to Connecticut's Stamford Harbor Light. It has a basement,
four main floors, a watchroom and a lantern room. It was fitted with a
fifth-order Fresnel lens exhibiting a fixed white light with a red
sector. A more powerful fourth-order lens was installed in 1890.
The first keeper was Frank W. Parmele, a native of Guilford,
Connecticut. A newspaper article in 1888 described winter life at the
With the advent
of cold weather in the fall, the novelties
and pleasures, attendant upon a lighthouse keeper's existence depart,
and he is closely confined within the strong structure for the next six
months, with only an occasional visit ashore for the purpose of
procuring the necessaries of life. . .
All his enjoyments are confined to
his home, and you are quite certain of finding him with his family
every evening. No down street business for him after supper; no
meetings or clubs to occupy his evenings and keep him away from his
pleasant little sitting-room. In this sort of a boudoir, which is
located on the second floor of the lighthouse, is where Captain Frank
W. Parmelee whiles away the long winter evenings. He doesn't lack
entertainment there, for his most esteemed wife is a fine musician,
playing equally well upon either the organ or banjo. Then he has
recourse to a library of standard works, which is furnished by the
United States Lighthouse Establishment. Games are quite often
introduced, the Captain being an adept at chess and checkers, and he's
not very slow in playing the pasteboards for all they are worth.
all these home comforts and pleasures, life cannot, after all, be so
unbearable as one might first suppose, and at times we even envy the
happy skipper his lot. In a letter received a short time ago from our
old time friend, Captain Parmelee, he tells us of the stability of his
home on the breakwater. Even during the fiercest storms, the wind
no effect upon the staunch structure, and the mighty seas beating
against it, barely make a perceptible jar. Of the late terrible
storm, he jocosely remarks that "for once we had the best of the people
on shore, for we did not get snowed in and had no snow to shovel, but
there was lots of it passed by." He states that while the
in progress, the sea came upon the deck of the lighthouse from the
north'ard, striking the front door, a like occurrence never happening
before during his residence at the station, nearly two years. As
wind was off shore, the seas did not run very high, but sufficient
spray flew to cause considerable ice to form on the house. . .
misfortune that has happened to the captain during the winter was the
spraining of his ankle while climbing on the breakwater, which
compelled him to use crutches in order to get around for about two
weeks. He's all right again now.
Cinda Parmelee for this article.)
|The lighthouse was equipped with a 1,000-pound fog bell
in 1889. The sound was so objected to by local residents that it was
replaced by a 250-pound bell; this bell was succeeded by a foghorn.
Atmospheric conditions made it difficult to hear the fog signals very
far at sea. In 1936, two powerful diaphragm horns were installed.
This was a tough assignment for a keeper; strong winds and currents
frequently made the trip to shore treacherous. More stones were
eventually added to the breakwater making it possible to walk to the
lighthouse, but waves washed over the rocks and in the winter the
breakwater was often covered with ice.
Andrew A. McLintock, a Rhode Island native who was born in
1901, was keeper at Saybrook Breakwater 1932-35. In her book, Dory of the Lighthouse,
McLintock's daughter Doris M. McLintock-Hubbard recalled that the
lighthouse had four floors of living space topped by the watchroom and
lantern. The entry level was the galley, furnished with a coal stove.
Cast-iron stairs led to the parlor on the next level. The next set of
stairs led to the keeper's bedroom, and the next level held two tiny
Doris also recalled that her father had to repair damage done
by the previous keeper, who, because he was angry at being fired, had
contaminated the station's water supply with garbage. He had also pured
kerosene into the mercury that served as a bearing for the revolving
lens. Until he could carefully strain out the kerosene, McLintock and
his wife had to turn the lens by hand all night for several cold
There were several powerful storms during the McLintock
family's years at the station, but no storm in the lighthouse's history
compared to the hurricane of 1938.
On the afternoon of September 21, 1938, Keeper Sidney Gross
noted in the station's log that a light southeast breeze had sprung up
from a perfect calm. He had no way of knowing that this was the first
warning of the worst hurricane in recorded New England history.
As the skies darkened and the winds increased, Keeper Gross
and Assistant Keeper Bennett turned on the fog signal and attempted to
secure the station. By 4:00 p.m., the bridge from the lighthouse to the
breakwater was swept away, as were the platform around the lighthouse
and a 12-foot rowboat. At 4:30 a 1,500-gallon tank of kerosene was
carried away by the waves, along with a 600-gallon tank. The two
keepers boarded up the window to the engine room, but the waves smashed
right through, flooding the room.
- U.S. Coast Guard photo
|Gross disconnected the electric light and put the old
incandescent oil vapor lamp into use. The vibrations were so great that
the lamp's mantle collapsed, so Gross switched to an older oil wick
Gross stayed in the lantern room all night keeping the light going,
even as he feared that the lighthouse wouldn't stand through the night.
In the morning Gross surveyed the damage and entered in the log:
"Everything swept away by hurricane except the tower."
The light was automated in 1959 and its Fresnel lens was
replaced by a modern optic. In the summer of 1996, the Coast Guard
painted the lighthouse and removed a 500-gallon fuel tank and a
generator at a cost of $64,000.
In April 2007, it was announced that the lighthouse would be available
to a suitable new owner under the guidelines of the National
Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000.
Saybrook Breakwater Light continues to flash a green light as
an active aid to navigation. The lighthouse is visible from several
places along the shore, but the general public's best views are from
the water. It's at the end of a private road and is difficult to reach
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.)
Frank W. Parmele (1886-1890); John G. Skipworth (1890-1896);
George W. Fife (1896-1897); Robert S. Bishop (1897-1898); Nathaniel
Dodge (1898); Thomas Bunker (1898-1899); John Dahlman (1899-1907);
Herbert S. Knowles (1907-1911); Simon Sfvorinich (1911-1918); Joseph F.
Woods (c. 1918); J. A. Davis (1918-1920); Paul G. Peterson (1920-?);
Andrew A. McLintock (1932-1935); Sidney Gross (1938-?); S.L. Bennett
(assistant, c. 1938); Thomas A. Buckridge (1942-1944); George E.
Sheffield (both Lynde Point and breakwater lights, ?); Laureat LeClere
(both Lynde Point and breakwater lights, 1954-1970)