Stratford was an active
port in coastal trade, shipbuilding and oystering in the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries. For years before there was a lighthouse, a
bonfire and then a fire in an iron basket on a pole were used as aids
to navigation at Stratford Point. To mark the entrance to the harbor,
the first Stratford Point Lighthouse was built on the west side of the
dangerous mouth of the Housatonic River in 1822 at a cost of $4,000.
The revolving light consisted of 10 lamps and reflectors
on two tables of five lamps each. In 1855, the 28-foot octagonal wooden
tower was fitted with a fifth-order Fresnel lens. A fog bell in a bell
tower was added in 1864. It took 20 minutes to wind the clockwork
mechanism in the tower sufficiently for it to run for 30 minutes.
Stratford Point Light had a female keeper, Amy
Buddington, for several years. An 1850 inspection mentioned that her
son had taken over the care of the lighthouse.
Right: The first
Stratford Point Lighthouse. (National Archives)
Stratford Point Light has often felt the brunt of storms, and
the location is frequently foggy. One keeper had to ring the fog bell
for 32 consecutive hours, another rang it in a February storm for 104
hours, then another 103 hours after a brief rest.
In 1871, Benedict Lillingston was keeper and his son Frederick
was assistant. In October, the keeper's granddaughter Lottie was
visiting the lighthouse when the keepers had to go to the aid of a
vessel in distress. Twelve-year old Lottie, left alone, noticed that
the light had gone out. Lottie decided to put her knowledge gained from
watching her uncle and grandfather into action.
Climbing to the lantern room by herself for the first time,
Lottie lit a backup safety lamp and suspended it in place of the
primary lamps. The captain of the steamer Elm City noticed the
dim light showing as he passed the lighthouse.
By 1867 the original tower was in disrepair and the keeper's
house was considered too small for a keeper and assistant. The
authorities delayed rebuilding by appointing a married couple, Jerome
and Mary Tuttle, as keeper and assistant. They were succeeded by
another husband and wife, Theodore and Kate Judson. "Theed" Judson was
keeper from 1880 to 1921. It was said when Judson retired that he
hadn't had a vacation in 39 years.
Judson once made an extraordinary claim in a local newspaper.
He said that he had seen as many as 12 to 15 mermaids frolicking in the
waves off the point. In fact, he said he once almost caught one of
them, and he managed to salvage her oyster shell hairbrush. "They're a
grand sight," he said of the mermaids. It's said that Judson's friends
were never able to get him to retract the mermaid tale.
Agnes Judson, the keeper's daughter, gained fame as a swimmer
who won competitions in the area. One summer day when she was 17, Agnes
watched from the top of the lighthouse as the seas became increasingly
rough. Two fishermen about 100 yards offshore were trying to pull up
the anchor of their small yawl, and the waves caused both to fall into
Agnes ran down the lighthouse stairs. She called to her
brother Henry, and both swam out to the fishermen. One of them was
about to go under a second time when Agnes got a rope to him in the
nick of time. Agnes and Henry managed to pull both of the men safely
back to shore.
When asked how she had summoned so much courage Agnes
replied, "Why, I couldn't stand by and see those two poor fellows
drown, could I? I just jumped in and helped them - same as anyone would
have done who knows how to swim."
In 1881, a new 35-foot cast iron tower and a new
eight-room Gothic Revival house were built. The tower was equipped with
a third-order Fresnel lens exhibiting a flashing white light. A new fog
bell was added the same year. In 1906, the lens was replaced by a
fourth-order lens that rotated in a bed of mercury. A fog siren
replaced the old fog bell in 1910 and a brick powerhouse was built to
house the equipment.
In August 1922, Keeper William Petzolt and his assistant
went to the aid of the power vessel Ellen May. They took the 30
passengers to the lighthouse, where they dried their clothes, gave them
a meal, and put them on a trolley for New Haven.
Right: The second (present)
Stratford Point Light shortly after it was built (U.S. Coast Guard )
U.S. Coast Guard photo c. 1960s
Stratford Point Light had a civilian keeper long after
the Coast Guard took over at most lighthouses, a process that began in
1939. Daniel F. McCoart, a Providence native, Navy veteran and former
light heavyweight boxer, was the civilian keeper from 1945 to 1963. He
lived at the lighthouse with his family. William Shackley was the
assistant keeper for many years, and he also lived in the keeper's
house with his family. Keeper McCoart retired in 1963 after 44 years in
the Lighthouse Service.
In 1969, Stratford Point Light took on the appearance of
a "headless" lighthouse as the lantern was removed to make room for new
automated DCB-224 aerobeacons. These powerful beacons for a time made
the light the most powerful on Long Island Sound. The old lantern was
donated to the Stratford Historical Society, and it was displayed at
Booth Memorial Park in Stratford for 21 years.
In 1990, a smaller optic was installed and the lantern
was refurbished and reinstalled at a cost of about $80,000, with a
dedication ceremony on July 14, 1990. The tower was repainted in 1996,
keeping its distinctive markings of white with a brown band in the
A Coast Guard family lives at the lighthouse and the
station is not open to the public.
You can read much more about this lighthouse in the book
Lighthouses of Connecticut by Jeremy D'Entremont.
Stratford Point Light during
its "headless" period (U.S. Coast Guard)
Inside the tower
- Keepers: (This
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.)
- Samuel Buddington (1821-c. 1841 and 1844-1848, died in
service); William Merwin (c. 1841-1844); Amy Buddington (1848-1861);
Rufus Buddington (1861-1869); Benedict Lillingston (1869-1874);
Frederick Lillingston (assistant, c. 1869-1874); John L. Brush
(1874-1879); Abigail Brush (assistant, 1874-1879); Jerome Tuttle
(1879-1880); Mary Tuttle (assistant, 1879-1880); Theodore Judson
(1880-1921); Kate Judson (assistant, 1880-1882); William Petzolt
(assistant 1913-1921, keeper 1921-1945); Daniel F. McCoart (1945-1963);
William A. Shackley (assistant, c. 1950s); Homer T. Nicholls