Custom House Maritimes
In 2014, we gave approximately 120 hour-long lighthouse tours, 18 sunset &
full-moon harbor tours, 8 Plum Island day trips, 7 Ledge Light trips, 2 Fishers Island excursions, and 1 BIG five-hour tour of area lighthouses -- in all, approximately 1,300 guests learned about New London’s lighthouses and our local maritime history. We hired local watermen and boats and utilized NL ferries.
NLMS presented boat tours and special programs across seventeen weekends -- July through October.
All tour guides were NLMS volunteers. We did it all without grants or subsidies -- and made a profit!
And all money raised (over boat costs) went to the New London Lighthouse Restoration Fund!
Thanks to all our volunteers & boatmen, and thank you to everyone who took a lighthouse tour.
To some, taking responsibility for a third lighthouse this autumn (New London Ledge Light Station) may appear foolhardy. Well, somebody needed to do it! The photos on this page provide a cautionary tale of what can happen when a lighthouse is left to deteriorate; the simple metal tower, below right, is the modern replacement for the lovely old 1869 granite Plum Island Light. Efficent it may be, but what a loss to our sense of place!
Today, the federal government needs local non-profit partners, like us, to help preserve our significant, evocative historic structures. NLMS was, in fact, the only non-profit applicant for Ledge Lighthouse. Without our intervention, that beloved local landmark either would have been 1.) auctioned off to a private individual or
2.) left to decay and eventually perhaps be replaced by said metal tower. As the new owners of Ledge Lighthouse, with ongoing stewardship of Ledge Light Foundation, we now work to preserve it for you and for future generations!
There are historic precedents that also commended our decision to jump in.You may recollect that, from its inception, New London Maritime Society was a preservation force. Thirty-one years ago, citizens rallied to save the City’s 1833 US Custom House. Those founders managed to both save the building for all and also create within it a community museum that tells the stories of our waterfront. Our lighthouse connection stems from that same impulse.
New London was one of the very first US Customs ports established by George Washington, who then created the US Revenue Service as Customs’s maritime arm and took control of all existing lighthouses (Harbor Light was number 4 on that early list). As the federal presence in New London, US Customs officials oversaw operation of all area lights - appointing the lighthouse keepers, and ordering the oil, wicks and other supplies on a quarterly basis. New London customs officials managed the rebuilding of Harbor Light in 1799, and, in the mid-1800s, Collector Ingoldsby Work Crawford directed construction of Old Saybrook light, placed spindles out at the Race, and allowed a deceased-keeper’s wife to take over her late husband’s lighthouse duties in Noank--all out of our customs house!
Customs oversaw the lighthouses until 1911. In 1939, five federal agencies, including the Revenue Cutter & Lighthouse Services (est. 1911), were rolled into the new United States Coast Guard, (now all part of Homeland Security). Today, the Coast Guard still services the lights and fog horns, but they cannot deal with large maintenance issues such as deteriorating lighthouse structures. That is where we come back in. Our mission is both education, and the preservation of our maritime heritage. Our heritage includes the protection of area lighthouses for future generations. That is who we are and that is why we do what we do.
The good news is, by working together, we all benefit!
It's only April, but we're all about lighthouses once again!
Today we received notice that Yankee Magazine selected us as 2014 “Editors’ Choice” winner in Yankee Magazine’s Travel Guide to New England. We won for Best Lighthouse Tour! This designation is awarded by Yankee’s editors and contributors who name select restaurants, lodgings, and attractions in New England to the exclusive list. For 38 years, Yankee Magazine’s Travel Guide to New England has been the most widely distributed and best-selling guide to the six-state region, providing readers with a comprehensive vacation-planning tool and daily reference.
The Summer Lighthouse Boat Tours have grown since the we took ownership of our first lighthouse (October 2010), from one weekend in 2011 to 16 weekends in 2014. The boats are small, the trip is exciting! Running the trips is an all-volunteer effort and the New London Maritime Society's major fund-raising activity for preserving the area's lighthouses. Our volunteers have a lot to be proud of! This year, we also are restoring New London Harbor 'Pequot' Light--the oldest and tallest lighthouse on Long Island Sound so this award is especially significant for us; it will give the program a terrific boost! Thank you Yankee Magazine!Our spring campaign to raise money for the New London Harbor Lighthouse restoration in honor of Ben Martin passed $39,000 Friday! Thank you all! We have had many contributions, larger & smaller, but all heart-felt with true love for the lighthouse. Thank you.
Work continues at the lighthouse, both Hurricane Sandy restoration funded at 75% by FEMA, and preliminary testing in advance of the lighthouse restoration, which begins in another month. This week, mason Harald Hefel continued to replace storm-damaged walls on the lighthouse property; using our one original as a model, Dave Fallon and David Lersch are donating the remaking brass lighthouse vent controls for the lighthouse lantern room; and masons Scott Loring and sons have been carefully opening up test sections of interior lighthouse walls to determine how the tower was built. What they've discovered can partially be seen in this photo taken in a window well. The original tower is granite with a 16" facing of brownstone. (Did you know: originally the lighthouse was not painted but left with the brownstone finish.) In the mid 1800s, the lighthouse's original 1801 wooden stairway was replaced with a cast-iron circular stair. At that time, the interior of the lighthouse was lined with brick to fit around the new stairway. What Scott Loring discovered is that between the original wall and the brick lining is a hollow space, but the two walls are tied together with brick flanges at several points. In mid-May, the scaffolding will be in place to redo the exterior of the lighthouse. It is important to know that this tower is not a single compressed mass, but two individual structures.
Just added: Get up and get OUT for a Seal Watch on Sunday morning, March 23, 2014 at 9 AM.
Participants board Project 'O's Enviro-lab in New London at the Custom House Pier on Waterfront Park to travel to popular winter seal haunts.
It is suggested that one wear deck shoes or boots and very warm clothing for the trip. Bring your camera and binoculars! This is the first time and only time NLMS will offer a Seal Watch out of New London this season.
At age thirty, New London Maritime Society's vision is growing. Three decades ago, the founders, The Day, and the people of this city created a new institution designed to preserve New London's 1833 U.S. custom house within an organization dedicated preserving the history of maritime New London.
Recently, for the first time in two hundred+ years, and for one time only, the federal government began divesting itself of its--our--historic lighthouses. Because preserving the region's maritime history is our mission, we rose to the challenge; if not us, who would step forward to preserve these sites for future generations?
Three years ago, the New London Maritime Society adopted the city's Harbor Lighthouse, and just two months ago took ownership of a second lighthouse: Race Rock. Now, in partnership with the Ledge Light Foundation, we are applying for a third-and last-property: New London Ledge Light.
But there's a greater plan at work, too, one that's organized geographically (not following political boundaries), for preserving the true essence of maritime New London. The idea is to look out across the waters of Long Island Sound and partner with groups along the shoreline: conservationists, historians, boaters, commercial fishermen, residents, with the hope of creating a larger mutually-supportive entity. The Maritime Society's goal now is to preserve not just the stories but the whole of our maritime resources within the framework of a national maritime-heritage park. We're already at work!
Next year is the quatro-centennial of Adriaen Block's mapping of Long Island Sound-the first chart ever drawn of this watery region. What's the connection? At our Annual Meeting coming up on Sunday afternoon, November 10, at 2 PM, NLMS will present exciting plans for 2014. Our featured speaker is historian/conservationist Tom Andersen, of Save the Sound. Tom will tell the story of Block and his fellow Dutch sailors and help launch the New London Maritime Society's year-long celebration of Long Island Sound. Hear about where we've been and what's ahead. There will be some surprises, too!
Please be a part of it. Tickets are $35. The Annual Meeting begins at 2 PM, Dinner & the Program commence at 2:30 PM. The event will be held at the Port 'N Starboard, Ocean Beach Park. Call 860-447-2501 to make your reservation, ASAP. Be part of Something BIG! We hope to see you there.
We are committed to preserving our important heritage sites for future generations. Ultimately, a national maritime heritage part of the historic and natural sites of eastern Long Island Sound might be the outcome. There is no more thrilling or compelling story than that of this lighthouse. The only question here should be: How could we have let the opportunity pass?!
It takes a village, as somebody once put it. I wish you all could see the variety of callers we have each day at the museum, many of them here not as tourists, but to contribute a unique artifact, a story, sage advice, a book, an idea, or simple moral support. We have museum trustees, members, docents and volunteers—without whom we could not keep the museum open. There are the artists, craftsmen and mariners, who allow us to visit and teach about their work through educational programs and museum exhibitions. Visiting teachers, students, tourists bring the museum to life. Helpful colleagues and community partners support our causes and amplify our efforts. Please stop by, anytime. We love to hear what you have to say. And thank you for thinking of the Custom House.
We deplore the fact that Little Gull lighthouse and island, one of four lighthouses leading in to New London harbor, is about to be auctioned by our government to a private individual. According to the National Lighthouse Protection Act of 2000, the federal government says their 'ideal' solution is to have the light taken over by a local non-profit or community organization. But in this case, the group whih agreed to 'adopt' the lighthouse dropped out, and notw this important piece of our heritage is up for sale.
New London Maritime Society, working with Save the Sound and other environmental groups in both NY and CT, have petitioned the government to adopt Little Gull since September, 2011--before the auction began. We have gong to our senators, etc. for help...
In fact, rookeries for the endangered species the roseate tern exist on Little Gull Island.
The site visit for prospective buyers took place June 28, 2012. We asked to go on the trip, and registered as a bidder last fall, but we were not allowed as we could not meet the minimum deposit amount: $25,000!
At this time, just prior to OpSail / SailFest 2012 and our Sentinels on the Sound Lighthouse Weekend / Don't Miss the Boat events in New London, when we are celebrating our waterfront and maritime history, this auction is a tragedy--both for our heritage and for the environment.
There's a lot both going on & not going on in New London this summer. People have moved, grants are delayed, events have been curtailed. We're hosting OpSail, but what about those great evening concerts on the Parade?... Consequently cooperative-planning is a little tricky for many of the groups downtown.
One question that came in today was about our annual CribbageFest: when is it? We usually host the match right about now, but our super CribbageFest organizer, Brian, decamped to sunny Florida several months back and is very happy there. All I can suggest is if YOU are an avid player and would like to help organize this year's match, please let me know and we'll schedule it for later this summer.
At the Custom House, we find if we tag on to another event going on downtown we can be very successful. But if we hold events on lur own--especially outdoor events that require a crowd, they kinda fall flat; there just aren't enough people mulling around downtown. This is why it's important to stay connected and partner with the other New London organizations, galleries & shops, so we can cross-promote our activities and work togerther collaboratively.
The good news is that our tent is going up on Thursday. It should be ready for Hope Week weekend activities. If you'd like to help Watch This Space for updates or go to our Facebook page: