Established as a beacon at the 'Harbor's Mouth', as early as the late 1730s, the land where the Thames River meets Long Island Sound was purchased in 1759 for the construction of New London Harbor Light in the reign of King George II. In 1761, with money raised by selling lottery tickets, a 64-foot stone tower with a lantern was erected at the west side of the harbor entrance.
New London's Shaw family made a vast fortune in shipping during the colonial times leading to the American Revolution. At the start of hostilities in 1775 and under the permission of the Governor of Connecticut Johnathan Trumbull, Shaw began to outfit ships of line to wreak havoc on British supply ships. This type of legal piracy, also known as privateering, was an extremely effective tool for the colonies, as there was not any serious American navy at this point. The ship owner and his investors would share in the profis of the goods that were taken and resold usually at the docks at escalated prices. A share would then go to the coiffures of the state and everyone was happy.
New London Harbor lighthouse helped to guide Shaw's American privateers into New London Harbor. As a result of this activity, Benedict Arnold targeted and burned down New London in 1781, having landed his troops near the lighthouse.
New London Harbor Light was the fourth lighthouse recognized by George Washington when he enacted the 1789 Act for the Establishment and support of Lighthouse, Beacons, Buoys, and Public Piers.
By 1799, the lighthouse developed a large crack and there also were complaints that the light was difficult to distinguish from neighboring homes.
The current octagonal tower, designed by Abisha Woodward, was constructed of brownstone in 1801. New London Harbor Light was one of the earliest American lighthouses with a flashing light. The revolving eclipser gave it a distinct characteristic so it couldn't be confused with the lights of nearby houses. (This eclipser was not noted in Robt. Mills's American Phares,1832, so may have been installed later than noted.)
New London Harbor Light was extinguished during the War of 1812 at the request of Commodore Decatur. With the militia nearby the British decided not to raid the lighthouse, but they did raid Little Gull Island Light farther out in Fishers Island Sound.
The keeper's quarters were constructed in 1863 (enlarged in 1900). The station was automated in 1912 (possible date range based on construction of fog signal house, whose date is given as 1903 (discontinued 1911) and automation of light).
The lighthouse is mentioned in Eugene O'Neill's play Ah Wilderness. and its former foghorn in the New London playwright's Long Day's Journey Into Night. In 2009, New London Maritime Society became owners of New London Harbor Light. The formal conveyance took place October 13, 2010. Tours to visit the lighthouse by land can be arranged; call 860-447-2501 to schedule. Lighthouse tours by boat are available every Saturday in July & August, 2013.
25 August, 2010 Dear NLMS, I am enclosing two pictures (see images above left) of my grandfather, Antonio Dimaggio and his brother(half-brother? Francesco) in front of the keeper's house. He was keeper from 1916-1918.
The other picture is of my grandmother Marianna, my mother Josephine, and my grandfather Antonio DiMaggio at the door of the keeper's house. --Marian Dickson
July 1-3, 2011
we held our first Celebration
of New London's Lighthouse Heritage
sponsored by the
The US Coast Guard continues to operate the structure as an aid to navigation. Meanwhile, New London Harbor Light is open to the public, by appointment, on a strictly limited basis. Please call 860-447-2501 to make inquiries.
From the top of the lighthouse, it is possible to see at least seven other lighthouses: New London Ledge, Race Rock, Little Gull Island, Plum Island, Little Dumpling and Avery Point.
The New London Maritime Society is pleased to annouce that a generous gift from the Kitchings Family has been used to establish a lighthouse endowment. This fund will be used to insure the light's permanent care. Additional contributions to the lighthouse fund may be made to:
New London Harbor Light Fund
New London Maritime Society
150 Bank Street, New London, CT 06320
below left: Gwen Basilica's new mosaic at The Parade, June, 2010
immediately below: one panel from Lynda McLaughlin's new mural on 12 Golden Street, June, 2010.
three below: James Diaz-Saavedra's collection of lighthouse postcards, on view at the Custom House in Summer 2009.
Reference #89001470. Year Listed: 1990
Abisha Woodward was a contractor from New London, Connecticut, evidently a man of many talents. In 1793, he won a federal contract to complete the original Bald Head Island Light at Cape Fear, North Carolina. The state of North Carolina had begun work on this lighthouse before the new federal government assumed control of aids to navigation in 1789, and the tower was well advanced in construction when Woodward arrived on the scene. It's not his fault that the lighthouse was built too close to the shore and had to be torn down in 1813.
In 1799 a large crack developed in the wooden lighthouse at New London Harbor in Woodward's home town, and he was selected to build a stone replacement. The 89-foot tower Woodward completed in 1801 continues to shine today. The lantern has held a fourth order Fresnel lens since 1857. In many respects it shows a rather strong resemblance to the Cape Henry Light; this resemblance reflects the federal specifications, which described in detail the form and shape of the tower. Like McComb's lighthouses, Woodward's towers show robust design and careful and sturdy workmanship.
In 1802, Woodward built a second stone tower, about half the height of the New London lighthouse, at Faulkner's Island off the Connecticut coast. This tower looks very much like the upper half of the New London tower.
What are some interesting facts about lighthouses? from the USCG
First lighthouse - Boston, MA (1716)
Oldest original lighthouse in service - Sandy Hook, NJ (1764)
Newest shoreside lighthouse - Charleston, SC (1962)
Only triangular-shaped lighthouse tower - Charleston, SC (1962)
Only lighthouse equipped with an elevator - Charleston, SC (1962)
Tallest lighthouse - Cape Hatteras, NC (191 ft)
First American-built West Coast lighthouse - Alcatraz Lighthouse (1854)
First lighthouse to use electricity - Statue of Liberty (1886)
First Great Lakes lighthouses - Buffalo, NY & Erie, PA (1818)
Most expensive lighthouse (adjusted cost) - St. George’s Reef, CA (1891)
First lighthouse built completely by the Federal Government - Montauk Point, NY (1797)
Founding of the U.S. Lighthouse Service - 7 August 1789
U.S. Lighthouse Service merged with the Coast Guard - 7 July 1939
Second most powerful lighthouse in the world (and most powerful in the Western Hemisphere) - Charleston, SC (1962)
In March, 2012, the French Musee national de Marine opened a magnificent exhibition: PHARES -- Lighthouses. If you don't plan to be in Paris before the show ends on November 4, visit the Frank L. McGuire Maritime Research Library at the Custom House Maritime Museum to see the exhibition catalog.