Custom House Maritimes
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See what happened at the Custom House in May 2012, April 2012, March 2012, February 2012, January 2012December 2011,   November 2011, October 2011,  September 2011, August 2011, July 2011, June 2011, May 2011April 2011, March 2011January-February 2011November-December  2010, with our new 3-year program with the NL Public Schools Lighthouse Kids, in  September-October 2010,  in August 2010, summer festivities in June-July 2010, special Amistad events in April-May 2010, our trip to the UN with the Amistad exhibition in January-March 2010 in 2009, 2008,

& why not see how the Whale Tail fountain was made!

Attend our One Big Table with NYT writer Molly O'Neill.

Read our Winter 2011 and Fall 2010 newsletters.

The New London Maritime Society/Custom House Maritime Museum is made possible by generous grants from The Chester Kitchings Family Foundation, the Connecticut Humanities Council, Dominion Foundation, the Bodenwein Public Benevolent Foundation, the Frank Loomis Palmer Fund, the Community Foundation of Eastern CT, & and by the work of dedicated volunteers, members & friends.


Custom House Maritimes

Summer's best laid plans

by Susan on 10/10/15

You can’t always tell... We anticipated it would take four-to-five-years to raise the funds to repaint Harbor Light. In fact, 80% of what we needed—approximately $450,000—came in one fell swoop less than 24 hours after the campaign was announced: a single call from Lisa Gorman at
the Carpenters Union offered us carpenters, painters, and enough scaffolding to surmount the tip of the lighthouse lantern. You
—the community— followed suite with $165,000 in donations.
It was a fantastic surprise, and again we say: thank you.
The entire restoration, from announcing the campaign to completing the work, took just 18 months, from June 2013 to September 2014.
At the same time, we used Super Storm Sandy/FEMA funding to rebuild storm-damaged masonry at Harbor Lighthouse. Our property survey revealed we had room for a three-foot wide, grade-level sidewalk
across the ledge along our north border allowing us direct access to the lighthouse, entirely on our own property; so we started building. This should have taken two months to complete, but we were stopped
in our tracks. Here we now are, 18 months on, mired in a lawsuit, having had to cancel our fall Open House.
On the brighter side, we benefitted from two unanticipated ‘gifts’ this summer , as well as one we’d worked towards for many months. First, the
Amistad moored here, in New London, from May through September. This visit allowed Custom House volunteers to work with historian Marcus
Rediker to revamp our telling of the story and revitalize our work with school groups. A second gift was that we briefly became local host to
el Galeon, a massive, Spanish reproduction 16th-c. galleon.
Working with Barbara Neff and New London Port Authority, we sold tickets for visitors to board the ship and Partied with the Pirates,
raising a respectable bonus of $1,000 to support the museum.
The much-anticipated transfer of ownership of Ledge Lighthouse to New London Maritime Society was our third gift this summer—and true cause for celebration.
This was not the summer we’d anticipated. It was a true mix of good and bad. But summer’s over and looking beyond the immediate issues, we need to rethink what the Maritime Society can do with its now enviable assets. We have a terrific museum, excellent programming and partners, three lighthouses (and as co-plaintiffs in the suit to prevent the sale of Plum Island, we may be considering a 4th). We welcome your suggestions. It’s time to take a fresh look around us and re-envision whatour brightest future might be.

Did you take a boat tour this summer?

by Susan on 11/02/14

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.

Wondering why?

by Susan on 11/02/14

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!                                                                     

Really BIG..

by Susan on 06/07/14

It is difficult to look at raw photos of Pequot Lighthouse after Superstorm Sandy and not find New London’s Harbor Lighthouse beautiful in the romantic way we envision lighthouses: stolid, stoic guardians ever-keeping watch for our brave mariners. But this spring it is we who become the guardians as New London Maritime Society--with your generous support--steps forward to perform a major restoration of the historic 1801 ‘Pequot’ Light. In fact, there have been several changes at the lighthouse, already.
Earlier this year, FEMA aid allowed us to repair damage wrought by Superstorm Sandy. Stone mason Harald Hefel replaced a wall, restored the walkway to the lighthouse, and we added an ADA-compliant stainless-steel railing (a condition of the grant), with the idea that even people with limited mobility now have access to the ground floor of the lighthouse. (The railing is the same transparent design used on NYC’s High Line.) We also will add a walkway along the wall and granite buttressing at a point where the ledge is being cut away under the lighthouse foundation. As lighthouse stewards, our responsibilities to the National Park Service require both preservation and public access.
Phase 1 restoration commences June 1, with the arrival of Brand Scaffolding (a 100% donation) and project manager and contractor Loring & Son Masonry. Scott and Terry Loring will coordinate the cleaning, re-pointing, and repainting of the beacon, as well as perform the restoration work on the masonry, cast-iron lantern and seven bronze windows. Major cracks inside the watch room--the floor just below the lantern--will be cleaned out and replastered with special mortar matched by Edison Coating, which also will provide elastic paint for the exterior (at 50% discount). We are not stripping the existing paint, but cleaning it with a biocide to remove the lichen before painting. (Lichen is causing much of the present discoloration to the tower.) New England Regional Council of Carpenters volunteers will erect and dismantle the scaffolding; volunteers from the the Painters Union will do the priming and painting. Replacement bronze vents have been made to match the
one original by Dave Fallon; lantern wainscotting will be replaced by David Lersch -- both donations to NLMS. The work should be completed by the end of July. What the lighthouse may loose in romance, it surely gains in longevity and    accessibility. Susan Tamulevich, NLMS ex. director 

Ready to roll...

by Susan on 04/21/14

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.

More than Lighthouses...

by Susan on 03/09/14

With Pequot Light’s restoration, 16 weekends of Sentinels on the Sound events, & 3 new lighthouse exhibition installations coming right up, New London’s local beacons weigh heavily on our minds. But there’s more going on at the Custom House than just lighthouses. February–Black History Month–is when NLMS runs our annual Reid MacCluggage Black Maritime History essay competition for high-school juniors and seniors. As this article is being written, with one week yet to go before the deadline, we have received zero entries; but that’s always the way. They all turn up on- or-about the last day of February. And if the past is any predictor, several of the essays will be most-impressive. The winning student receives a $1000 scholarship. In fact at the Custom House we teach about  freedom issues year-round. We are discussing new program ideas with Amistad Voyages, under the leadership of Hanifa Washington, for when the ship is in New London this summer. This year, we also received a grant from the Gilder Lehrman Institute/National Institute for the Humanities to run a series of discussions around the PBS Created Equal  video series. NLMS trustee Lonnie Braxton will lead these discussions in upcoming months. Watch for the dates and times on our Website:
Local history inspired two new books and we will have the authors at the museum. By now, you probably have read For Adam’s Sake, which is based, in part, on the Hempsted diaries. On Sunday, April 6, you’ll  have an opportunity to finally ask your questions as historian Allegra Di Bonaventura leads a   discussion about the work. On Sunday, May 4, author Michael J. Tougias
gives a presentation based on soon-to-be-released Rescue of the Bounty:
Disaster and Survival in Superstorm Sandy. Several of us have fond memories of the Bounty’s last visit to New London, then recollect the awful scene of the USCG’s helicoptor-rescue of the ship’s crew in the midst of Hurrican Sandy. Coincidentally, Michael wrote about perhaps the most-famous USCG rescue in The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue. The rescue of the oil tanker Pedelton is the subject of a new exhibition at the museum to open mid March: Vision. Process. Finished Painting: the Creative Process of Tony Falcone . A second new exhibition features our own ship models newly repaired by our friends at the Connecticut Marine Model Society. We’re touting their work in advance of the group’s annual expo: Saturday, April 26, at Ocean Beach’s Port ‘n Starboard. And finally, don’t miss folk duo Mustards Retreat on Wednesday evening, March 12! And look to the Website's HOME page for information about Jin Hi Kim’s upcoming Cross-Cultural Music Meditation Workshops.

Just added: Get up and get OUT for a Seal Watch on Sunday morning, March 23, 2014 at 9 AM.
articipants board Project 'O's Enviro-lab in New London at the Custom House Pier on Waterfront Park to travel to popular winter seal haunts.
Reservations are required and can be made by calling Project 'O' (860)  at 445-9007 between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m, Monday through Thursday, and between 9:00 AM and 1 PM on Fridays. Please reserve before Friday, March 21, at 1 PM
The seals are actually Maine natives who make Long Island Sound their winter destination. The cabin on the boat is heated.
 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.  

New London Maritime Society's 30th - ANNUAL MEETING - November 10, 2013

by Susan on 10/21/13

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.

A Sea of Change

by Susan on 07/04/13

Even after a couple of weeks, it’s difficult to grasp. Receiving New London Harbor Light from the federal government, in October, 2010, was the end of a nine-year process. With Race Rock Light, the entire event, from site-visit to receipt of the key, took just over one year, start to finish.
So, you might ask, why would the New London Maritime Society want another lighthouse -- even one so legendary as Race RockLight? Let’s be clear: we  don’t. But it is our mission to protect and preserve New London’s maritime heritage. And so we do -- even when it means taking a rather breath-taking leap of faith, like this.
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?!

From the Custom House

by Susan on 12/08/12

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.

Little Gull lighthouse & island up for auction

by Susan on 07/01/12

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.