Stamford Harbor Lighthouse
September 15, 2018
It’s one of Connecticut’s most enduring features, a landmark well-known to residents of The Waypointe apartments and beyond. We’re talking, of course, about the Stamford Harbor Lighthouse, which has stood off the shores of the town since it was first constructed back in 1882 and directed the heavy loads of ship traffic carrying goods both to and fro. It’s a hard thing to miss, and you’ve likely seen it before in various photographs and postcards, but how much do you really know?
The Harbor Lighthouse carries with it a rather in-depth history, from its days of active use to its eventual deactivation and even into the more modern era (when it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, for instance). Today, we’re going to be taking a glimpse at some of that history, bringing to “light” a few details you might never have guessed about this fabled lighthouse.
The Lighthouse at a Glance
First things first, let’s take a look at some of this lighthouse’s basic stats. Built in 1882 and constructed from sturdy cast iron, the Stamford Harbor Lighthouse stands 60 feet in height, and has a focal height of 80 feet. When it was first constructed, it contained a Fresnel lens, a product of French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel, to focus light and serve as beacon for sailors out on the water.
The lighthouse tower was constructed in Boston, but sits about 3,600 feet from the shores of Stamford. It contains seven levels, a booming foghorn, and over the course of its years in service, saw 22 keepers call it home:
- Neil Martin (1882)
- Nahor Jones (1882 – 1886)
- Samuel C. Gardiner (1886)
- John Ryle (1886 – 1887)
- Samuel A. Keeney (1887 – 1903)
- Maurice Russell (1903 – 1904)
- Adolph Obman (1904 – 1907)
- John J. Cook (1907 – 1909)
- William Janse (1909)
- Adolph Obman (1909 – 1911)
- Robert R. Laurier (1911 – 1912)
- John H. Paul (1912)
- Joseph Meyer (1913)
- Charles R. Riley (at least 1915 – 1916)
- Edward Grime (1917 – 1919)
- George Washington Denton, Jr. (1919)
- Edward Murphy (1919 – 1920)
- Edward Iten (at least 1921 – 1927)
- Edward M. Whitford (1929)
- Robert M. Fitton (1930)
- Raymond F. Bliven (1930 – 1931)
- Martin Luther Sowle (1938 – 1953)
That list of keepers, however, only begins to scratch the surface of the lighthouse’s history. We’ll have to delve a bit deeper to reveal some of the more illuminating pieces of the Stamford Harbor Lighthouse’s storied past.
The History of the Stamford Harbor Lighthouse
According to online keeper of lighthouse history, Lighthouse Friends, Stamford was in desperate need of a navigational aid around the time that the Harbor Lighthouse was constructed. From a 1870s article in a local paper:
“Stamford Harbor is the most dangerous harbor on the Connecticut coast, and a petition is circulating in that town applying to the Lighthouse Board for the erection of a lighthouse on the reef known as “Harbor Ledge,” and the placing of buoys and spindles on the most dangerous rocks.”
Though the area was first settled by Europeans in the 1640s, it wasn’t until the late 1800s when the boom times came. According to New England Lighthouses, this was when “New York City investors were enticed to develop industries in the area.” More industry meant more traffic, and so, a Lighthouse was necessary for ensuring that ships could navigate the sometimes dangerous waters.
It was in 1871 that the need for a lighthouse was recognized by the Lighthouse Board officials, but it wasn’t until 1881 that Congress would provide the required $30,000 for construction. They selected an offshore site, Chatham Rock, for construction, and immediately got to work, completing the lighthouse on February 10th, 1882. Though a fairly similar construction by the standards of the time, Lighthouse Friends notes that this particular structure was restrictive, to say the least:
“The Stamford Harbor structure was considered especially cramped and uncomfortable and was not a favorite of the keepers assigned there. The first keeper, Neil Martin, asked for a transfer after only ten months.”
Subsequent keepers made efforts to create a homelike atmosphere in the lighthouse, so that their time spent in the cramped quarters would be more comfortable. Keeper Nahor Jones built a “dock and chicken coop,” and even moved some personal furnishings into the location, while Keeper John Cook once recounted how having a sense of home at the lighthouse made the lonely winters, Christmas especially, that much more bearable:
“We can't go to church on Christmas, and we miss the nice music and the fine sermons, but there is a compensation for that. What more soul-stirring music could there be than that of wind and wave as they whistle and roar or moan and swish past our little home? And that light up aloft is a sermon in itself.”
Keepers continued to serve at the lighthouse until its eventual closure, but that’s not where the story ends. Stamford Mayor Thomas Quigley bought the tower in 1955 (for just a dollar) with the intention of turning it into a historic landmark, though his failure to perform significant maintenance on the site meant that control of the property returned to the government just eight years later.
The lighthouse changed hands several times afterwards. In 1967, a trip purchased the lighthouse for about $10,000 to make improvements so it could serve as a town landmark. In 1984 it was sold again to Eryk Spektor for $230,000, who invested an additional $300,000 making improvements to the structure as a second residence, and though it has been placed on the market several times in the years since Spektor’s death (in 1998), it remains for sale, though under the ownership of the Spektor Family.
Yet Another Perk to Living at The Waypointe Apartments
The amazing scenery and proximity to much of Norwalk’s downtown excitement already make places like The Waypointe one of Connecticut’s most desirable living locations. The addition of historic landmarks like the Stamford Harbor Lighthouse, however, is like that extra bit of icing on top of a great cake — something that further connects residents to the splendors of this grand community. While you’re checking out all the reasons that make Norwalk a great place to live, be sure to include “rich history” somewhere near the top of your list!