Penfield Reef Lighthouse, Bridgeport Connecticut

Date added: July 4, 2022 Categories: Connecticut Lighthouse

Penfield Reef Lighthouse, established in 1874, embodies one of the most popular masonry dwelling-with-tower designs used by the U.S. Lighthouse Board during the 1860s and 1870s. This Second Empire designs based on the domestic architecture of the period, reflected the national enthusiasm for picturesque revival architectural styles. A picture of Penfield Reef was included in the Lighthouse Board's exhibit at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876. Penfield Reef Lighthouse also is significant in the history of aids to navigation in Long Island Sound, as an important part of the federal program to accommodate increased commercial traffic in the Bridgeport Harbor area after the Civil War.

Penfield Reef Lighthouse was an essential part of the development of Bridgeport Harbor after the Civil War. Before Penfield Reef Lighthouse was constructed, the site was marked with a can buoy. Beginning in 1866 lobbying efforts from Bridgeport maritime interests resulted in a proposal by the U.S. Lighthouse Board in 1868 for a lighthouse to be constructed in the five feet of water there. Marking the shoal with a light and a fog signal would enable ships to travel directly between Bridgeport's burgeoning harbor and New York City at all hours and in all weather conditions. Compared with the depth of the site necessary for a masonry pier to be built at Race Rock in Long Island Sounds this was a modest challenge; however, the technology at that date required a costly circular pier of granite blocks, cut to fit together to form rings which could be filled with riprap. Cutstone foundations were the only solution available at the time for underwater sites in the latitudes where floating ice made the slender legs of a tubular pipe foundation, such as a screwpile light, unusable. The foundation proposed for the Race Rock site was used as a model for that at Penfield Reef.

The domestic model which dominates the image of Penfield Reef had been used previously in Hudson River lighthouses. Joseph Lederle, Acting Lighthouse Engineer for the Third District of the Lighthouse Establishment, recommended in April 1868, that the Penfield Reef tower connected with the keeper's dwelling " built on the plan approved by the (Lighthouse) Board for the Hudson River stations." At Esopus Meadows, N.Y. Lighthouse, established in 1871, this exact design appears, in frame construction instead of masonry. Bridgeport Harbor Lighthouse, Ct., Hart Island in Long Island Sounds Sabin's Point Light Station, R.I., Long Beach Bar Light, and Colchester Reef Lighthouse on Lake Champlain were listed in the Lighthouse Board records as utilizing this design, as well.

Procuring the needed appropriations from Congress delayed the approval of plans for the foundation until after March 3, 1871, when a total of $55,000.00 was made available. From 1871 until 1873 the riprap foundation and granite pier were under construction. The dwellings of cut granite blocks on the first story and wood framing on the second, was erected in 1873, and the light was first exhibited on January 16, 1874.

A view of Penfield Reef appeared in the Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board for 1874, and, two years later, was included in the Centennial Exhibition. Ironically, the technology which Penfield Reef's foundation represented and the style of its dwelling-with-tower were already out of date. Penfield Reef, based on the design work and engineering of the 1860s and early 1870s, represents one of the last examples of a masonry domestic model lighthouses on a masonry foundation.

A fog-bell, struck by machinery, was the first fog apparatus at Penfield. The foghorn installed in Penfield Reef Light was audible fifteen or twenty minutes away, according to early reports. This apparatus was replaced in 1892 by a Daboll trumpet operated by duplicate Rider hot-air engines. In 1898 the Rider engines were replaced by two Hornsby-Akroyd oil engines.

A fourth order lens was equipped with clockwork in 1889, made for Penfield Reef at the Lighthouse Board's lamp shop in Tompkinville, New York. The light was automated in December 1971.

Operating Lighthouses in Connecticut
Falkner Island Lighthouse (1802) Falkner's Island
Lynde Point Lighthouse (1838) Old Saybrook
New London Harbor Lighthouse (1801) New London
New London Ledge Light Station (1906) New London
Penfield Reef Lighthouse (1874) Bridgeport
Stratford Point Lighthouse (1881) Stratford
Stratford Shoal Lighthouse (1878)
Tongue Point Lighthouse (1894) Bridgeport
Saybrook Breakwater Lighthouse (1886)
Southwest Ledge Lighthouse (1876) New Haven
Greens Ledge Lighthouse (1902)
Peck Ledge Lighthouse (1906) Norwalk

Map of Lighthouses in Connecticut