Lynde Point Lighthouse, Old Saybrook Connecticut
Lynde Point Lighthouse, built in 1838, is a typical example of the masonry tower lighthouses built in the first half of the nineteenth century to specifications of the U.S. Treasury Department. Containing a well-preserved wood spiral stair of early date, which is unique in the group of twelve Connecticut lighthouses, Lynde Point exhibits superior stone work in the tapering brownstone walls. Of the three early masonry light towers in Connecticut, Lynde Point is the latest and its construction is the best documented: two advertisements for construction proposals survive containing the government's specifications, and the construction contract as well. Lynde Point also was part of the federal government's early efforts to improve aids to navigation to Long Island Sounds when the mouths of important harbors and rivers were among the first sites chosen for lighthouse appropriations. Lynde Point marks the mouth of the Connecticut River.
Although deed records indicate that a lighthouse was established at Lynde Point in 1802 on land purchased from William Lynde, the present lighttower is not the original structure. On April 6, 1802, Congress authorized the construction of a "sufficient light-house to be erected on Lynde's Point, at the mouth of the Connecticut River"; Abishat Woodward, Master Carpenter of New London, was awarded the contract at the end of November 1802, to build a wood shingled octagonal tower, 35 feet high, with an iron octagonal lantern and a stone foundation. Thirty-five years later, this lighthouse was found to be inadequate. In April, 1837, the federal government published in the Connecticut newspapers advertisements for proposals from contractors to build a granite or freestone lighttower, 45 feet high. The old lighthouse was to be moved a short distance away and was to continue in operation while the replacement tower was under construction at the old site. Alternate proposals for a tower 65 feet high also were requested, the builder to receive the old lighthouse, its lantern, lamps and reflectors as partial payment.
On July 7, 1838, Congress appropriated $2,500.00 to add to the $5,000.00 already appropriated for the new lighthouse at Lynde Point. A month later on August 18, 1838, Jonathan Scranton, Volney Pierce and John Wilcox of Madison, Connecticut, were awarded the contract for an octagonal masonry tower 65 feet high, 25 feet in diameter at the base and 12 feet at the top. The walls were to be five feet thick at the base and two feet at the top. Offered the choice of split granite or freestone as a building material, they chose brownstone, and followed the contract instructions "to be laid throughout in regular courses of stretchers and headers" by laying up walls of alternating courses of two different heights of carefully dressed and fitted ashlar blocks.
The contract specified construction details: door and window sills, caps and posts to be dressed stone; a stone ground floor to be laid in cement; a winding wood stairs to connect each of six stories; an arch turned at the top of the tower to support a deck of dressed stone, 13 and 1/2 feet in diameter and 6 inches thick. On this the octagonal wrought iron lantern rested, with 28 panes of best quality Boston glass; 10 by 12 inches, set in iron sash on each side. Copper panels with sliding ventilators filled the lower part of each lantern wall. A copper-sheathed dome, formed of 16 iron rafters, roofed the lantern. Above it was a traversing ventilator, 12 inches in diameter and 15 inches highs on which was secured a vanes 30 inches long and 15 inches wide. The ventilator and vane also were to be made of iron and sheathed with copper. Bounding the deck around the lantern was an iron balustrade with two railings, the posts and railings of square plan. The posts were to be six feet, three inches high and were to be connected to the posts of the lantern with iron bars. Woodwork inside the lighthouse was to be painted white; the lantern black.
At the end of the Civil War, a Congressional appropriation was used to repair and renovate the Lynde Point Lighthouse. In 1867 and 1868, the Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board records the intention to remove the wood window shutters and stairs in the lighthouse, which were rotten, and to replace them with iron. A brick lining wall was to be built at the same time. However, the present stairs are of wood, in good condition and constructed with cut nails. The brick lining wall was never installed. It seems likely that the present wood stairs date from the 1868 period of renovation; no record of a later stair construction appears in the annual reports during the period when cut nails were still in use. The lantern was to be repaired, and an iron deck plate for the lantern was to be installed at this time. The sea wall, built in 1856, was repaired, and suitable outbuildings constructed, including both a coal and a wood house.
Lighting apparatus for the 1838 Lynde Point Lighthouse was to consist of ten patent lamps and ten reflectors. Each reflector was to be fourteen inches in diameter and was to contain six ounces of pure silver on its coating. The Treasury advertised for someone to supply this equipment at Lynde Point. This fitting-out had formerly been a monopoly of Winslow Lewis, inventor of the patent lamp system. Although the Lewis lamp system had been outdated for more than a decade since the vastly superior Fresnell lamp was first introduced in Europes, the 1838 Lynde Point tower was constructed three years before the first Fresnel lens was installed in the U.S. lighthouse at Navesink, New Jersey. At Lynde Point, the ten lamps were still in place in 1850. The first Fresnel lens installed at Lynde Point was a fourth order Barbier and Fenestre lens, to be replaced with a fifth order lens in 1890. Whale oil was the fuel used until 1879, when kerosene was introduced. Eventually the light was electrified, and in 1978 it was automated.
Lynde Point's importance as an aid-to-navigation is reflected in the activity and funds involved in trying to upgrade the fog signal apparatus there during the second half of the nineteenth century. The record of fog-signal apparatus at Lynde Point begins with an $800.00 appropriation for a fog-signal in 1850. In 1854 a fog-bell was established for $1,000.00. The machine for striking the fog-bell was completed in 1856; during the renovation program of 1867 part of the appropriation was for a more efficient fog signal to take the place of the old fog bell. In 1874 the bell was rehung and its striking apparatus was installed. Again in 1883, a new fog bell striking apparatus was introduced.
The original keeper's dwellings with a frame kitchen addition dating from 1833, was joined to the lighthouse. In 1858 a gambrel-roofeds one-and-one-half-story frame structure was built, replacing the old keeper's dwelling. Historic photographs show that the 1858 keeper's house was ornamented with Gothic Revival elements, including a cross gable with pointed arched windows (later made rectangular), and a central chimney with pointed arched panels. Physical evidence of a gable-roofed wing connecting the dwelling and the lighthouse remains on the west side of the tower; photographic evidence suggests that the wing was part of the earlier dwelling. The 1858 dwelling was demolished and replaced in 1966 with a contemporary brick veneer and siding duplex residence some distance to the north of the light tower. Foundations of the old keeper's dwelling remains while evidence of the oil house and privy is minimal.
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