Greens Ledge Lighthouse, Rowayton Connecticut

Date added: October 03, 2022 Categories: Connecticut Lighthouse
Caisson and tower, camera facing east (1989)

During the 1890s, when Norwalk Harbor was being developed by federal appropriation for increased commercial traffic, the approach to that harbor past the Norwalk Islands presented a hazard to deeper draft vessels. A decision was made to build a replacement for the old (1868) lighthouse on Sheffield Island, itself a replacement for a masonry light tower built in 1826. Two new aids to navigation were to be located on water-bound sites at either end of the group of islands, to guide ships into the channel behind the islands from both the east and west. Greens Ledge and Peck Ledge Lighthouses were proposed to Congress in 1896. On March 3rd, 1899, an appropriation of $60,000 was granted for the construction of Greens Ledge. The erection of the foundation and superstructure was undertaken in 1900 by the Philadelphia Construction Company.

Greens Ledge Lighthouse is an example of the standardized cast-iron light-house developed by the U.S. Lighthouse Board engineers in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. During this period most of the remaining sites for lighthouses posed engineering challenges. Wave-washed lighthouses off the southern coasts had been successfully secured to their sites by iron piles, either anchored in rock or screwed deep into sandy shoals. In the northern states where floating ice made such construction unsafe, underwater sites such as reefs, shoals, and ledges had been utilized only at vast expense in manpower and material. Massive masonry foundations were required such as those built for Minot's Ledge in Massachusetts and Race Rock in Long Island Sound.

With the development of cast-iron technology in the mid-century, a tubular foundation constructed of that material and filled with concrete became a feasible alternative to stone. Major Elliot, engineer of the U.S. Lighthouse Board, developed this type of foundation in 1873. Made of identical curved cast-iron plates, with flanges extending toward the inside of the curve and knees molded in for reinforcement, these foundations were assembled with bolts into rings at the construction site. Then successive rings were bolted together, lowered onto the prepared site and filled with concrete or stones. These foundations proved to be as strong and stable as masonry, and since they could be mass-produced, realized substantial savings in design time, production and transportation costs. Cast iron became the preferred material for lighthouse foundations and was widely used between 1873 and ca. 1910.

Greens Ledge is built upon such a foundation, here with a flared top rim. Photographs taken in 1901 document construction of the lighthouse. One shows assembly of the three lower courses of the cylinder on the wharf at Wilsons Points another, placement of the cylinder at Greens Ledge, and a third, construction on site that fall, prior to the deposit of the riprap.

Little ornamentation was applied to the tubular cast-iron lighthouse. However, at least three different phases of architectural ornamentation may be discerned. The first phase is represented in the deeply molded, arched and pedimented window and door hoods and segmentally arched window sashes at Stratford Point (1881) and Saybrook Breakwater (1887). The second phase is notable at Greens Ledge where cast-iron window and door surrounds and the brackets which support the watch room gallery and covered deck have a simplified classical detailing and rectilinear window sashes are enclosed in shallower, plainer cast-iron surrounds. As early as 1885 the second phase had been introduced into the present Third District at Delaware Breakwater Lighthouse. In 1901 a third phase of ornamentation was introduced at Harbor of Refuge, Lewes, Delaware. This phase was characterized by greater abstraction of door and window trim and a molded cornice in place of brackets. Thus, Greens Ledge represents the latter part of the middle phase of cast-iron lighthouse design.

Lighthouse Description

Greens Ledge Lighthouse (Light List #973), established in 1902, is located on a water bound site at the southwestern end of the Norwalk Islands, an archipelago near the Connecticut shore in western Long Island Sound. It marks a rock ledge in the approach to Norwalk Harbor from the west, replacing an earlier stone lighthouse which still stands more than a mile to the northeast on Sheffield Island. The structure consists of a cast-iron tower, resting on a black cylindrical cast-iron foundation with a flared rim and supporting a circular watch room and lantern. The tower presently is painted brown on the lower half and white on the upper half. Included on the site are a riprap protective breakwater and a boat landing.

Standing in ten feet of water, the foundation is made of curved cast-iron plates fitted together with bolts through molded flanges on the inside edges. The foundation cylinder flares out in a trumpet shape to accommodate a deck upon which the lighthouse rests. Concrete filling stabilizes and strengthens the foundation and surrounds a cavity left at the top for the brick-lined basement and cisterns.

Five courses of curved cast-iron plates, assembled in the same manner as the foundations make up the four story tower. A brick lining strengthens and insulates the tower, providing an anchorage for the winding cast-iron stairs which rise on the periphery of each story. A curved sheet metal wall supports the inside end of the treads and risers, providing a wall for storage closets and cupboards in the space above and below the steps in the stairwells.

A gallery or deck encircles the lighthouse at three levels; outside the first story, the watch room, and the lantern. Originally roofed over, the first story gallery was edged with ornate cast-iron stanchions with triple railings. Alternate stanchions rose to the level of the roof as a support. The roof has been removed. Presently, metal pipes replace the cast-iron stanchions, which, along with metal remnants of the gallery roofing system, are scattered atop the riprap surrounding the lighthouse.

A checker tread surface marks both the watch room gallery and the lantern gallery each edged with a simple flat metal railing. The lantern gallery railing is supported by pipe stanchions bolted to the underside of the deck. On the watch gallery, a triple railing is supported by cylindrical stanchions topped by spherical knobs. Each stanchion is anchored by a threaded bar, passed down through the edge of both the deck and a hollow sleeve, cast as part of a supporting bracket. The connection is secured with a cast-iron pendant.

Architectural detail is characterized by flat window openings, segmentally-arched lintels, and doorways flanked by pilasters. The east-facing metal entry door is a replacement for the outermost of two doors that originally filled the rectangular opening. The cast-iron door surround contains a simple, stylized eared lintel of flat profile with a segmentally-arched top and straight base. The lintel is set on ogee consoles above flanking pilaster which rest on simple plinths. On the first, second, and third stories, the cast-iron window surrounds are of similar design, the consoles reduced to brackets and the plinths replaced by projecting sills. Windows are double hung sash with flat-topped wood frames and wood interior sills. The windows on each of the first three stories are arranged to accommodate the space arrangement within. The first floor, used as a kitchen, has one short window to accommodate built-in equipment. The second story includes two rooms, one larger than the other. The partitions, if not original, appear to be early alterations. Used as a bathroom, the smaller room may be a very early example of indoor facilities in a conical cast-iron light tower. The third story is undivided. Walls on all levels of the tower consist of painted brick; floors consist of cast-iron wedge-shaped segments, bolted together on the upper side and supported on a central cast-iron column which rises from the basement to the watch room floor. Seven I-beams, radiating from the central column and resting on the brick lining walls support the watch room floor. On the fourth story are six porthole windows. The asphalt tile flooring of other stories is missing here while sections of the cast-iron floor system and brick lining wall are exposed. Additionally, much of the woodwork has been removed.

The cylindrical cast-iron watch room and lantern are of standardized manufacture, presently stripped of much detail. In the watch room, vertical beaded board sheathing originally covered the walls. Two I-beams, originally enclosed, span the diameter of the ceiling to support the lantern above. Double-leaf iron hatch covers at the top of curved ship's ladders permit access to both the watch room and the lantern. The lantern, seven feet in diameter, contains glass panes, 25 inches across, framed with diagonal brass astragals. Cast-iron plates containing circular ventilators with adjustable covers make up the lower half of the lantern walls. The conical cast-iron roof supports a spherical iron ventilator and lightning deflector rod. Within the lantern stands the modern lighting equipment, two electric bulbs under a hinged dome of heavy glass. This equipment was manufactured by Crouse-Hinds Syracuse, N.Y. The original equipment, installed in February 1901, was a fifth order lens with a flashing red light. Three months later a fourth order lens was installed, showing a fixed white light with red flashes every fifteen seconds.

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