Even on a bright summer's day the lighthouse seems isolated, remote and lonely.
By night and in a raging storm it is a place to try the steadiest nerves.
- New York Herald, August 16, 1908.
Stamford, settled in the 1640s,
grew in importance in the late 1800s when New York City investors
were enticed to develop industries in the area. The entrance
to Stamford Harbor is obstructed by treacherous reefs. Local
mariners had petitioned for a lighthouse as far back as 1871,
but it wasn't until 1880 and 1881 that a total of $30,000 was
The construction of Stamford Harbor Light began in 1881. The
sections of the cast-iron tower were manufactured at a Boston
foundry, then assembled on a cylindrical pier, 28 feet high and
30 feet in diameter, at Chatham Ledge.
The finished tower, 3,600
feet from shore, was a fairly typical "sparkplug" style
lighthouse of the era. The iron pier, lined with brick, later
served as storage for water, coal and oil. The lighthouse had
seven levels in all.
Stamford Harbor Light originally had a fourth-order Fresnel
lens and was equipped with a foghorn. The lighthouse went into
service on February 10, 1882. Neil Martin was the first keeper;
he remained less than a year before moving on to Penfield Reef
Naylor Jones was the second keeper. After a dock and chicken
coop he had built were washed out to sea in a storm along with
the station's boat, Keeper Jones elected to live on shore with
his family and travelled back and forth to the lighthouse in
a rowboat. Jones' successors lived at the lighthouse, sometimes
with their families. A baby was born at the lighthouse to Keeper
Robert M. Fitten and his wife in 1929.
- U.S. Coast Guard photo
|John J. Cook, originally from Denmark, was the keeper from 1907 to
1909. In May 1908, a newspaper story with the headline “Heroine Passes
Night of Terror” told a genuinely harrowing tale. Cook’s
mother-in-law, Louisa Weickman, was living at the lighthouse with her
daughter Martha and Keeper Cook that spring. |
Martha was feeling ill
and left to spend some time on shore with friends. After some days had
passed, word came back to the lighthouse that she was anxious to return
and Cook set out in the station’s 15-foot motor launch to pick her
Cook picked up his wife onshore and headed back for the lighthouse in
the afternoon. The wind picked up from the northwest, and at about
5:30 Mrs. Weickman saw the boat approaching. Cook was struggling
against the wind and tide and the boat was briefly hung up on a rock.
The keeper got out in knee-high water and shoved the boat off, but
another landing attempt was unsuccessful. Pushing off from another
rock, Cook lost one of his two oars in the water.
“We’ll go back to
shore and come out when this is over,” shouted the keeper to his
mother-in-law. “You keep the light going.”
Keeper John J. Cook
|Mrs. Weickman watched the little boat drift away, but then a steamer
passed by and she lost sight of the launch. She feared that they had
been struck and killed by the steamer. “I have known a lot of sorrow,”
she said, “but I don’t think I ever suffered so much as that night. I
was powerless to do anything. . . . All I could do was watch, pray
and hope.” |
Despite her anxiety, Mrs. Weickman lit the lighthouse lamp
at sunset and sat by one of the tower’s windows. She stayed at the
window all night. “Sleep I did not dream of,” she said, “food I did
The next day passed with no word. Finally, about 10:00 that night, a
man came near the lighthouse in a boat and told Mrs. Weickman that
Martha and John had been picked up on Long Island.
had gone ashore near Eaton’s Neck, and a surfman from the Eaton’s Neck
Life-Saving Station found the empty boat. He subsequently encountered
Keeper Cook plodding down the beach, carrying his weakened wife in his
arms. Cook was concerned that the light might have gone out in the
lighthouse, posing a danger to navigation. But
the lifesaving station crew contacted someone in Stamford and
learned that the light had not failed. The family was soon
reunited. “My prayers are answered,” said Mrs. Weickman.
In 1908, Keeper Cook was interviewed for a newspaper
article. When asked what it was like being in the lighthouse
at Christmas, Cook responded:
I dunno; it is pretty lonesome out here sometimes, especially
in winter, but we manage to enjoy our holidays. 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.
- 1935 U.S. Coast Guard photo by R.
Tragedy struck in August 1931. Keeper Raymond Bliven, a Rhode
Island native, was missing for three days before it was noticed
that the lighthouse had gone dark. The keeper's body was discovered
floating a short distance away, and his boat was also recovered.
It was generally believed that the keeper's boat had overturned,
but cuts on his head led some to suspect that he had been pushed
from the lighthouse.
In 1939, Keeper Marty Sowle, a civilian who served as keeper
from 1938 to 1953, rescued one of two men whose boat had sunk
in an October storm. Keeper Sowle received a Congressional Silver
Medal for heroism.
The Coast Guard discontinued Stamford Harbor Light as an official
aid to navigation in 1953. Sowle was transferred to Greens Ledge
Light near Norwalk. The lighthouse, which retained a weaker automatic
light as a private aid to navigation, was offered for sale, but
the bids were few and far between.
The tower finally was sold for $1 in 1955 to Thomas F. Quigley,
former mayor of Stamford. Quigley wanted to make the lighthouse
a historic landmark. Nothing was done for the deteriorating structure,
and in 1964 ownership reverted to the General Services Administration.
It was then sold to the Hartford Electric Light Company, then
in 1982 to the Connecticut Light and Power Company. In 1984,
Eryk Spektor, Chairman of the Board of the First Women's Bank,
New York City, bought Stamford Harbor Light for $230,000. "I
wanted a lighthouse," said Spektor. "It'll be a cheap
place to park my boat."
Spektor spent $300,000 renovating the lighthouse. A new kitchen
was added and the interior was paneled and painted. A small breakwater
and dock were built for Spektor's boat. Spektor never actually
stayed at the lighthouse, however, because his wife refused to
spend a night there.
In 1996, Stamford Harbor Light again went on sale at an asking
price of $1.1 million. Mr. Spektor died in December 1998, and
the lighthouse was eventually pulled off the market. It is still owned by the family of Mr. Spektor.
The lighthouse can be viewed from spots along the shore, but
it is best seen by private boat. Stamford Harbor Light remains
an active private aid to navigation.
You can read much more about this lighthouse in the book The Lighthouses
of Connecticut by Jeremy D'Entremont.
list is a work in progress. If you have any information on the keepers
of this lighthouse, I'd love to hear from you. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyone copying this list onto another web site does so at their own
risk, as the list is always subject to updates and corrections.)
Martin (1882); Naylor (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 and 1909-1911); John J.
Cook (1907-1909); W. Janse (?) (1909); Robert R. Laurier (1911-1912);
John H. Paul (1912-?); George Washington Benton Jr. (c. 1919); James E.
Smith (c. 1919-1920); Rudolph Iten (c. 1926-1929); Robert M. Fitten (c.
1929); Edward Whitford (c. 1929); Raymond Bliven (?-1931, died in
service); Andrew A. McLintock (1937-1942?); Marty L. Sowle (1938-1953);
Willard Riley (lamplighter, 1953-?)