New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide
Stratford Shoal Light
(Middleground Light)
Near Bridgeport, Connecticut
Stratford Shoal Light main page / History / Bibliography / Cruises / Photos

History
  Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any part of this website without permission of the author.

Stratford Shoal is a dangerous reef in Long Island Sound, three quarters of a mile long and about midway between Long Island, NY, and the Connecticut shore. Two islands were reported in the vicinity in the early seventeenth century. Erosion wore the islands down until they were below sea level two centuries later.

Various aids to navigation were employed for decades before a lighthouse was built at the shoal. Spar buoys were placed on each side of the shoal about 1820, and a lightship was stationed at the southeast end of Stratford Shoal in January 1838. During its years of service the lightship lost its anchorage several times, once drifting 23 miles northeast until it was found near Faulkner's Island.

In 1872, the Lighthouse Board decided to build a lighthouse at Stratford Shoal. The lighthouse was one of the last masonry lighthouses built at an offshore location before the development of cast-iron towers with tubular foundations. It is very similar to Race Rock Light, built about the same time in Fishers Island Sound.

From the collection of Edward Rowe Snow, courtesy of Dorothy Bicknell
"1877" on tower

Between 1874 and 1876 tons of stones were laid with a central open space for the lighthouse foundation, 55 feet in diameter at its bottom. Storms caused numerous delays. Just a month before the lighthouse was completed a construction schooner was driven onto the rocks, but the crew managed to escape safely.

It wasn't until December 1877 that the 35-foot gray granite, gable-roofed lighthouse became operational, with a fourth-order Fresnel lens exhibiting a flashing white light 60 feet above sea level. In 1880, a powerful Daboll fog trumpet was added.

The Stratford Shoal Lighthouse, also known as Middleground Light, contained two stories for living quarters for a keeper and two assistants. The station was one of the most isolated and difficult for keepers.

The Bridgeport Sunday Post described life at the Shoal in 1927:

Through the turmoil and the windswept spume, people on shore see the light gleaming in intermittent flashes from Middle Ground scarcely realizing that out there in all that fury of element and tumbling water, a handful of men are keeping watch and ward over that dreary waste and insuring a safe passage for the country's shipping.

Some keepers at isolated lights like Minots Ledge and New Haven's Southwest Ledge developed severe psychological problems. Unfortunately, this also happened at Stratford Shoal.

In 1904, Julius Koster of New York City was assigned to Stratford Shoal as second assistant keeper. In May 1905, the keeper went ashore and left First Assistant Keeper Morrell Hulse and Second Assistant Koster in charge. The next night, Koster suddenly went into a rage and locked himself in the lantern room. He threatened to destroy the light and actually managed to stop its rotation for a while.

Koster finally emerged, then tried to take his own life. The suicide was prevented by Hulse. A few days later Koster was fired from the Lighthouse Service.

aerial photo of lighthouse
U.S. Coast Guard

Rescues near the shoal were common. In 1915, Keeper Emil Usinger saved five people whose boat was adrift in a gale. In July 1930 a swimmer from a fishing party was being carried away by a strong ebb tide and had to be rescued by Assistant Keeper John Tatay.

 
old photo of lighthouse
U.S. Coast Guard

In 1933, Keeper Lewis J. Allen and Assistant Keeper Alfred Auger set out in their small rowboat in a winter storm to save the crew of a disabled cruiser. The ten people on the Saugatuck had been without food and heat for 38 hours when they were rescued.

The original Fresnel lens was replaced in 1894 and again in 1905. Stratford Shoal Light was automated in 1970; a modern aerobeacon was installed and the Coast Guard keepers were removed.

The lighthouse remains an active aid to navigation. It can be seen distantly from the Bridgeport to Port Jefferson ferry, looking like a ghostly castle, but it is most easily seen by private boat.

You can read much more about this lighthouse in the book The Lighthouses of Connecticut by Jeremy D'Entremont.


Keepers:  (This 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 nelights@gmail.com. Anyone copying this list onto another web site does so at their own risk, as the list is always subject to updates and corrections.)

William McGloin (1877-1880); William F. Pratt (first assistant 1877-1883); James G. Scott (1880-1885); John McGlauhlin (second assistant 1881); John Ninde Buckridge (second assistant, 1878-1881); Hudson Fowler (second assistant, 1881); Ezra S. Mott (second assistant 1881-1883, first assistant 1883-1885, head keeper 1885-1886); Joseph Collins (second assistant, 1883-1885, first assistant 1885-1888); Christopher Collins (second assistant, 1885-1886); John P. Hutchinson, Jr. (second assistant, 1886-1887, died on duty); Elisha E. Davis (second assistant 1887-1888, first assistant 1888, head keeper 1888-1893); Carman B. Howell (second assistant 1888); William W. Brown (second assistant 1888, first assistant 1888-1890); George W. Rowland (second assistant 1888-1889); Walter E. Burdick (second assistant 1889-1890, first assistant 1890-1892); George B. Rathbun (second assistant, 1891); George W. Terrell (second assistant, 1891-1894, first assistant 1894-1896); Julien Smith (second assistant 1892, first assistant 1892-1893); Charles E. Lyon (second assistant, 1892); Elisha B. Prentis (second assistant, 1892); Joseph D. Burke (second assistant, 1892-1893); James Brooks (second assistant, 1893); Austin W. Morris (second assistant 1893, first assistant 1893-1894); Daniel Warner (second assistant, 1893-1894); Richard E. Ray (1893-1900); Robert Ray (second assistant 1894-1896, first assistant 1896); Frank W. Lennox (second assistant 1896); Frank H. Rackett (second assistant, 1894-1897); Herman Burke (second assistant 1894-1896, first assistant 1896-1900, head keeper1900-1901); Albert H. Porter (second assistant 1898); William G. Bailey (second assistant, 1898); John Dahlman (second assistant 1898-1899); Charles W. Oliver (second assistant 1899-?); Jules Gregoire (second assistant 1900, first assistant 1900-1901); Jonathan Davies (first assistant 1901-1902); James S. Van Riper (second assistant 1901-1902, first assistant 1902); Edward J. Murray (second assistant 1900); Gustaf Clausen (second assistant 1900); George W. Beckwith (second assistant 1901); Gilbert L. Rulon (1901-?); A. E. Godfrey (second assistant 1902, first assistant, 1902-?); William B. Mead (second assistant, 1902); Albert E. King (second assistant 1902-?); Peter Meade (second assistant 1903-?); Conrad Haake (second assistant 1903-?); J. E. Taylor (second assistant, 1904); Albert P. Bryant (second assistant 1903-1904); Herbert S. Knowles (second assistant 1904, first assistant, 1904-?); Julius Koster (second assistant) (1904-1905); Nicholas Sarre (second assistant, 1905-c.1911); William Murphy (second assistant, c. 1905); Morrell Hulse (first assistant 1905-?); James B. Hawkins (second assistant, 1907-?); John Paul (assistant, c. 1911); Emil Usinger (c. 1915); William Punuka (assistant c. 1919-1920); Harold Hobson (assistant, c. 1919-1920); J. A. Burke (additional keeper, 1921); Henry R. McCarthy (1921-?); John Tatay (first assistant, c. 1930); Lewis J. Allen (c. 1931-1933); Alfred Auger (assistant c. 1933); John J. Horlacher (first assistant, ?)

Last updated 12/15/11
  Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any part of this website without permission of the author.

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