Sheffield Island Lighthouse and Nature Trail

Sheffield Island Lighthouse

Sheffield Island Lighthouse

What: Island & Lighthouse
Where: 132 Water St # 3, Norwalk, CT 06854 (Accessible by boat)
Phone: (203) 838-9444
Web: http://www.seaport.org/

The Sheffield Island Lighthouse is an historic Connecticut, lighthouse located at the southern end of the Norwalk Islands on the west entrance of the Norwalk River on northern Long Island Sound.

Activated in 1868, the Sheffield Island Lighthouse – now listed on the National Register of Historic Places – was in service for 34 years until its retirement in 1902. Today the Norwalk Seaport Association’s volunteers maintain the lighthouse and grounds as a museum and nature preserve.

Visitors can board the Seaport ferry at the Association’s dock, adjacent to Stroffolino Bridge, corner of Washington and Water Streets, South Norwalk, CT, for their trip to the island, the lighthouse or harbor cruises.

Each year the ferry takes thousands of visitors back to a time when this and other lighthouses were critical to coastal and oceangoing shipping.

Once on the island, visitors are treated to a tour of the lighthouse, including a chance to climb up into the light tower itself, where on clear days, the New York City skyline can be seen. The 10-room lighthouse showcases period furniture, and offers a chance to see what life was like for the families of 19th century light keepers.

Another island attraction is the Nature Trail through the Stewart B. McKinney Wildlife Refuge, which completed by the Seaport Association in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. From a viewing platform, a variety of wildlife including nesting herons and other birds can be observed.

History

The island, at the time known as “White Island”, was purchased by Captain Robert Sheffield in 1804 for $6000. In 1826 Gershom Smith, Sheffield’s son in law, sold 4 of the island’s 53 acres at the southwest point to the United States government for the purpose of building a lighthouse. Smith would serve as the first keeper for the light which was completed in 1828. At the time the island was known as Smith Island. The first light originally ran on oil.

In 1857 the light was upgraded to a fourth-order Fresnel lens. The original 30 feet tower was replaced by a Victorian style limestone (masonry) dwelling, with a 44 feet high light tower in the gable, in 1868. The Fresnel lens from 1857 was moved into the new structure and with a focal plane 51 feet above water it was visible for more than 12 miles. The lighthouse is of the same design as lighthouses at Great Captain Island and Morgan Point in Connecticut; Old Field Point Light and Plum Island in New York; and Block Island North in Rhode Island.

Greens Ledge Light was built to the west of Sheffield in 1900 and was better located to warn ships of the rocks and shoals on the approach to Sheffield Island harbor and Norwalk harbor. Sheffield Island Light was then deactivated in 1902. In 1987 the 118 year old structure was purchased by the Norwalk Seaport Association for renovation and restoration. In 1989 the lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1993 an electric generator was added to the structure, but in the fall a great storm flooded the basement of the building and artifacts were lost or destroyed. In 2002 the Seaport association started ferry service to the island, which is still running.

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