Providing a Safe Harbor

Stamford Harbor is among the most dangerous harbors in Connecticut due to the rocky approach. This was stated on March 9, 1871, in an article by The Sabbath Recorder, reporting on a local petition circulating the community demanding a lighthouse be built to help guide ships safely into the harbor. The Stamford Harbor had been vital to the local area for decades, being a major point of commerce for coal traders and fishing companies alike. Officials from the Lighthouse Board visited the area and recommended the construction of a lighthouse on the reef known as “Harbor Ledge”. However, it wasn’t until 1881 that Congress finally appropriated $30,000 for the construction of the lighthouse. 

The Stamford Harbor Lighthouse would be placed into service on February 10, 1882. The site chosen for the lighthouse was Chatham Rocks, about two-thirds of a mile offshore. The structure was a cast-iron tower set on top of a cylindrical cast-iron caisson, and was similar to a number of other lighthouses in the region. The sections of the tower were made at a Boston foundry and then brought to the site and bolted together.

The Lighthouse Board announced that on February 10, 1882, a fixed red light of the fourth order would be exhibited from the Stamford Harbor Lighthouse. The light had a focal plane of 60 feet above mean low water and was capable of lighting the entire horizon. In addition to the light, the tower was also equipped with a fog bell that was struck by machinery. Over the years, the Stamford Harbor Lighthouse underwent a number of renovations and improvements. In 1898, the tower was raised by 20 feet to increase its visibility. In 1939, the light was automated and the fog bell was discontinued.


The Stamford Harbor Lighthouse is completed and begins operation


Christmas at the lighthouse (1908)

John J. Cook was the keeper of Stamford Harbor Lighthouse in Connecticut 1907-09. As a young man, Cook went to sea and had been awarded many medals during his years in the U.S. Navy. A reporter asked Cook how he could possibly enjoy Christmas in isolation while overseeing the lighthouse.

“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. Many a fervent “Thank God,” many a heart-deep prayer has gone up, maybe from people who wouldn’t be thinking of such things ashore, when the red gleam of Stamford Light was made out in a storm or the bell heard in a fog. My little light has its mission just as your pulpit preacher has his; and no one who was watched it through the terrible winter storms can fail to appreciate this, and with it his responsibility. Human life, yes, human souls depend upon that light Christmas and every other night of the year, and I dare guess it’s compensation for the loss of a Christmas sermon to keep the light burning steadily.”

-Keeper John J. Cook (1908)


A baby was born in the lighthouse to Keeper Robert Fritton and his wife.



Milestones in the history of the Stamford Harbor Lighthouse:

  • 1870s: Stamford Harbor becomes a busy hub of ship traffic, with a number of hazardous rocks and ledges posing a threat to ships. A petition is circulated calling for the construction of a lighthouse on the Harbor Ledge.
  • 1871: Officials from the Lighthouse Board recommend the construction of a day beacon on the Harbor Ledge and a lighted beacon on the opposite side of the channel leading to the harbor.
  • 1881: Congress appropriates $30,000 for the construction of the Stamford Harbor Lighthouse.
  • 1882: The Stamford Harbor Lighthouse is completed and begins operation, exhibiting a fixed red light of the fourth order with a focal plane of 60 feet above mean low water. The tower is also equipped with a fog bell.
  • 1898: The tower is raised by 20 feet to increase its visibility.
  • 1939: The light is automated and the fog bell is discontinued.
  • The Coast Guard discontinued Stamford Harbor Light as an official aid to navigation in 1953.
  • In 1955, the tower was sold for $1 to Thomas F. Quigley, former mayor of Stamford. Quigley wanted to make the lighthouse a historic landmark.
  • In 1964 ownership reverted to the General Services Administration, then sold to the Hartford Electric Light Company
  • In 1982 to the Connecticut Light and Power Company.
  • In 1984, the lighthouse was placed into private ownership.
  • Today: The Stamford Harbor Lighthouse Projects works to restore the historic landmark and make it a source of pride for the residents of Stamford and Greenwich. 

Save Stamford Lighthouse!

Join us today in restoring, preserving, and protecting this icon of American Maritime history.
Current and future generations will thank you!