The Connecticut River, the Long Tidal river, has many aids to navigation along its banks. If the weekend sailor was to sail his boat from Long Island Sound up the river to Wethersfield, he would first pass by Saybrook Breakwater and Lynde Point Lights. As he made his way through the meandering channel, he would no doubt notice numerous buoys, skeleton towers, and minor range lights that aid vessels as small as a small motorboat to large oil tankers up the river. If the sailor had made this same journey at the beginning of the century, he would also have noticed two, small wooden light towers in addition to the numerous post lanterns. The first one, as he travelled up the river would have been the Essex Reef Post Light; the second, Chester Rock Post Light.
Until 1889, many of the aids to navigation on the Connecticut River were in private hands. This was brought to the attention of the Lighthouse Board, which determined whether the commercial traffic on the river was sufficient enough to construct more aids to navigation. It noted in the 1888 Annual Report: "The attention of the Board was called to the necessity for the establishment of additional aids to navigation on the Connecticut River from its mouth to the head of sloop navigation at Hartford, Conn." An investigation discovered that "The commerce of the Connecticut River during eight months of navigation amounts to considerably over one million tons, and the Board is of the opinion that the interests of commerce and navigation demand that the river be properly lighted and otherwise marked." Congress approved an appropriation of $15,000 and several beacons, including Essex Reef (also known as Hayden's) Light and Chester Rock Light, were constructed.
The Board built the two small, 21 feet high, hexagonal wooden towers with 6th order lenses the following year; on July 1st, 1889 the two beacons were lit for the first time. A 1903 light list gave a short description of their appearance; "Hexagonal, pyramidal structure, shingled, natural color, with black lantern, on a square, black, pyramidal crib." Both beacons guided mariners past hidden reefs and rocks; they were maintained by lamp lighters who lived in the nearby towns and tended to the lights. Chester Rock Light stood until 1912, when it was replaced by a skeleton tower with a daymark. It was further modified in 1927, and continued to be watched as late as 1930. By the late 1940s, it was no longer mentioned in the light list and may have been discontinued. Essex Reef Light remained until it, too, was torn down and replaced by a skeleton tower in 1919; it was converted to an unwatched light as early as 1912.
These lights were just two of many small aids to navigation across the country that were maintained by local lamp lighters. These individuals often had the responsibility of attending several beacons. The need for light attendants dwindled as these small lights and post lanterns were replaced by skeleton towers and unwatched beacons. All that is left are pictures, mentions of the beacons in annual reports and light lists, the occasional log kept by the lamp lighter, and sometimes a document that comes to light after being left undiscovered for many years.
This story appeared in the
August 1998 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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