Sheffield Island lighthouse glows for first time in 100 years!

Photo: Keelin Daly

NORWALK -- Marine folk have a term for the ideal sea state necessary to ship precious cargo, much like the finishing touches to the newly refurbished electrical system for the lighthouse on Sheffield Island. 
"Flat ... calm, like sitting pond water," says Tony D'Andrea, a lifelong boater and board member on the Norwalk Seaport Association Board, which on Monday will set the historic lighthouse aglow for the first time in more than 100 years. As D'Andrea, a former lobsterman, struggled Sunday to pull his rickety lobster boat up to the dock that leads to Sheffield Island, he admitted -- with a tone of panic in his voice -- that the rocky seas this morning would make his planned trip to the 143-year-old lighthouse impossible. With sustained 20 mile-per-hour winds blowing in the open sea, D'Andrea's 26-foot vessel absorbed a constant battering of crashing waves and moved rhythmically between large swells in the ocean.

There is a nautical term D'Andrea likes to use to describe the rocky sea conditions experienced Sunday morning a few miles off the coast of Norwalk.

"It was blowing snot out there today," he said as he pulled his boat -- "Karen Lee" -- safely away from the Sheffield Island dock; his mission -- to install a new low-energy reflective light in the lighthouse tower -- put off yet another day. 

"I'll have to try again tomorrow," D'Andrea said, his single-engine boat now rumbling back to the dock behind Water Street. "Hopefully, the water will be a little calmer." 

His crew, which on Sunday 
consisted of Norwalk Historical Commission Chairman Peter Bondi and NSA President Tom Shrum, all agreed the ocean was too unstable to dock safely. 

Bondi, to his credit, tried. As Karen Lee nudged alongside the dock, Bondi jumped overboard with a rope in hand in a frenzied attempt to tie her ashore. He watched from the dock as the wind forced the vessel back out to sea. 

"Just hang tight, Pete!" Shrum yelled from the boat, "we'll come back for you in the morning!" 

Bondi was, in fact, rescued about a minute and a half later. 

He and other Sheffield Island friends will be on hand Monday when the Norwalk Seaport Association is expected -- calm seas permitting -- to light the lighthouse tower, breathing life into a historic landmark that has been dark for more than a century. 

Activated in 1868, the Sheffield Island Lighthouse was in service for 34 years until its retirement in 1902. The seaport association purchased the lighthouse in 1987 for $700,000 from Thorston O. Stabell, who bought the structure from the U.S. government years prior and used it as a summer residence. 

According to Bondi, the historic granite lighthouse served as a navigational tool before it was replaced by the Greens Ledge Lighthouse, which remains a beacon for wayward boaters and commercial shipping vessels. 

Today, Sheffield Island Lighthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is maintained, along with the island, as a museum and nature preserve by Norwalk Seaport Association volunteers.

lighthouse will continue to serve as a museum, educational tool and tourist destination. The new white light will not be used as an aid to navigation; rather it will be visible intermittently from the Norwalk side of Long Island Sound. 

"A boater on Long Island will not be able to see the light," D'Andrea said, noting the blackened side of the new beacon. 

At least $40,000 worth of work went into installing the new electrical system on the island, he said.

Staff from NRG Energy Inc., which runs the blue emergency electrical plant on the Norwalk Harbor, donated the solar photovoltaic generating system to power the island in place of the former gasoline-powered generators. The island's old lighting system was also replaced with low-energy lighting, and solar-powered walkway lighting was added for safety and accessibility.

"We're grateful to NRG for their generosity and the great work they've done," Shrum said. "We have improved the lighting, accessibility and enjoyment of the island for our visitors, and it's been done in an environmentally friendly way. The tower light is not only a symbol of a great partnership, but will be a welcoming beacon to our visitors and a reminder of the history and significance of the lighthouse."

Plant Manager Les Ross said NRG was thrilled to participate in the project. 

"This project really captures what NRG is all about, so we were thrilled at the opportunity to play the central role. Our company and our people were able to contribute to a project that combines solar power, energy conservation, community support and historical preservation all at once."

Norwalk Hour

Norwalk Seaport Association Inc.

213 Liberty Square - Norwalk, CT 06855
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