Digest>Archives> January 1997

From Doomsday list to Survivor's List

By Margaret H Iacobellis


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Faulkner's Island Lighthouse, Connecticut, ...
Photo by: Joel Helender

There is something magical and compelling about a lighthouse and something equally riveting about the story of a survivor. Faulkner's Island Lighthouse is Guilford, Connecticut, fits easily into both categories.

It was 1801 when Thomas Jefferson signed his first lighthouse authorization, commissioning a light to be built on Faulkner's Island, four miles off the coast of historic Guilford, Connecticut. Ninety four feet above sea level, today it is the only active light station controlled by the Coast Guard on an island in Connecticut. Sitting precariously on its perch above the Sound, it has been faithfully flashing on and off since 1802, alerting mariners to the dangers of the reefs surrounding the tiny (2.87 acre) island.

The passage of time and the onslaughts of severe New England weather, however, have taken a toll, both on the lighthouse and on the ground surrounding it. Every year 6-7 inches of the eastern embankment slides into the water below, threatening the stability of the lighttower. It has been estimated the Light could topple into Long Island Sound early in the next century, but unusually savage storms could easily change that estimate.

In its issue of September 1996 the "Lighthouse Digest" placed Faulkner's Light on the Doomsday List, stating that Faulkner's was one of America's lighthouses "in danger of being lost forever." Fortunately, a group of concerned Guilford Citizens, led by local historian and writer, Joel Helander, had realized the seriousness of the situation and had banded together six years ago to form the Faulkner's Light Brigade. Their charge: Save the Lighthouse and the surrounding wildlife refuge from inevitable destruction. "Emergency on Faulkner's" and "The Clock is Ticking" became familiar clarion calls in this small New England town and the Brigade quickly adopted its famous motto: "Don't Let the Light Go Out!"

Since 1991, over one thousand people have joined the Brigade, donating time and money to fundraising, membership drives, and informational lectures, at the same time lobbying both state and federal officials with the hope of obtaining funds for lighthouse restoration and erosion control. Today, thanks to their effort, the state of Connecticut has awarded a $250,000 reimbursement grant to the town of Guilford under the Intramodal Service Transportation Enhancememt Act (ISTEA). this is designed to be used for restoration of the Lighttower itself. In addition, the U. S. Congress in the fall of 1996 approved $1.5 million for an erosion control project on the threatened eastern embankment, to be undertaken by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. Although this sum falls short of the $4.5 million which will be ultimately needed, the Connecticut Congressional delegation is firmly committed to seeing the project through to completion. It is hoped that actual erosion control work will be started by the late summer of 1998. At that time it will be possible to remove Faulkner's Island Lighthouse from the Doomsday List and place it number one on the "Survivor's List."

"Be prepared for a long slog," said the indefatigable Helander, when asked if he had and advice for other groups interested in saving historic lighthouses. "Although the work is crucially important, it is not fast or easy. Keep networking with state and federal agencies and get as many individuals interested as you can." As for the members of the Faulkner's Light Brigade, they would be happy to turn their efforts towards a joyful two-hundred birthday party for the familiar old Lighthouse!

For more information on Faulkner's Island Light or to join the Light Brigade, please write to Faulkner's Light Brigade, Box 199, Guilford, CT 06437.

This story appeared in the January 1997 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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