History of New Haven’s Lighthouse

One place to be this summer – in truth, there are many of those in New Haven – is Lighthouse Point Park. Visitors and locals return each summer to this place across 82 acres of swimmable shores, walkable sand, hiker-friendly nature trails, and more. Where children make lasting memories in splash pads, where birdwatchers study in the avian sanctuary, and couples play out rom-com scenes on an antique carousel.

Open from 7 AM to sunset, the park features on-duty lifeguards all summer, restrooms, and free parking for New Haven registered vehicles. Concessions are available daily from 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM, and pavilions are available for private rental on a reservation basis only. But back to the fun stuff. 

Lighthouse Point Park is home to, you guessed it, a lighthouse that has welcomed ships and sailors from across the globe for more than 70 years. Today, the lighthouse remains dark but is a monument of our city’s history. 

The original lighthouse stood 30 feet tall, topped with an iron lantern fueled by whale oil. The light emitted from the structure protected sailors from the rocky New England shores, but not well enough. Ultimately, the structure’s weak light and low elevation were no match for the rocky shoreline, with at least one ship crashing into the rocks just one mile from the lighthouse. Was the lighthouse functional? That’s arguable. Was it a stunning structure? Undoubtedly.  

After determining that the original lighthouse needed to be more effective, Congress appropriated $10,000 to construct a new lighthouse, which opened in 1847. The lighthouse that stands today is octagonal in shape and made of sandstone, hauled via a horse-drawn wagon from East Haven. The walls are built from New Haven brick, wrapping around a 74-step circular staircase leading up to the granite lantern. The tower is 97 feet above sea level, significantly taller than the original lighthouse, and more effective. 

Lighthouse Point Park is much more than a lighthouse. In 1924, the City of New Haven purchased the surrounding land, opening it to city residents for swimming, ferry boat rides, track meets and football games, field days, and more. Beyond New Haven locals, the fields of Lighthouse Point Park were once graced by Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, among other legends.

Thousands of people across New England venture to the park to gaze across the Long Island Sound each summer. The park’s fishing pier and public boat launch attract skilled anglers, and the park’s bird sanctuary attracts ornithological groups who return to research bird migration. 

From Memorial Day through Labor Day, one of the park’s most revered inclusions is the carousel. For just 50 cents, visitors of all ages can climb aboard one of the only remaining carousels in the country – one of less than 100 in use. 

People say this kind of thing a lot, but when it comes to Lighthouse Point Park, there really is something for everyone. Come see for yourself and visit the park this summer. We’ll meet you at the penny press!