Sheffield Island Lighthouse
Sheffield Island Lighthouse is an old decommissioned tower on Sheffield Island, one of a chain of islands constituting the Norwalk Islands, off the coast of Norwalk, Connecticut.
The lighthouse stands on the southern end of Sheffield Island to the north of Southwest Point. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the 51-acre island, part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. It is the second largest of the Norwalk Islands and most southerly.
Some people believe that the ghosts of past keepers haunt the lighthouse.
European settlers first arrived in the Norwalk Islands in the mid-1600s, and by the 1700s, oysters, and pottery had become the main exports from the region.
[Fun facts: The Norwalk Islands consist of about 25 islands. The 59-acre Chimon is the largest, while the 51-acre Sheffield is the second-largest. Other relatively large islands include Cockenoe and Shea.]
Captain Robert Sheffield
Captain Robert Sheffield purchased the island, then known as White Island, for $6,000 in 1804.
Sheffield’s son-in-law, Gershom Smith, purchased the island from his father-in-law and opened a hospitality business there in 1818. Smith was also a farmer who raised cattle. The Smith family owned and occupied Sheffield for five generations (Jeremy D’Entremont, History of Sheffield Island Lighthouse, Norwalk, Connecticut).
In 1826, the U.S. government purchased 4 acres on the southwest of the island, then known as Smith Island. The government completed the construction of a lighthouse on the property in 1828 and retained Smith as keeper of the light. He was the keeper from 1871 to 1845.
Sheffield Island Lighthouse was a 30-foot tower with an oil-powered lighting mechanism. A stone cottage that housed the keeper stood nearby. The lighthouse helped ships approaching the Connecticut coastline navigate the dangerous rocks and ledges along the path to the harbor.
The lighting mechanism was complex. It included ten oil-powered lamps equipped with parabolic reflectors. A clockwork mechanism rotated the reflectors. They flashed red and white alternately to warn approaching ships (Jeremy D’Entremont, History of Sheffield Island Lighthouse, Norwalk, Connecticut).
Lewis Whitlock: Lonely and miserable
Lewis Whitlock was the keeper of the lighthouse from 1845 to 1861.
A report from 1850 painted a dismal picture of his life alone on Sheffield Island as the keeper of the light. The inspector noted that while Whitlock maintained the lighting apparatus and lighthouse in good condition, the reflectors needed replacement.
He then commented on Smith’s loneliness and the dilapidated condition of his home. He said Smith appeared miserable and in need of a wife.
The first keeper, Gershom Smith, had been married to the daughter of the former owner of Sheffield Island (Captain Robert Sheffield). It wasn’t clear from the report whether Whitlock was ever married. However, the report indicated he was living alone in 1850.
Upgrading the Sheffield Island Lighthouse
The inspectors’ report dated 1850 might have prompted efforts to improve conditions at the lighthouse.
In 1857, a fourth-order Fresnel lens replaced the oil-powered lighting system. In 1868, a mid-Victorian limestone structure replaced the old 30-foot tower.
The new structure incorporated a 44-foot light tower equipped with a Fresnel lens that offered enhanced visibility from the sea. Ships approaching the coastline could sight the light at a distance of more than 12 miles.
The original 30-foot tower is now underwater, but tourists can still explore the replacement tower.
In his History of Sheffield Island Lighthouse, Norwalk, Connecticut, Jeremy D’Entremont noted that the mid-Victorian style of the new tower was similar to several other contemporary lighthouses, including the Morgan Point Light and the Great Captain Island Light in Connecticut, the Field Point Light in New York, and the Block Island North Light in Rhode Island.
Keeper Noah Mosher (1861-1872)
Sheffield Island Lighthouse received a new keeper, Noah Mosher, in 1861. Mosher died unexpectedly in July 1872. A newspaper report said he was sitting in a chair observing vessels passing through a spyglass and talking to someone nearby when he suddenly slumped and died. His son, Noah Mosher, Jr., took over as keeper and retained the position until 1878.
Frederick Comstock was the keeper from 1878 to 1885. Neil Ward kept the light for some months between 1885 and 1886.
Keeper Samuel Armour (1886-1902)
Samuel Armour was the last keeper of the light at the Sheffield Island Lighthouse.
He took over in 1886 and lived there with his wife. Armour fell ill with typhoid fever in 1901, reportedly after drinking contaminated water. He was unwell for several weeks, but his wife held the fort until he recovered.
Sheffied Island Lighthouse decommissioned in 1902
The government decommissioned Sheffield Island Lighthouse in 1902 after building the Greens Ledge Lighthouse in 1900.
Greens Ledge Lighthouse’s offshore location to the west of Sheffield Island in the western Long Island Sound near Norwalk and Darien, Connecticut, improved maritime safety. It offered better warning and guidance to ships approaching the coastline.
The government offered Sheffield Island lighthouse for sale in 1914.
Thorsten O. Stabell
Thorsten Stabell, captain of the Norwalk Yach Club, purchased Sheffield Island Lighthouse from the government for $5000 at auction in 1914.
In 1930, the Stabell family attempted to convert Sheffield Island into a resort with tennis courts and a golf course but had to abandon the effort due to issues with the freshwater supply.
Norwalk Seaport Association
The Norwalk Seaport Association purchased the island in 1986 from the Stabell family for $700,000. They wanted to restore and renovate the 10-room structure.
The Sheffield Island Lighthouse has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1989.
Further modernization occurred in 1993 when they installed a gasoline-powered electricity generator. In 1993, tropical storm Beth caused flooding of the lighthouse basement, including the water cistern. It also damaged the power generator, some of the furnishings, and historic artifacts stored there.
The Norwalk Seaport Association raised funds to maintain and restore the historic site. The association paid off the mortgage in September 2000 and received a state grant of $250,000 for restoration work.
According to legend, the spirits of people who lived, worked, and died on Sheffield Island since the 17th century haunt the place.
The Norwalk Seaport Association manages the Sheffield Island Lighthouse. The fish and wildlife authorities restrict access to Sheffield Island most of the year to protect wildlife, including birds nesting there. However, tourists may visit the lighthouse and about 3.5 acres of land surrounding it for picnicking.
The lighthouse is open for tours in the summer. The Norwalk Seaport Association organizes historic and paranormal tours.
Karen Orawsky and the Ghost of Robert Sheffield
The ghost of Captain Robert Sheffield reportedly haunts the island.
While traveling to the island by boat in 1991, archaeologist Karen Orawsky reportedly heard strangely enchanting music, a foghorn blowing from the island, and someone crying for help.
When she landed, she looked for the source of the music, the foghorn, and the person crying for help. But she did not find a foghorn installed on the island or anyone playing a musical instrument. She also couldn’t trace the source of the mysterious cries for help.
Some paranormal enthusiasts concluded that Orawsky might have heard phantom music created by the ghost of Captain Robert Sheffield.
Keeper Noah Mosher’s ghost
Some visitors also attributed strange occurrences at the lighthouse to the ghost of former keeper Noah Mosher who died suddenly at his post in July 1872.
The keeper had appeared in good spirits and health when he suddenly slumped and died. A witness claimed he’d been looking out at sea through his spyglass at ships passing while holding a conversation when he fell back and died without warning.
The mysterious circumstances of his death inspired claims that his ghost haunts the lighthouse.
Some believed that Mosher’s ghost, rather than Sheffield’s, might have been responsible for Orawksy’s experience of phantom music, foghorn blowing, and cries for help.
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Top image courtesy of Polaron is used under Creative Commons license CC BY 3.0.
|Sheffield Island Light, White Island Lighthouse, Smith Island Lighthouse
|Sheffield Island, Norwalk, CT 06854
Where to find
In the media
http://www.newenglandlighthouses.net/sheffield-island-light-history.html, “History of Sheffield Island Lighthouse, Norwalk, Connecticut,” accessed on April 29, 2023.
https://web.archive.org/web/20080501111900/http://www.seaport.org/sheffield_island.htm, “Sheffield Island Lighthouse and Nature Trail,” accessed on April 29, 2023.
https://web.archive.org/web/20170519232547/http://www.uscg.mil/history/weblighthouses/LHCT.asp, “Historic Light Station Information,” accessed on April 29, 2023.
https://www.thehour.com/norwalk/article/Ghosts-goblins-and-ghouls-haunt-Sheffield-Island-8227709.php, “Ghosts, goblins and ghouls haunt Sheffield Island Lighthouse,” accessed on April 29, 2023.
https://patch.com/connecticut/norwalk/sheffield-lighthouse-haunted, “Is Sheffield Lighthouse Haunted?” accessed on April 29, 2023.