Five Mile Point Lighthouse was originally constructed in 1805 when trade through New Haven was booming. The beacon’s name reflected its proximity to the center of New Haven, and at 30 feet tall, the wood-framed structure helped guide traffic in the surrounding New Haven Harbor with eight lamps. Perhaps the most interesting anecdote from those days revolves around one of the lighthouse’s keepers, Jonathan Finch.
One can only imagine that lighthouse keeping wasn’t a particularly lucrative job, even in the early 1800’s when a reliable beacon was crucial to safe sailing. But the clever, and arguably unethical, Finch found a way to make ends meet by turning the keeper’s cabin into a summertime retreat for those looking to enjoy the “delightful sea breeze”. For a fee, Finch would accommodate these guests in the style of a bed-and-breakfast, even offering:
“…lobsters, fish, [and] clams taken directly from their natural element, and served up at a short notice, with the best trimmings.”
-June 28, 1810 from the American Mercury
By the late 1830s, the elements had taken their toll on the wooden lighthouse; it was literally beginning to fall apart. Funds were assembled in 1847 to construct a brand-new lighthouse that could see New Haven into the future. At 80 feet in height, the new beacon was over twice as tall as the original wooden structure. There were also a dozen lamps installed to ensure a brighter beam. It is this second-generation construction that stands at Lighthouse Point Park to this very day.
As time carried on and technology advanced, there were upgrades to the beacon’s lighting system and fog bell. But when construction was completed in 1877 on the Southwest Ledge Light, visible in the distance from Lighthouse Point Park, the usefulness of Five Mile Point as a guiding light of New Haven Harbor had expired. It’s lights were put to rest forever…
Various individuals continued to make the old keeper’s cabin their home for years to come, but by the early 1920s, Five Mile Point had fallen under the ownership of the State of Connecticut. When New Haven bought the property in 1924, it was dubbed Lighthouse Point Park. At that point in time, it was the only place that New Haven’s general public could go to the beach and enjoy a swim. Perhaps it’s only fitting that Lighthouse Point Park now serves as the beautiful, albeit uncomfortably cold, venue for a fantastic event like the Polar Plunge for Parks, which honors a legacy of giving back to the community into the present day.
Check back in mid-January for the release of a new Trails of Freedom video production that’s sure to bring back fond memories of the 2011 Polar Plunge for Parks! Trails of Freedom would also like to extend a special thanks to Chris Randall and everyone that volunteered to make the Polar Plunge possible… their contribution of time and effort is deeply appreciated by all!
D’Entremont, Jeremy. The Lighthouses of Connecticut. Beverly, MA: Commonwealth Editions, 2005. Print.