NORWALK, Conn. -- Located a less than a mile off Norwalk's coast, Sheffield Island Lighthouse affords guests the opportunity to experience Connecticut’s rich maritime roots.
The 53-acre island boasts rugged beaches, protected wildlife and is home to one of the Long Island Sound’s oldest aids to navigation. The current tower and keeper’s house were completed in 1868, but the island has been a navigational point since the early 19th century.
Currently owned by the Norwalk Seaport Association, the lighthouse and surrounding island have been home to revolutionaries, politicians, business tycoons and even the occasional ghost.
The westward-most island in the Norwalk chain, Sheffield Island rises out of a dangerous reef. In an effort to protect ships entering the busy port, the U.S. government approved the island's owners with plans to construct a light warning passing ships of the hidden shoal. The island's residents gave their blessing, and in 1826 the first lighthouse was built.
For nearly 100 years until its sale in 1914, Sheffield Island lighthouse and its grounds were manned year-round by a family, said Peter Bondi, Chairman of the Sheffield Island Lighthouse Committee. Some claim the family never completely left the island. According to dockside lore, the spirit of a young girl, possibly the keeper’s daughter, still haunts the grounds today.
Haunted or not, experiencing the island's eerie calm and sense of remoteness after dark makes it easy to imagine a wayward spirit overlooking the churning seas. However, Bondi is yet to have such an experience on his numerous overnight stays on the island.
After changing ownership in the early 1900s, Sheffield Island took on new life as a summer retreat for America’s business elite. Thanks to its privacy, the island became a favorite backdrop for political and corporate deal-makers to practice their craft free from prying eyes.
Remington Rand, the weapons manufacturer of Manhattan Project fame, hosted several of these private conferences on the island throughout the 1940s and 50s. Attended by high-level government officials, these conferences drew power players from New York, Washington, and beyond. In fact, rumors circulated that then President Dwight Eisenhower attended at least one of these covert sessions, according to Bondi.
Ultimately, the island was sold to the Norwalk Seaport Association in 1986, which maintains and operates the lighthouse and grounds to this day. Today, the island offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy the Long Island Sound’s ecosystem in a uniquely historical setting.
Walk the grounds once strolled by America’s powerful, visit the quarters keepers once called home, and you never know, maybe have a chat with a ghost.
Ferry cruises and island tours depart from Water Street seven days a week from June 24 to Sept. 2. For more information, visit www.seaport.org
John Haffey Jr. is a Norwalk resident and Long Island Sound enthusiast and has navigated and fished Coastal Connecticut for years.