Museum Movie Premier: The History of Race Rock Light

Photo Credit: Mark Bigelow

On Tuesday, July 26 at 4 PM, Fishers Island’s
Ferguson Museum will host a Benefit
Premier: The History of Race Rock Light

This 45-minute video directed by Pierce Rafferty and Marisela La Grave chronicles the remarkable story of how a lighthouse came to be erected in 1878 on a dangerous submerged ledge amidst some of the most unpredictable and swiftest moving tides on the East Coast.

This event will be held at the Fishers Island Movie Theater with a reception immediately following and is a benefit to launch the New London Maritime Society’s restoration campaign for Race Rock Light.

Race Rock lighthouse is a two and a half story, Gothic Revival style, granite masonry keeper’s dwelling with a three and a half story tower. The 67-foot high tower has an octagonal cast iron lantern and gallery surrounded by a wrought iron railing. There are brick-lined rooms in the basement and dwelling.

Building Race Rock Light was a feat of engineering bravery directed over seven years by New London’s own Captain T. A. Scott. For 143 years, Race Rock’s red lantern light and foghorn have guided mariners through the roiling currents at the Race.

Sketch showing the state of the foundation September 5, 1874.


Race Rock Light’s Landing Wharf nearing completion, circa spring 1878.

In 2013 Race Rock Light Station was entrusted to the New London Maritime Society (NLMS) by the federal government through the National Lighthouse Preservation Act. Immediately upon receiving the lighthouse, NLMS went to work sealing all broken windows, cleaning the interior, and carefully removing the peeling paint from the walls. Two simple brick fireplaces were discovered beneath the wallboard. The first public visits to the lighthouse were held in 2017.

One of two brick fireplaces uncovered. Photo Credit: Jane T. Ahrens, August 26, 2017

In 2018, the Maritime Society launched an initiative to raise $11,000 for an architectural assessment and restoration plan for the lighthouse. Walter Sedovic & Jill H. Gotthelf of Walter Sedovic Architects, were selected. Previously the firm did the restoration assessments for both Block Island lighthouses and for Faulkner’s Light off Guilford, CT. They noted that Race Rock Light remains in extraordinary condition, in large part due to its construction technology which was decades ahead of its time.

Earlier this year, NLMS applied for a sizable grant to replace the railing on the perimeter of the foundation. The grant, if received, should also allow re-pointing the masonry on the foundation drum to begin in summer 2023.

A great deal remains to be done. Once the property has been safely prepared as a construction site, it must be stabilized before final restoration work can begin. Initially, a floating dock facility of sufficient size to offload construction materials will be installed. Necessary stabilization projects include sealing the perimeter from rainwater that is intruding through open masonry joints; replacing the gutters and flashing systems associated with the roof, walls, towers, and chimneys; weatherproofing the lantern and lantern tower; and either restoring an electric power cable to Race Rock Light from Fishers Island or increasing the solar array to prevent the structure from freezing during winter months.

The Maritime Society is dedicated to lighthouse preservation. In addition to Race Rock (1878), the Maritime Society also owns New London Harbor Lighthouse (1760) and New London Ledge Light (1909)—all active aids to navigation. Together these are the three historic beacons leading from the ocean to New London harbor.

The July event will launch the preservation effort for Race Rock Light.

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