Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2012-05-19.
Avery Point started out as the estate of a wealthy industrialist named Morton F. Plant. Although he was born into money, he did have much success in his business endeavors. Many believe he chose Avery Point to build his summer cottage due to his love of yachting and agriculture.
The mansion he built would be called the Branford House, named after the town Plant was born in. The thirty-one room mansion was completed in 1903 at a cost of three million dollars when the local bank in town only had deposits of $312,000.
Morton F. Plant would pass away in 1918 leaving the estate to his son and later to his daughter-in-law. The mansion was reported to be sold to the State of Connecticut for $55,000 in 1938.
Avery Point Lighthouse (Courtesy USCG)
Through a quitclaim deed, the State of Connecticut transferred the land to the Federal Government in 1942 with the stipulation that a lighthouse would be erected on the property within five years of the transaction. If a lighthouse was not constructed, the land would revert back to the state. The U.S. Coast Guard took control of the property and established a training station. The required lighthouse was completed in March of 1943 making it the last official lighthouse constructed in the state of Connecticut. It remained unlit due to World War II.
The octagonal forty-one foot tower was constructed of light brown blocks made up of concrete and sand. It was capped off with a wooden lantern room surrounded by a cast-concrete railing. The railing was held up by Italian marble balusters that came from the Plant estate flower gardens.
The tower was lit for the first time on the night of May 2, 1944. The lighting apparatus was a unique cluster of eight 200-watt bulbs which displayed a fixed white light at fifty-five feet above sea level. This characteristic would be used until March of 1960 when the pattern was changed to a green flash every four seconds.
Given that the tower was on the grounds of a Coast Guard training facility, the light had no dedicated keeper. Instead personnel or students would tend to the light on a nightly basis. The Branford House mansion was used to house administrative offices for the training facility as well as to provide living quarters for commanding officers.
In 1967, the Coast Guard closed the training facility at Avery Point, instead relocating all training operations to Governor's Island in New York. The lighthouse was decommissioned on June 25, 1967. At that point, the property was returned to the State of Connecticut who would use it for the Southeastern Campus of the University of Connecticut in 1969.
The lighthouse was abandoned and years of neglect took their toll. By 1997, the concrete blocks were crumbling and the wooden lantern room was rotted. The lighthouse was in such poor shape that the university declared it a safety hazard and even contemplated razing the structure. By 1999, fund-raising efforts were started through the American Lighthouse Foundation and in 2000; the Avery Point Lighthouse Society was formed.
By December of 2001, the wooden lantern room was removed. However, due to severe deterioration, the decision was made to create a replica. The West Mystic Wooden Boat Building Company was tapped in 2003 for the work, and donated the materials and labor.
A closer inspection of the tower took place in 2003. This inspection revealed that the blocks, which were made of a mixture of cement and sand, had a disproportionately high mixture of sand which caused them to crumble. The plan to save the blocks would include removal of the face, and then reinforcement with steel and cement. Restoration of the tower was completed in 2006 with a relighting ceremony on October 15.
Directions: From the Town of Groton, take Route 349 (Eastern Point Road) south. At the intersection of Eastern Point Road and Shennecossett Road, go straight instead of turning left.
Access: The lighthouse sits on the grounds of the University of Connecticut. The grounds are open. The lighthouse is closed.View more Avery Point Lighthouse pictures