Five Mile Point Light, New Haven, Connecticut

The Five Mile Point Light at the entrance to New Haven Harbor, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2020:

New Haven Harbor has been marked by a lighthouse since 1805, when the first one was constructed here on this site at the southeast edge of the harbor. It was commonly known as Five Mile Point Light, because of its distance from downtown New Haven. The original tower was 30 feet tall and built of wood, but by the late 1830s both it and the keeper’s house were badly deteriorated. Both buildings were replaced in 1847, and the new lighthouse was substantially larger than the older one. As shown in these two photos, it is octagonal in shape and constructed of local brownstone, and it stands 80 feet above the ground. Its design is very similar to many of the other early 19th century lighthouses in Connecticut, including New London Harbor Light, Lynde Point Light, Black Rock Harbor Light, and Falkner Island Light.

The new lighthouse was constructed by local builder Marcus Bassett, and the work evidently progressed quickly. Congress appropriated funds for it on March 3, 1847, and it was nearly completed by September, when an article appeared in the New Haven Journal, praising the new lighthouse:

New-Haven harbor during easterly storms, is the refuge of an immense number of craft, but its entrance from the east has always been difficult, if not dangerous, because the light-house cannot be seen until near the rocks upon which it stands. The government erected a new house for the keeper recently, but the new light-house, which is nearly ready for use, is the object of special admiration. Standing but a few rods from the old one, it rises in towering majesty by its side, and now may be seen in every direction where the other was wholly concealed. It will be of immense benefit to New-Haven harbor and also add to the security of the navigation of the Sound.

As was the case with most other American lighthouses of the era, Five Mile Point Light was maintained by a keeper who resided here on the property. Lighthouse keepers were primarily responsible for lighting and extinguishing the lantern, but other routine duties included maintenance and repairs to the buildings and equipment. However, because of their locations at hazardous points along shipping routes, keepers were also occasionally called upon to assist sailors in distress. Here at Five Mile Point, keeper Merritt Thompson, who served from 1853 to 1860, was often involved in such rescues, with his 1884 obituary noting that “when he was keeper of the lighthouse it was his good fortune to be instrumental in saving lives on a number of occasions when boats would be upset in the harbor,” and that “many stories are told of his daring and humanity in emergencies calling for personal risk and quick action.” 

The 1860 census shows Thompson living here at the lighthouse with his wife Julia and their six children, who ranged in age from 11 months to 14 years. However, he was subsequently dismissed from the post, and went on to work as a harbor pilot here in New Haven. An 1861 letter to the editor, published in the Columbian Register, suggested that this was a political move, and that he was replaced by a Republican partisan because of Abraham Lincoln’s electoral victory in 1860. The writer questioned the qualifications of any replacement, and observed that “the removal has caused a burst of indignation among all our citizens,” and concluded the letter with some sarcasm, saying “I trust none of our citizens will allow themselves to be capsized in the vicinity of the light house, for the next four years.”

The new lighthouse keeper was Elizur Thompson, who was not related to his predecessor. Despite this anonymous writer’s doubts about his abilities, he go on to serve here for many years, first as a keeper and later as an employee of the United States Signal Service. His family also helped maintain the lighthouse, including his wife Elizabeth and two of their sons, each of whom received assistant keeper salaries at various times over the years. He was dismissed in 1867 by the Andrew Johnson administration, for reasons that were evidently as political as his initial appointment had been, but he was subsequently reappointed in 1869, after Republican Ulysses S. Grant became president.

During the 1870 census, Elizur and Elizabeth were 61 and 59 respectively, and they lived here at the lighthouse with their 24-year-old son George and their 18-year-old daughter Ella. However, Elizabeth died a year later, and in 1877 Elizur remarried to Ellen Pierce, a widow who was about 30 years younger than him. She had a son, Burton, from her first marriage, and he was 13 years old and living with them during the 1880 census.

In the meantime, in 1873 the federal government began construction of Southwest Ledge Light, located on a rocky ledge about a mile offshore from here. Because this new lighthouse was much closer to the main shipping channel, it rendered Five Mile Point Light obsolete, and the light was deactivated after Southwest Ledge was completed in 1877. Elizur Thompson was then appointed as the first keeper of the new lighthouse, and his son Henry became the assistant keeper. He remained there for four more years, until his retirement in 1881, and Henry then became the main keeper of Southwest Ledge.

Following his retirement, Elizur and Ellen returned to the old Five Mile Point Light, where he was allowed to live, rent-free, for the rest of his life. During this time, he worked for the United States Signal Service, displaying flags from the old lighthouse to provide weather reports for passing merchant vessels. Both Elizur and Ellen faced health scars in the mid-1880s, beginning with a head injury that the elderly Elizur suffered in 1884, when he slipped and hit the back of his head on a rock while trying to launch a boat here on the beach. Then, in June 1885 Ellen underwent major surgery in New York to remove a large tumor. Newspaper reports described her as being in critical condition and doubted whether she would survive, but she ultimately recovered and returned to New Haven in early August.

Elizur carried out his duties here at the lighthouse until his death in 1897, when he was 87 years old. Ellen had taken over these responsibilities during his final illness, and after his death she was formally appointed as his successor. As described in the Morning Journal and Courier following her appointment, the signal station “has been a great boon to the sailors, since it has warned them of impending storms and furnished them the opportunity to come within the shelter of the harbor.” The article described how the weather reports arrived in downtown New Haven and were then telephoned to the lighthouse, where Ellen would hoist the appropriate flags. The article then concluded by remarking that “the task is anything but an easy one for a woman, especially in stormy weather.” She would retain this post until her death in 1901, at the age of 60.

The first photo was taken around 1900. Assuming this date is accurate, Ellen Thompson would have still been living and working here, and the tall pole atop the lighthouse was likely where she hoisted the flags. The photo also shows the keeper’s house on the right side, connected to the lighthouse by an enclosed wooden walkway. On the other side of the lighthouse, in the center of the photo, are four Civil War-era Rodman cannons that were installed here during the Spanish-American War in 1898. These obsolete guns were evidently more for show than anything else, and were likely more effective at reassuring locals than at dissuading Spanish warships. In any case, these guns were never tested in combat during the short-lived war, and within a few years they were removed and incorporated into several different local Civil War memorials.

No longer necessary for either navigational aids or civil defense measures, this area around the old lighthouse subsequently became an amusement park, known as Lighthouse Point Park. Like many other early 20th century amusement parks, it was developed by a local trolley company as a way of increasing ridership on otherwise quiet weekend trolleys. The park featured attractions such as a carousel, along with a beach and fields for athletic events. Even prominent baseball stars such as Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb made appearances here at Lighthouse Point and participated in exhibition games.

The amusement park was subsequently acquired by the city, but it began to decline after the 1920s, and most of the park buildings were demolished by the mid-20th century. The site has continued to be used as a public park, though, and it continues to be a popular destination for its beach and for other recreational activities, including its restored carousel. However, the most prominent landmark here at the park continues to be the historic lighthouse. Despite not having been used as a lighthouse for nearly 150 years, both the tower and the keeper’s house are still standing, with few major changes since the first photo was taken, aside from the loss of the covered walkway.

Governor Buckingham Statue, Connecticut State Capitol, Hartford

The statue of Governor William A. Buckingham in the west atrium of the Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford, around 1891. Image from Hartford Illustrated (1891).

The scene in 2019:

William A. Buckingham served as governor of Connecticut from 1858 to 1866, including for the entire duration of the Civil War. During that time, he was instrumental in recruiting soldiers for the state regiments, in addition to raising money to equip them. In several instances, he even took out personal loans in order to ensure that Connecticut soldiers were paid in a timely manner. Because of his actions, he earned the respect of the state’s veterans, and he was subsequently elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served from 1869 until his death in 1875.

The current Connecticut State Capitol was completed in 1878, and the west atrium was designated as the Hall of Flags, to display the battle flags of the state’s various Civil War regiments. These flags were placed here on September 17, 1879—the anniversary of the Battle of Antietam—with a celebration that included a parade of more than ten thousand veterans. Then, five years later, the state installed this statue of Governor Buckingham, which was designed by Olin L. Warner, a prominent sculptor from Suffield, Connecticut. It was unveiled here on June 18, 1884 with similar fanfare, including a large parade of veterans and speeches by state dignitaries.

The first photo was taken around 1891, and very little has changed since then. The atrium is a little more crowded now, because of added security at the entrance, but the statue of Governor Buckingham is still here, as are most of the regimental flags. The capitol building was extensively restored during the 1980s, and during this time many of the flags were also restored. After being on display for well over a century, most were badly deteriorated, with some even falling off of their poles. Of the 110 flags, 73 were restored in the 1980s. Funding has been a challenge since then, but more flags have continued to be conserved over the years, and have been put back on display here in the Hall of Flags.

Nathan Hale State, Connecticut State Capitol, Hartford

The Nathan Hale statue inside the Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford, around 1891. Image from Hartford Illustrated (1891).

The statue in 2019:

Perhaps the most celebrated Revolutionary War figure from Connecticut is Nathan Hale, the young schoolteacher-turned-soldier who was hanged as a spy in 1776. He is memorialized by several statues throughout the state, including here in the east wing of the state capitol building. This statue was designed in 1886 by sculptor Karl Gerhardt, and it is made of bronze atop a marble base, on which is inscribed Hale’s famous, if possibly apocryphal last words: “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

The statue was formally unveiled here in the capitol on June 14, 1887, in a ceremony attended by dignitaries such as Governor Phineas C. Lounsbury and Mayor Morgan Bulkeley, who would later go on to become governor and U.S. senator. The dedication address was presented by Charles Dudley Warner, a writer whose most famous work was the novel The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, which he had co-authored with fellow Hartford resident Mark Twain.

The first photo was taken about four years after the statue was installed here, and since then essentially nothing has changed in this scene. The statue is still here in the same spot, and the interior of the capitol itself has remained well-preserved, retaining its original ornate Victorian-era design.

The Genius of Connecticut, Connecticut State Capitol, Hartford

The plaster model of The Genius of Connecticut, located inside the Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford, around 1891. Image from Hartford Illustrated (1891).

The scene in 2019:

Connecticut’s current state capitol building was completed in 1878, and it was originally topped by The Genius of Connecticut, which was designed by sculptor Randolph Rogers. This 18-foot-tall bronze statue stood atop the building’s dome for many years, but the original plaster model was also retained, and it stood here on the main floor of the capitol, just inside the northern entrance. The first photo was taken around 1891, showing the plaster model along with some of the ornate Victorian-era decorations inside the building.

The statue on the dome was ultimately damaged during the 1938 hurricane and was taken down, and it was subsequently melted down for scrap metal during World War II. However, the plaster model has remained here inside the capitol, although in the 1980s it was painted bronze as part of a restoration effort. Then, in 2007, it was again used as a model, this time with the use of lasers to accurately measure every detail of the statue. Using this information, a replica statue was cast in bronze, with the goal of eventually placing it atop the dome.

Today, neatly 130 years after the first photo was taken, the plaster model still stands here in the entryway. Aside from the bronze paint to the statue and the addition of a few items inside the building, hardly anything has changed here in this scene, and the capitol remains in use as the seat of the state government. Just around the corner, out of view to the left, is the replica bronze statue, which as of right now stands at the base of the rotunda, awaiting the necessary funds to raise it to the top of the building.

Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch, Concord, New Hampshire

The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch on the east side of the New Hampshire State House, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

This arch was built in 1892 at the eastern end of the State House grounds, in honor of Concord’s Civil War veterans. It is built of granite, measuring 33.5 feet high and 53 feet in width. It was was designed by the prominent Boston architectural firm of Peabody and Stearns, and it features symbolic elements such as wreaths and shields, and it is topped by a Gatling gun. Just below the gun is the year 1892, and beneath the cornice is the inscription “To the memory of her soldiers and sailors the city of Concord builds this monument.”

The arch was dedicated on July 4, 1892, in a ceremony that drew Civil War veterans from around the state. In reporting on the event, the Boston Globe compared it to the wartime enthusiasm from decades earlier, noting how “Many of the men who today marched through Concord’s streets in honor of this occasion were vividly reminded of the stirring times from ’61 to ’65 when, with buoyant hearts and with martial tread, they departed from the capital city to meet their country’s enemy on the battlefield” In addition to the veterans, other important dignitaries included 95-year-old Nathaniel S. Berry, who had been governor for the first two years of the war, and Harriet P. Dame, a New Hampshire native who served on the front lines throughout the war as a nurse.

During the ceremony, the arch was unveiled by two Civil War veterans. It was then accepted by the mayor of Concord, who in turn introduced the keynote speaker of the day, Senator Joseph R. Hawley of Connecticut. In addition to holding various political roles, Hawley had also served as a brevet major general in the war, and during his speech he spoke about what the monument meant to Union veterans. He also spoke of the appropriateness of dedicating it on July 4, a day that emphasized national unity and patriotism rather than sectional differences and conflict.

The first photo was taken about a decade after the monument was dedicated. Since then, this scene has undergone a few changes, including the demolition of a few of the buildings along Park Street in the distance on the right. Overall, though, this view looks essentially the same as it did more than a century ago, and today both the arch and the State House in the background are part of the Concord Civic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

John P. Hale Statue, Concord, New Hampshire

The John P. Hale statue on the grounds of the New Hampshire State House in Concord, around 1900-1909. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The statue in 2019:

This statue of Senator John P. Hale is one of several on the grounds of the New Hampshire State House that honor famous New Hampshire residents. Although not as nationally-prominent as some of the others, such as Franklin Pierce and Daniel Webster, Hale was an important politician in the years immediately before and after the Civil War. He served for 16 years in the Senate, where he was a staunch opponent of slavery, and he later served as the U. S. Minister to Spain from 1865 to 1869.

Ironically, despite being a political ally of Abraham Lincoln, Hale inadvertently almost became the father-in-law of John Wilkes Booth. His daughter, Lucy Lambert Hale, was a leading socialite in Washington D.C., and she had many suitors, including Robert Todd Lincoln, whom Senator Hale hoped she would marry. Instead, though, she became secretly engaged to Booth, who was a successful actor at the time. They never married, and Booth was killed less than two weeks after he assassinated Lincoln, but Lucy’s photo was found on his body after he was killed.

Lucy Lambert Hale ultimately married William E. Chandler, a New Hampshire attorney and newspaper publisher who subsequently represented the state in the Senate from 1887 to 1901. During this time, he lobbied for a statue here on the State House grounds to honor his father-in-law, who had died in 1873. Chandler paid for the statue, and the state agreed to accept it and place it here in front of the northeast corner of the State House. The statue was designed by German sculptor Ferdinand von Miller, and it was cast in his foundry in Munich, the same place where the nearby Daniel Webster statue was cast several years earlier.

Hale’s statue was unveiled on August 3, 1892, in a ceremony that included addresses by William Chandler and Governor Hiram A. Tuttle. Other dignitaries included four former governors, along with members of the Hale and Chandler families, including John Hale’s widow and his daughter Lucy. The keynote speaker was Colonel Daniel Hall, a Civil War veteran from Hale’s hometown of Dover. His speech included an outline of the history of slavery in America and Hale’s opposition to it, noting that Hale had, early in his political career, “found his conscience and his whole better nature insurgent against the slave system.” These abolitionist sentiments are also expressed on the plaque at the base of the monument, which includes the claim that he was the “first anti-slavery U. S. Senator.”

The first photo was taken about a decade or so after the statue’s installation, and it has remained here ever since. Not much else has changed in this scene, with the exception of some alterations to the State House in the background. The building was renovated in 1909-1910 with a large addition to the rear, along with a third floor in place of the 1860s mansard roof. Otherwise, though, the State House looks much the same as it did when the first photo was taken more than a century ago, and it remains in use as one of the oldest state capitol buildings in the United States.