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.

Franklin and Armfield Office, Alexandria, Virginia

The Franklin and Armfield Office at 1315 Duke Street in Alexandria, around the early 1860s. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War Collection.

The scene in 2021:

The Franklin and Armfield Office at 1315 Duke Street in Alexandria, Virginia was built in 1810. It was originally built as a private residence for Brigadier General Robert Young of the Second Militia of the District of Columbia, but he was forced to sell the home in 1820 due to financial problems. By 1828, the home was leased, and eventually bought by infamous slave traders, Isaac Franklin and John Armfield. Franklin and Armfield were the largest slave traders in the United States between 1828 and 1836, and the Duke Street home was turned into their main office.

Since the transatlantic slave trade was banned in 1808, Franklin and Armfield would send agents across Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware in search of slave owners who were willing to part with their slaves for relatively cheap prices. The enslaved people would then be shipped back and held in the high-walled courtyards surrounding the offices (Seen to the left and right of the house in the top picture). In these courtyards, the enslaved people were subject to brutal beatings, rapes, and countless other forms of cruel control. Rapes were so frequently done by Franklin and Armfield to their slaves, that they bragged about them in letters between each other, and both men would father children to enslaved women in their captivity. Franklin would later go on to sell the woman he raped and the child he fathered with her. A two-story extension was added to the back of the building to serve as jail cells. These cells could be used to isolate certain slaves but were more often rented out by travelling slave owners who wanted to keep their slaves on the Virginia side of the Potomac.

Due to a surplus of enslaved people in the Upper South, slaves did not fetch high prices in Alexandra. The enslaved people were typically kept in the home’s courtyards until enough of them were bought for them to all be shipped together or marched to their offices in Natchez and New Orleans. Once in the Deep South, they could be sold at much higher prices than they were bought for in Virginia. It’s estimated that Franklin and Armfield sold between 1,000-2,000 people each year, transporting all of them by way of cramped slave ships or forced marches across the South.
By 1836, Franklin decided to retire, and his partner Armfield decided to sell off most of the business. He sold the Duke Street offices to another slave trader, George Kephart. He would continue the practice of selling slaves until he sold it to yet another slave trading firm, Price, Birch & Co. in 1858.

Price, Birch & Co. would become infamous not for their volume of slaves sold, but rather for one particular man that they enslaved. Solomon Northup, a freed slave from Saratoga Springs, New York was kidnapped in Washington, DC in 1841. He was shipped down to New Orleans where we was bought by a planter and re-enslaved. It would take Solomon 12 years before he would once again gain his freedom with the help of Samuel Bass. A Canadian working on the plantation, Samuel was able to get word back to New York about Solomon’s re-enslavement. After an appeal to the Governor of New York, Solomon was granted his freedom in 1853. Solomon would later go on to write his famous memoirs, 12 Years a Slave. In his memoirs, Solomon named his kidnapper as “Burch”, but it’s largely been accepted that the man he was talking about was James H. Birch, of Price, Birch & Co. in Alexandria. It should be noted though that Solomon Northup does not appear to have actually passed through the Alexandria slave pens, only that Birch used the building as his offices. Price, Birch & Co. would go on to own the building until the Civil War, when it was occupied by Union Forces in 1861. During the Civil War the slave pens were ironically, used as jail cells for captured Confederate soldiers.

After the Civil War, a railroader by the name of Thomas Swann bought the property in 1870 and tore down the slave pen extension. The buildings exterior also underwent changes that give it its modern appearance, such as the fourth story windows being added as well as the arches over the windows on the front façade. The property changed hands multiple times over the last century, serving as apartments for most of that time before being sold in 2017 to the Northern Virginia Urban League. Today, the building has been re-named the Freedom House, and features a museum to the building’s history on the first floor, and offices for the Northern Virginia Urban League on the upper floors.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens at the Little Studio, Cornish, New Hampshire

Sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens sitting on the pergola of his Little Studio in Cornish, around 1905. Image from The Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Volume 2 (1913).

The scene in 2019:

As explained in the previous post, this building was the primary studio of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens for the last three years of his life, from its completion in 1904 until his death in 1907. It was built on the site of an earlier barn, which Saint-Gaudens had converted into a studio. The new building was similar in size to the old barn, but with a higher roof with more windows for natural light. The barn also had a pergola that Saint-Gaudens had added to the south side, and the new studio featured a similar one, as shown here in these two photos.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens had begun spending his summers here at this property in Cornish in 1885, and it became his full-time residence in 1900, after he was diagnosed with colon cancer. Hoping that the rural setting and fresh air would improve both his health and his spirits, he continued his sculpture work here at Cornish. However, his health continued to deteriorate, as shown by his gaunt appearance in the first photo around 1905. By this point, he was working on an ambitious project to redesign American coinage, having been commissioned by Theodore Roosevelt a year earlier. He was only able to finish the designs for the $20 and $10 gold coins before his death, but his $20 coin would go on to become one of the most celebrated coin designs in American history.

After his death in 1907, the property remained in the Saint-Gaudens family until 1921, when his widow Augusta transferred it to the Augustus Saint-Gaudens Memorial. This organization maintained the house, grounds, studio, and other outbuildings until 1965, when the National Park Service acquired the property as the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park. Throughout this time, the studio has remained well-preserved on both the interior and exterior, with essentially no visible changes here in this view of the pergola.

Hay Barn Studio, Cornish, New Hampshire

The Hay Barn Studio at the home of Augustus Saint-Gaudens in Cornish, around 1900. Image from The Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Volume 1 (1913).

Its replacement, the Little Studio, on the same site in 2019:

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this property in Cornish was the home of prominent sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The main house was built sometime in the early 1800s, and Saint-Gaudens began renting it as a summer home in 1885. He subsequently purchased it in 1891, and it served as his year-round residence from 1900 until his death in 1907. During this time, he made a number of improvements, including building several studios, one of which is shown here.

The first photo shows Saint-Gaudens’s original studio, which was known as the Hay Barn Studio. As the name suggests, it was originally a barn, and it was already standing here when he arrived in Cornish in 1885. He soon converted it into a studio, in a project that included cutting skylights into the roof on the north side. Then, in 1894 he added a pergola to the south and west sides of the barn, as shown in the first photo.

By the turn of the 20th century, the studio was in poor condition, so around 1903 it was demolished and a new studio was built on the site. Completed in 1904 and shown here in the second photo, this building was similar in size and style to the old barn, but with a higher roof and more windows. This was Saint-Gaudens’s personal studio for the last three years of his life, and it was known as the Little Studio, in contrast to the larger building that his assistants used.

The larger studio building burned in 1904, and its replacement, named the Studio of the Caryatids, likewise burned in 1944. However, the Little Studio has remained here ever since, remarkably well-preserved on both the exterior and interior. In 1921, Saint-Gaudens’s widow Augusta transferred this property to the Augustus Saint-Gaudens Memorial. This organization maintained the house, studio, and other buildings on the grounds until 1965, when the National Park Service acquired the site as the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens House, Cornish, New Hampshire (2)

The home of Augustus Saint-Gaudens in Cornish, around the early 20th century. Image from The Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Volume 2 (1913).

The house in 2019:

As explained in more detail in the previous post, this house was the home of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who used it as a summer home starting in 1885, and as his full-time residence from 1900 until his death in 1907. The house itself is far older, dating back to the early 19th century, but Saint-Gaudens made substantial improvements to both the house and the grounds. Here in this scene, this included piazzas on both sides of the house, a dormer window above the front door, and stepped parapets next to the chimneys. He also planted Lombardy poplars at the corners of the house, and a honey locust to the right of the front steps.

The first photo was probably taken soon after Saint-Gaudens’s death, and it was published in his biography in 1913, which was written by his son Homer. In 1919, his widow Augusta established the Augustus Saint-Gaudens Memorial, and two years later she transferred the property to this organization, which preserved the house and grounds. Then, in 1964 the site became the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park, and it was subsequently acquired by the National Park Service.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, this scene has hardly changed, except for the loss of the Lombardy poplars. The exterior of the house still looks essentially the same as it did in the early 20th century, and even the honey locust is still here, although it has grown substantially larger than the house. The site is still run by the National Park Service, and it remains the only National Park System unit in the state of New Hampshire.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens House, Cornish, New Hampshire

The home of Augustus Saint-Gaudens in Cornish, around 1885. Image from The Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Volume 1 (1913).

The scene in 2019:

Augustus Saint-Gaudens was one of the most prominent sculptors in American history, with a body of work that includes many important public monuments, along with the designs for several United States coins. Born in Ireland to an Irish mother and French father, Saint-Gaudens came to America in 1848 when he was six months old, and he subsequently grew up in New York City. Then, in the late 1860s he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and by the mid-1870s he had established himself as a successful sculptor.

It was a good time to be a sculptor in the United States at the time, given the large number of Civil War monuments that were being built around the country. Many of Saint-Gaudens’s most celebrated works were created in honor of Union heroes from the war, including statues of David G. Farragut, John A. Logan, Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, William T. Sherman, and Abraham Lincoln. In addition to these statues, his other major works included Diana for Madison Square Garden, The Puritan in Springfield, Massachusetts, and the Adams Memorial in Washington, D.C. Near the end of his life, Saint-Gaudens was also commissioned to redesign American coinage, and he supplied designs for new $10 and $20 coins before his death in 1907.

In 1885, in the midst of his career, Saint-Gaudens came to Cornish for the summer, at the suggestion of his friend Charles Cotesworth Beaman. A prominent attorney, Beaman owned several farms in Cornish, including this property, which was known as Huggins’ Folly. Saint-Gaudens and his rented it for the summer, and the first photo was taken on the front lawn at some point during the summer. In the photo, Augustus Saint-Gaudens himself is kneeling in the lower right corner. Standing in the foreground is his wife Augusta, and further to the left is their son Homer, who would have been about five years old at the time. Just to the left of Homer is Saint-Gaudens’s assistant Frederick William MacMonnies, and furthest to the left is his younger brother Louis Saint-Gaudens. Both of these men would become accomplished sculptors in their own right, and MacMonnies also had a successful career as a painter.

The Saint-Gaudens family would return here to Cornish for subsequent summers, and in 1891 he purchased the property from Beaman for $2,500 plus a bronze bust. He renamed it Aspet, after his father’s birthplace in France, and over the years he made a number of improvements, including landscaping the grounds and constructing studios and other outbuildings. As part of the landscaping, a honey locust was planted just to the right of the front steps, probably around 1886. This tree is still here, and now towers over the house in the center of the 2019 photo. Saint-Gaudens also made alterations to the main house, some of which are visible in this scene, including piazzas on either side of the house, a dormer window above the front door, and stepped parapets to replace the earlier sloped ones.

Saint-Gaudens moved into this house year-round in 1900, and he lived here until his death in 1907. This period marked the heyday of the Cornish Art Colony, which flourished in large part because of Saint Gaudens’s influence. During this time, dozens of prominent artists and other public figures spent summers in Cornish and the surrounding towns. Even Woodrow Wilson spent time in Cornish during his presidency, leasing the home of novelist Winston Churchill. The importance of the art colony steadily diminished after Saint-Gaudens’s death, but the town would continue to see prominent residents over the course of the 20th century, including writer J. D. Salinger, who died in Cornish in 2010.

In the meantime, this property remained in the Saint-Gaudens family until 1921, when Augusta transferred it to the Augustus Saint-Gaudens Memorial, an organization that she had established two years earlier. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1962, and then in 1964 it became the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park, with the National Park Service acquiring the property a year later. It has remained open to the public ever since, and it features landscaped grounds and gardens, walking trails, several galleries, and one of Saint-Gaudens’s studio buildings. The main house, shown here in this scene, is also open for tours, and its appearance remains much the same as it did when Saint-Gaudens lived here more than a century ago.