Shine on, Ledge Light
Lighthouses stand for the most reassuring of metaphors: a shining beacon, a ray of hope, safe passage in a storm. One of this shoreline’s most iconic lighthouses, Ledge Light, is becoming better equipped to withstand the storms in its own future, thanks to the foresight and hard work of those who love it.
The recent retirement of Todd and Marcia Gipstein as president and treasurer — and work crew — of the nonprofit Ledge Light Foundation has earned them well-deserved thanks for their success in addressing the structural needs of a century-old building buffeted on all sides by wind and tide. Equally important for its future, they and their partners in developing public awareness and access to Ledge Light have tapped into the universal fascination with lighthouses and the local affection for this one.
Since 2015, the red-and-white structure in the middle of the Thames River that looks like a Victorian house has been the property of its other major champion, the New London Maritime Society. The society successfully bid on it when the federal government began divesting itself of historic and graceful but aging properties. Putting lighthouses up for grabs as part of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act really wasn’t much of a gamble; if the feds were wagering on the public appeal, they bet right. Tours, which will begin again soon, sell out.
The society and the foundation, now under President Bruce Buckley, continue to set an example of public-private-nonprofit collaboration that we’d like to see emulated in all sorts of endeavors in this region. Cross Sound Ferry, Project Oceanology and charter boat owners, including Jacalyn and David Dietrich, owners and operators of the water taxi for the Thames River Heritage Park, all have roles in touring or landing passengers at Ledge Light. When the tour boats come back in, the passengers disembark in New London in a lighthouse frame of mind. Restaurateurs and operators of local attractions, take note.
Of course, this is not just about New London. Ledge Light is in Groton waters, and the water taxi crisscrosses the Thames River with the express purpose of uniting the two banks with each other and their shared history. Volunteers from the City of Groton and the Naval Submarine Base, as well as Coast Guard Academy cadets, have all had a hand in revitalizing this emblem of the Thames.
Rough waters lie ahead for the finances of some of the nonprofits working on Ledge Light. Project O will have to do with greatly reduced state funding, and the maritime society, which also owns Race Rock and Harbor Light is struggling, too. With their well-developed collaborative skills, we trust that the foundation and its partners will be able to chart a future that works for Ledge Light and its public.