Taking Liberties: Beacon on the Block

For generations, Bruce Williams’ family relied on Penfield Reef Lighthouse to keep them off the rocky shoals in Western Long Island.

“It was a kind of a security blanket,” Williams said as he walked the boardwalk at Saint Mary’s by the Sea in Bridgeport, Conn. Williams owns Captain’s Cove Marina just up the road.

He’s also worked as a lobsterman, as did his father. His Grandfather was an oysterman.

“When the fog would come in when you were pulling your traps or harvesting your oysters, the light was always there,” he said, occasionally looking out at the brick structure, which sits a mile off shore. “You heard that whistle, and it was comforting to know that light was there.”

But modern advancements in Global Positioning Systems have made Penfield Light, like most lighthouses, obsolete. Now the Coast Guard, which owns and operates the 137-year-old beacon, is putting it up for sale.

This summer, anyone who wants to buy a lighthouse can bid on Penfield Light on the Coast Guard’s auction site run by the General Services Administration.

With four bedrooms and 360-degree views of the sound, it’s a water lover’s dream. But the structure is also supposedly haunted by the ghost of a former lighthouse keeper.

Fred Jordan drowned on the reef in 1918 while trying to row to shore for Christmas dinner.

“Since then,” Williams said, “there's been many sightings of what we believe is Fred's ghost in the light and in the area surrounding the light and upon the beach where his boat capsized.”

The gutted interior of the lighthouse may also scare some potential buyers.

“It’s got asbestos and a lead paint problem,” said a member of the Coast Guard’s Aids to Navigation Team who asked not to be identified. “It’s a real mess in there.”

But that hasn’t stopped at least two entities from battling over the property for the past two years.

The town of Fairfield, whose residents have looked out at the lighthouse since it was built in 1874, has expressed interest in buying it, even raising $200,000 for the cause through the Fairfield Historical museum.

To bid on Penfield Light, visit www.auctionrp.com.