Lighthouse Point

May 29, 2020

Summer is here and this week we’re heading to Lighthouse Point Park, New Haven’s best spot to cool down and connect to the ocean.

  

Lighthouse Point Park opened as the newest addition to the New Haven Parks system in 1925.  Features of the park in addition to the very popular public beaches included baseball fields, a bicycling velodrome and a ferry that ran from the pier at the base of the “Old Light” lighthouse, across the harbor to Savin Rock in West Haven. Nearly all of these amenities were left over from the park’s previous run as one of the most popular seaside amusement parks on the East Coast.

The reputation of Lighthouse Point boomed in 1902, as the electric trolley connected Morris Cove quickly and directly to downtown New Haven. Morris Cove was known as the “Newport of Connecticut” at the time. It was a small fishing village that in the summer months catered to vacationing members of both the upper and working classes. Hotels and boarding houses were affordable and an easy escape from the hot, crowded and polluted industrial cities of Connecticut.

In 1904, the Lighthouse Point Improvement Company acquired the old lighthouse that had been decommissioned from active use in 1877, and the surrounding 75 acres. The company developed Five Mile Point into an elaborate park with a midway, carousel, and densely shaded picnic groves, complete with a boardwalk, bath houses and cheap food. New Haveners poured in to the park, especially to see the New Haven Colonials baseball team that for a period of time hosted baseball hall of famer Ty Cobb as one of its marquee exhibition players. Cobb and Babe Ruth even squared off against each other on the Lighthouse Point ballfield weeks after Ruth and the Boston Red Sox won the 1916 World Series.

The glory days of Lighthouse Point soon waned as the Great Depression diminished the small resort economy, and the Hurricane of 1938 devastated the East Shore. The trolley lines were consolidated and taken over by bus service in the 1940s.  In 1957, all of the remaining original amusement buildings, except for the original carousel, were demolished.  New amenities were constructed and the modern form of the park took shape.  In 1977, the carousel, the last vestige of the early days, was shut down and boarded up.

In the early 1980s the park had fallen into disrepair, and suffered from neglect and vandalism. A volunteer group called the Friends of the Lighthouse Park Carousel came together and rallied to raise funds for the restoration of the historic carousel. With their help the carousel successfully reopened on May 19, 1984. Positive attention had generated donations for the complete rehabilitation of all of the carousel’s distinctive horses, directly linking Lighthouse Point once more to its past.

Today the park is a destination for all New Haveners, bound together each summer in their enjoyment of the carousel, fishing piers, playgrounds, beaches and pavilions. This season please be sure to respect the new rules recently put in place. Wear your masks, keep your distance and savor our city’s park by the sea.

Jason Bischoff-Wurstle
Director of Photo Archives, New Haven Museum

Logo for: CT Humanities Logo for: CT Trust for Historic Preservation Logo for: CT Humanities Logo for: The 1772 Foundation Logo for: Blue Star Museums Logo for: Howard Gilman Foundation Logo for: United Illuminating Lighting Up the Arts