Thursday, March 3, 2011

In My Footsteps: Trip 105: New London, Connecticut

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund

Trip 105:  New London, Connecticut
January 6, 2011

            Maybe it is something to do with the name but I have now been to two towns named New London, one in New Hampshire and now one in Connecticut and I have been absolutely amazed by both.  Where New London, New Hampshire had mountains its counterpart in Connecticut had lighthouses and granite forts.  I could not go wrong either way.
The waterslide at Ocean Beach Park.
            New London, Connecticut sits on the western side of the Thames River so naturally the water has played a big part in its history and development.  Long Island Sound also plays a big part in the makeup of New London and I found that out with the first place I stopped at.
            Ocean Beach Park is the sort of beach amusement park that hearkens back to the glory days of Coney Island in New York, or at least is something you’d expect to see in a typically warmer part of the country.  Rated one of the best beaches by National Geographic Ocean Beach Park has a huge stretch of beach with a miniature golf course, several covered picnic areas, a huge waterslide, and even a Work Out World gym if swimming is not enough.
            As appealing as all of those attractions are it was a cold winter’s day when I arrived in New London and the Ocean Beach Park was virtually deserted.  I wish I could have taken a ride on the water slide, but that will have to wait for another day.  That did not deter me from the site that had been my real reason for visiting the area.  My eyes were transfixed on a red square sitting out in New London Harbor to the east.
A ship passing by New London Ledge Light.
            New London Ledge Light reminds me in some ways of an old schoolhouse somehow stuck out on a concrete slab in the harbor.  It was built in 1909 and automated in 1987, however it is what happened regularly before the lighthouse was automated that is the lasting legacy of this lighthouse.  The name ‘Ernie’ was given to the purported ghost who haunts New London Ledge Light.  The story of ‘Ernie’ is all about the lonely life of a lighthouse keeper and his family.  John Randolph was the real ‘Ernie’ and the lighthouse keeper.  He took his own life after discovering that his wife had run off with a ferry boat captain.
Knocking, doors opening and closing, sheets being removed from beds, and the television turning on and off by itself were some of the events reported by keepers before the automation.  The television show Ghost Hunters even did an episode from the lighthouse in 2005 with mixed opinions as to whether Ernie was real or not.  For me, safely standing on the sugar sandy beach at Ocean Park it was still an eerie experience to be so close to New London Ledge Light knowing the history of it.
New London Harbor Light
Heading north along the Thames River I met another lighthouse which was also inaccessible.  New London Harbor Lighthouse is the seventh oldest lighthouse in the country and the oldest in Connecticut.  The station was established in 1760 in a different spot with the current lighthouse being built on its current location in 1801.  The eighty-nine foot stone tower sits on the grounds of a private home on Pequot Avenue but I was able to get a few great shots while still respecting the property limits. 
A little further down Pequot Avenue is a site you can get closer to.  The Monte Cristo Cottage is the boyhood home of famed American playwright Eugene O’Neill.  His most well known works are Ah! Wilderness from 1933 and Long Day’s Journey Into Night from 1941.  The cottage was built in the 1840’s and since it was closed on the day I visited I took the time to sit in a wooden rocking chair on the porch and imagine what it would have been like for young Eugene; the view of the river was awesome.  It is open every day from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Monte Cristo Cottage
The final spot I visited was the amazing Fort Trumbull.  I have seen several old granite forts during my travels but none were in as immaculate a condition as Fort Trumbull.  It was as if I was there on the day it was first opened in 1852.  The fort sits right across the river from Fort Griswold in Groton, both were attacked and captured by traitor Benedict Arnold during the American Revolution.  Of course that was the old Fort Trumbull, the current one was the second construction.
I walked along the water the entire perimeter of the fort ending up face to face with a really cool three masted Coast Guard schooner; something I had never seen before.  The view down river of the Gold Star Memorial Bridge which connects New London and Groton was impressive.  Not as impressive but very cute were the collection of cats roaming the fort grounds.  I was only able to get one photo as they seemed wild and always ran away when I got close.
Fort Trumbull
I scaled a few flights of stairs to get up to where the fort stands on a hill.  The view was great, I could even see the small dot of New London Ledge Light at the mouth of the harbor.  I wish it had been open to visit but the many signs give you a pretty good sense of what the fort is all about.  Keep your eyes peeled through as you get toward the main entrance of the fort.  I was busy snapping photos and caught a glimpse of something across the courtyard and had to do a double take.  I thought it might be a ghost but ended up being a cutout of an old soldier which was part of a display next to a cannon.
I truly loved my time in New London.  It must be something with the name since New Hampshire’s version was just as amazing.  Enjoy some beach fun at Ocean Beach Park before seeing some historic sites like the Monte Cristo Cottage and Fort Trumbull.  It is a great way to spend a day or more.  Have fun and happy traveling!

My first book, In My Footsteps: A Cape Cod Travel Guide, is now available at,, and, soon to be in stores everywhere!  Follow me on Twitter

DirectionsOcean Beach Park:  From I-95 take exit 84 S toward downtown New London.  Merge onto Eugene O’Neill Dr., turn right at Gov. Winthrop Blvd.  Turn left at Huntington St., 1st right onto Jay St., continue onto Truman St.  Turn left at Bank St, turn left at Ocean Ave.  Follow 2.7 miles, turn right at Neptune Ave., take 2nd left onto Stuart Ave.   
            Fort Trumbull:  From I-95 take exit 84 S toward downtown New London.  Merge onto Eugene O’Neill Dr., turn right at Gov. Winthrop Blvd.  Turn left at Huntington St., 1st right onto Jay St., continue onto Truman St.  Turn left at Bank St., sharp right at Howard St.  Follow ½ mi. turn left at Walbach St., right at East St.

ReferencesOcean Beach

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