The History

Over 90 years ago the Stonington Historical Society stepped forward to preserve the 1840 Stonington Lighthouse, a beloved structure that has become an iconic local landmark that serves as a symbol for all of Stonington. The Old Lighthouse Museum now interprets local history and stands as an inspiring beacon for students, visitors, and residents of Southeastern Connecticut.

Historic Significance

The Lighthouse has a historic legacy as the first lighthouse to become a maritime museum in the United States. Unlike most lighthouses that are open to the public, this one is accessible by land. It preserves the maritime history of southeastern Connecticut and endures as a compelling feature of the cultural landscape. The Old Lighthouse Museum exhibits explore an extraordinary collection of artifacts that tell the story of the people, places, and events covering nearly 400 years of Stonington history. The Stonington Lighthouse marks not only the entrance to Stonington Harbor, but also a point in time when Stonington seamen like Nathaniel Palmer and Edmund Fanning were charting the world; when Stonington served as the nexus for all steamship and rail travelers between New York City and points north; and when Stonington could claim credit for rebuffing two British attacks.

Our Community & Cultural Resource

Presently the Old Lighthouse Museum serves as a treasured cultural and community resource to visitors and residents alike. Hundreds of local students visit the museum each year free of charge. In 2018, the Old Lighthouse Museum welcomed nearly 10,000 visitors from near and far. Thousands more visit the lighthouse grounds to enjoy the sweeping views of Little Narragansett Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. As one of the few open spaces in Stonington Borough, the lighthouse is a gathering place for community events and collaborations with fellow nonprofits like the Stonington Garden Club, Salt Marsh Opera, and the La Grua Center. The Stonington Historical Society welcomes visitors and residents free of charge to this museum and park.

What’s Next

To ensure the future of the Lighthouse we need to act now. Inspections have revealed serious structural and environmental issues affecting the Lighthouse. It is also time to resolve the longstanding desire and need for universal access.

“It is time once again to study, repair, and strengthen our 1840 treasure and to assure access to it for further generations."”

Jim Boylan & Betsy WadeAuthors of: Stonington's Old Lighthouse & Its Keepers

Restoration & Visitor Center

Identifying the Need

The Stonington Lighthouse is in urgent need of major restoration work. As far back as 2010, the Historical Society discovered deteriorating conditions that included insect damage, rotted joists, rusted window frames, and leaks that allowed air and water infiltration. In addition, the Society identified the need for climate control for the preservation and wellbeing of the Museum’s artifacts, and for improved accessibility to meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.


After a thoughtful and careful search for an architectural firm that could address these diverse needs, the Stonington Historical Society selected Oudens-Ello Architecture (OEA). OEA is a Boston-based firm with extensive museum and historic restoration experience, noted for their nuanced and adaptable approach to design. They are well-versed in the restoration and preservation of existing structures and the unique collections within them. Their past projects include work for the Mystic Seaport Museum and the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.

Design & Approval

Beginning in 2012, OEA conducted a complete inventory of the structural and environmental issues impacting the lighthouse and created a plan for historic restoration and universal access. Design work followed and several revisions were made incorporating the suggestions and concerns of the community. In May of 2017, the Stonington Borough Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved the most recent plan allowing the Historical Society to proceed with restoration of the historic Lighthouse and construction of the ADA compliant Visitor Center.

Our Next Steps

To manage the needed restoration, we have recruited a dedicated Lighthouse Legacy Committee that includes architects, marketing and public relations professionals, historic preservation experts, neighbors, and other community members who care deeply about this project. Due to the success of recent fundraising efforts, Oudens- Ello has now completed new schematic designs, as well as preliminary construction estimates and schedules which follow.

Tentative Schedule & Budget

  • September 2019: Groundbreaking
  • September – November 2019: Exterior Construction
  • December – April 2020: Interior Restoration and Finishes
  • May 2020: Landscaping & Opening
  • Lighthouse Restoration: $933,000
  • Accessible Visitor Center: $822,000
  • Site work and Landscaping: $495,000
  • Total: $2,250,000

Video Interview

Conrad Ello is the lead architect on the Lighthouse Restoration Project and partner in the Boston architecture firm Oudens Ello. In this video, he discusses the challenges and opportunities created by this project. His firm specializes in cultural, academic and commercial projects.

The success of this campaign

depends upon the generosity

of donors like you.

Your Legacy

The Stonington Historical Society is much encouraged by the community’s generosity toward the Lighthouse Legacy Campaign, which has raised nearly $900,000 (40% of our overall goal of $2.25 million). Preliminary approaches to private foundations and government agencies have been promising.

Naming Opportunities

The Lighthouse is a significant building both in its historic architecture and in the cultural role it has played for over 175 years. Originally a beacon for the Stonington ships that sailed the world, today the Lighthouse is equally symbolic as a gathering place for all of Stonington. The chance to be associated by name with such an exceptional legacy is extremely rare. The Lighthouse Legacy Committee offers the following opportunities to leave your family’s name clearly and indelibly on a structure that has a celebrated past and an increasingly important future. Naming Opportunities include the Lighthouse Park, Visitor Center, the Lighthouse Tower, Courtyard, Gardens, Exhibit Rooms, Granite Benches at the water’s edge.

In order to achieve our campaign goal of $2.25 million dollars, the Lighthouse Legacy Capital Campaign has adopted levels of giving based on this maritime legacy. All of these gifts will be acknowledged on a plaque in the Visitor Center.

  • Clipper Ship is reserved for gifts of $50,000+
  • Bark is reserved for gifts of $25,000+
  • Brig is reserved for gifts of $10,000+
  • Schooner is reserved for gifts of $5,000+
  • Sloop is reserved for gifts of $1,000+
Final Thoughts

This small stone fortress played a pivotal role in providing navigational aid to legendary ships and seamen who sailed the world, fought battles, and built the nation’s maritime commerce. We are inspired by the maritime heritage of our community and seek to preserve this cultural landmark for future generations. We hope that you are equally inspired. The success of this campaign depends upon the generosity of donors like you. The Old Lighthouse Museum serves all of Stonington: men and women, young and old, river to river. We hope you will support this project.

Let the legacy continue.

With Your Support We Can Preserve This Building For The Next 100 Years