Greens Ledge Lighthouse: A Beacon of Light

above: Sunset view from the Greens Ledge Lighthouse

Photography by Venera Alexandrova

FROM PIRATES AND MERMAIDS to heroic rescues at sea, LIGHTHOUSES ADD A MIX OF ROMANCE AND INTRIGUE TO ANY MARITIME TALE. True beacons of hope, they also represent stability and provide safe passage. Boaters can still rely on GREENS LEDGE LIGHTHOUSE, located off the NORWALK ISLANDS, thanks to one intrepid family and a passionate group of volunteers. With a mission to “Save Greens Ledge,” these lighthouse enthusiasts rallied support to restore the 1902 landmark and preserve it for generations to come.

The Story of the Greens Ledge Lighthouse

“THEY DON’T BUILD LIGHTHOUSES ANYMORE,” says TIM PETTEE, PRESIDENT OF GREENS LEDGE LIGHT PRESERVATION SOCIETY, who is fondly known as “THE LIGHTHOUSE GUY” in Rowayton. “THOUSANDS OF LIGHTHOUSES AROUND THE WORLD ARE MARITIME HERITAGE. Many are lost to storms, neglect and development. People tend to take old buildings for granted before they become landmarks.”

To ensure Greens Ledge did not face a similar fate, Pettee decided to take on a daunting, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: He bought it.

Pettee enlisted a team of local residents to help save Greens Ledge and secure donations. After an extensive $2.2 million-dollar renovation, the lighthouse is open to the public for the first time in its 121-year history. Seaworthy and resplendent in a vibrant hue called “Gumball Red,” Greens Ledge welcomes visitors for tours, picnics, private parties and overnight stays. For the ultimate nautical wedding, couples can book the lighthouse to tie the knot.

left: This vintage postcard refers to Greens Ledge by its original name, Greens Reef Light. right: View of Long Island Sound from Greens Ledge;

LIGHTHOUSE FOR SALE

It was Pettee’s daughter, Lizzie, who happened to notice the lighthouse was for sale during a serendipitous boat outing in 2016. “My daughter looked up and said, ‘Dad, what is the name of that lighthouse?’ I answered Greens Ledge, to which she replied, ‘It’s for sale,’” says Pettee. “I told her the internet must be wrong. They don’t sell lighthouses.”

Luckily for Pettee, his daughter was right, and the family registered online for the government-sponsored auction. At an inspection day for bidders, Pettee brought along an engineering firm to consult on the scope of the project. While there, he met another history buff with a mission to protect the lighthouse.
“I met Brendan McGee, a lifelong Rowayton resident and proprietor of the well-known ice cream shop Brendan’s 101,” recalls Pettee. “He had tried to get the city of Norwalk and related entities to acquire the lighthouse, but the city already had a unique relationship with Sheffield Island Lighthouse and the Seaport Organization.”

McGee remembers when Greens Ledge was manned by the Coast Guard in the 1970s, and he was “determined to preserve the lighthouse and local maritime history.”

By October 2016, many of the other bidders had dropped out and the Pettees acquired the lighthouse for $150,000. Over dinner conversations, the family discussed what to do with their “deteriorated and ugly tower” in the middle of Long Island Sound. “We agreed to donate the lighthouse to the newly formed Greens Ledge Lighthouse Preservation Society,” says Pettee.

Pettee joined forces with McGee, who is one of the society’s founding members, a public liaison and co-chair of the construction committee. “The lighthouse is like a community mascot, and we’ve all looked to it for inspiration over the years,” says McGee. “The chance to be a part of saving it was a no-brainer for me.”

Founded by Tim Pettee, Alex Pettee, Brendan McGee and Shannon Holloway, Greens Ledge Light Preservation Society launched September 30, 2016. The charity received 501(c)(3) designation in October 2017 and the restoration work began June 2018. G&C Marine handled foundation support and built the dock and patio, while Sheilding Media focused on carpentry and painted the exterior its signature red shade. Restoration was completed in 2022.

left: Tim Pettee, President of Greens Ledge Light Preservation Society; right: Keeper is a working boat that makes trips to the lighthouse from Pettee’s home on Five Mile River in Rowayton.

KEEPERS OF GREEN LEDGE

Pettee, who grew up in Westport and raised four children in New Canaan with wife Sheila, has lived with his family in Rowayton since 2014. While Pettee has no previous lighthouse experience, his decades of sailing and boating on Long Island Sound “sparked a fondness of the shoreline.” He retired from a career in finance, most recently serving as Chief Investment Officer of AIG Sun America Asset Management. Now, he can focus on nautical pursuits like being a board member of Norwalk’s Maritime Aquarium and embracing his role as a modern lighthouse keeper.

Running Greens Ledge is a family affair. Tim and his son, Alex, handle day-to-day operations as keepers. The two work closely with the U.S. Coast Guard in New Haven to ensure the beacon and foghorn are operational, since Greens Ledge is considered an Aid to Navigation (ATN). Sheila, who grew up boating in Michigan, coordinates the family’s involvement as well as lighthouse tours. The Pettees’ other three children, Lizzie, George and Kate, help with fundraising, special events and tours. One of the family’s favorite pastimes is collecting miniature lighthouses. Their collection, which features more than 100 from all over the world, is on display at Greens Ledge.

In the 1950s, the Coast Guard updated the lighthouse with a new beacon to improve visibility. right: According to the June 27, 1901, issue of The Iron Age, Philadelphia Construction Company was contracted to build the lighthouse at a cost of $29,780. The company sublet the construction and erection of the cast-iron foundation cylinder to Bing Foundry & Machine Company of Philadelphia. – Photograph: Mechanical drawing and dock photograph from The Iron Age, June 27, 1901.

MODERN SUSTAINABILITY

Greens Ledge Lighthouse is self-sufficient, using solar energy and a desalinization system that converts seawater into freshwater. For emergencies, there is a back-up generator. Overnight guests will appreciate contemporary conveniences such as Wi-Fi access and a flat-screen television in the Galley and Watch Room. The property also features a live weather station that reports solar, wind production and water levels.

“We plan on the lighthouse being a laboratory of environmental monitoring and conservation, collaborating with like-minded organizations like UConn Marine Sciences, SoundWaters of Stamford, and Save the Sound,” says Pettee. “Greens Ledge will be a one-of-a-kind offshore base to track the Long Island Sound ecosystem right in our own backyard.”

COMMUNITY

One of the most important components to the lighthouse is community. Through a partnership with Maritime Aquarium, there are plans this fall to bring students to Greens Ledge for tours and classes at the Tombros Research and Education Center. Alex Pettee would like to raise funds for a Munson aluminum boat with beach-landing capabilities to accommodate even more visitors.

“Having a larger boat will open up a lot of new opportunities,” says Alex. “We look forward to hosting more schools, STEM Clubs and other groups, so they can experience Greens Ledge and learn about the lighthouse.”

THE FUTURE

Now that the lighthouse has been restored, Pettee’s new focus is growing the endowment fund to maintain the property for the long-term. “We can’t walk away,” says Pettee. “The endowment will be the foundation of financial strength for Greens Ledge Light for the next 100 years and beyond.” Energized by how the community embraced the project, he is thrilled with the final results. “We’ve transformed the lighthouse from a hollow crumbling statue that could have come down—and what a travesty that would have been—to a functional beautiful living offshore monument, which is a vital part of our community.”


PIRATE LORE

Like any good lighthouse, there’s a ghost story or pirate tale to go along with it. Greens Ledge—originally known as “Greens Reef” until the 1940s—may have been named after an actual pirate called Green, who sailed with Captain Kidd. According to the Greens Ledge Light Preservation Society: “When Green was captured by authorities of the day, he was reportedly executed, and his body fastened to the ledge in chains as a dire warning to others thinking of entering the buccaneering trade. Years later, a lighthouse would be established on the ledge as a warning to vessels seeking to enter Norwalk Harbor.” When asked if he has to chase away any “modern pirates,” Pettee laughs and says, “At least once a week.” To combat unwanted visitors, he uses the tools of a modern lightkeeper: security cameras with remote access.

Before Pettee and his team renovated Greens Ledge, The National Register of Historic Places had classified the lighthouse as “deteriorated,” which is one step above being designated “in ruins.” – Photographs courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard.

GREENS LEDGE LIGHTHOUSE FACTS

  • CONSTRUCTED IN 1902 Greens Ledge is a sparkplug lighthouse located off the Rowayton and Darien coast.
  • The structure extends almost 100 FEET ABOVE LONG ISLAND SOUND and guides boaters to Norwalk Harbor.
  • IN 1933, 30,000 TONS OF ROCKS FROM THE RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL excavation were added for structural support.
  • GREENS LEDGE WAS ADDED TO THE NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES IN 1990.
  • THE NATIONAL HISTORIC LIGHTHOUSE PRESERVATION ACT OF 2000 ALLOWS THE PUBLIC AND NONPROFITS TO ACQUIRE LIGHT STATIONS.
  • GREENS LEDGE LIGHT PRESERVATION SOCIETY TOOK OWNERSHIP IN 2016 AND OPENED IT TO THE PUBLIC IN 2023.


MODERN LIGHTHOUSE KEEPERS

JOB CHECKLIST
Being a lighthouse keeper is a two-man job. Tim and his son, Alex, maintain Greens Ledge. “We’re a good team,” says Alex. “He handles fundraising, while I work more with carpenters and restoration.”

TIM

  • Organize major donor events at the lighthouse.
  • Host limited availability events for the public like parties, overnights and tours.

ALEX

  • Monitor power and water systems-both remotely and on-site.
  • Troubleshoot systems; make on-site repairs or seek outside contractors for major issues.

TIM + ALEX

  • Clean exterior(birds, storm tides) and interior.
  • Monitor unauthorized access via web cam.
  • Liaise with the U.S. Coast Guard Long Island Sound sector personnel in New Haven regarding the operation of the beacon and foghorn, which remain the property of USCG.
  • Ensure tour groups have safe access to the dock and tower.

Board of directors: Tony DeChellis, Brendan McGee, Tom Murphy, Alex Pettee, Tim Pettee (President), Todd Robbins, Peter Tombros


HOW TO VISIT THE GREENS LEDGE LIGHTHOUSE

There are a number of ways for the public to spend time at the Greens Ledge Lighthouse, ranging from public tours, to overnight stays.

PUBLIC LIGHTHOUSE TOURS

Starting this summer, Greens Ledge Lighthouse is open for public tours for the first time. Visitors will get a behind-the-scenes look at this working lighthouse and find out more about the restoration process. Tours depart from The Maritime Aquarium, where a captain will take passengers on the Aquarium’s research vessel, Spirit of the Sound.
savegreensledge.org/public-tours
my.maritimeaquarium.org

Dates
Saturday, July 8 : 9am – 12pm
Saturday, August 12 : 9am – 12pm

Fall Dates coming soon.
Tickets: $69

Special Requirements
Guests should arrive 15 minutes ahead of their scheduled tour. Passengers must be at least 42-inches tall and wear sturdy, close-toed shoes. Sandals and flip-flops are not permitted at the lighthouse, where guests will be walking up and down steep stairways.

top left: Members of the New England Lighthouse Lovers Association arrive for a tour. bottom left: Bob Taylor, who was part of the tour group, has visited more than 1,500 lighthouses around the world. bottom right: Tim Pettee, Brendan McGee, Alex Pettee, Sheila Pettee at Greens Ledge. right: Live weather streams from SailFlow station atop the tower.


DATE NIGHT AT THE LIGHTHOUSE

TWO HOURS $750*
March-November

This one-of-a-kind evening includes a two-hour private event for two at the lighthouse. Price includes transportation (to and from the Rowayton Community Dock), a bottle of red or white wine, and a *$500 tax-deductible donation to the Greens Ledge Light Preservation Society.


PRIVATE LIGHTHOUSE TOUR & PICNIC

ONE HOUR $1,750*
Saturdays
May and October

You can book a private tour and bring your own picnic for a party of eight. Price includes transportation (to and from the Rowayton Community Dock), a tour, one-hour rental, and a *$1,500 tax-deductible donation to the Greens Ledge Light Preservation Society.

left: Captain Island Mike sails Eagle. center: Miniature replica of Greens Ledge Lighthouse; right: Outdoor shower;


COCKTAIL PARTIES AND EVENTS AT THE LIGHTHOUSE

Greens Ledge can accommodate parties for up to 60 guests. Prices range from $3,500 to $10,000 to rent the venue for a small, medium or large event.

For all private tours and events, guests must bring their own food and beverages. A full-service kitchen is available for use.

SPEND A NIGHT AT THE LIGHT

Limited Availability

$4,500*
Spend the night offshore at Greens Ledge Lighthouse in the Long Island Sound.

Price Includes:

  • Access to Entire lighthouse and surrounding property, along with kayaks, paddleboards and fishing equipment.
  • Trasnportation To and from lighthouse via Rowayton Community Dock. Guests can choose to arrive in their own boats and dock at the lighthouse.
  • Tour & Orientation
  • Self-serve breakfast, snacks & drinks
  • *$3,500 of total fee is tax-deductible donation to Greens Ledge Light Preservation Society

CHECK-OUT: 11AM

IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY Staff is on call 24 hours and can arrive in 10 minutes.

left & center: The lighthouse has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, TV lounge and outdoor shower with hot water. Accommodations (Two queen beds, one twin XL, two daybeds) are designed for six, but the Galley and Watch Room can sleep extra guests. right: Galley and Watch Room lounge; Bunk Room; Keepers’ Quarters.


OFFSHORE CATERING

Whether you’re planning a picnic, cocktail party or wedding, the lighthouse staff can arrange transportation for caterers, servers, bartenders and guests. There’s a full-service kitchen available for easy prep and serving.

Brendan’s 101
Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner in the center of Rowayton, Brendan’s 101 is best known for “101 famous ice cream flavors.” For a casual picnic, pick up some lobster rolls, ice cream and sweets.
brendans101.com

Michael Joseph’s Fine Foods
This Darien caterer specializes in custom events, but they also have a deli and offer gourmet-to-Go options. Michael Joseph’s likes their clients to “Be a guest at your own party.”
michael-josephs.com

Palmer’s Market
A Darien institution, this family-owned business opened just 19 years after Greens Ledge was built. The market carries groceries and pre-prepared foods, or you can hire their caterers for special events.
palmersdarien.com

Rowayton Market
Pop in for coffee, groceries and deli sandwiches at this Five Mile River gem, which is one of the state’s oldest continuously running markets. Besides prepared foods and made-to-order sandwiches, they have an extensive catering menu.
rowaytonmarket.com

Rowayton Seafood
Located in close proximity to Greens Ledge, this local hotspot has its own dock on Five Mile River. Choose from the regular menu, order take-out or work with the restaurant to provide lobster, seafood platters and more.
rowaytonseafood.com

Ripka’s on the beach
The seafaring chef at this Norwalk restaurant can arrive to events on his own boat. Select from signature appetizers and entrées, or enlist him to design your own special menu.
ripkasbeach.com

Dates are limited for all special packages, private tours, overnights and custom events.
FOR AVAILABILITY AND BOOKING, CONTACT: TIM PETTEEsavegreensledge@gmail.com

On a recent lighthouse outing, the Pettees watched the sunset with friends and family.

left to right: George and Anne Walker arrive by boat. • Anne Walker heads up the gangway. • Tim Pettee and George Walker
Left(left-right): Sheila Pettee, Anne and George Walker, Tim Pettee; right(left-right): Emma Brown, Alex Pettee, Tim and Sheila Pettee, Anne and George Walker

Related Articles

Hometown Haunt: Charlie’s Tavern Opens in Darien

Longtime Darien butcher’s new bistro is an instant hit with the local crowd

Plum Plum’s Taste Transformation

New Owners Put Their Stamp on Plum Plums Cheese with Exciting New Events and a Big Announcement