Blog Entry #9 Saturday September 20 to Wednesday September 24, 2014 – Middlefield, Connecticut and Conquering the Barnegat Lighthouse


Let’s see, we left the Submarine Force Museum in Groton, CT the afternoon of Friday, September 19th after a tailgate lunch in the museum parking lot and made the trek further west in Connecticut to the home of my cousin Judy in Middlefield CT.9-20-14 Michael, Joey, Becky, David, & Judy Middlefield, CT

 Michael, Joey, Becky, David, and Judy

Avoiding the major cities and expressways, we found central CT to hold an intertwining array of nicely twisting roads over some decent sized hills (accentuated by our 72hp, manual steering vehicle), through towns propagated by farming and early industrial activity. It was a pleasant ride that takes one back to the time when small farms with fields bounded by roughly assembled field stone walls shared the area with small manufacturing companies drawn by the winding rivers that provided power and transportation.

We arrived at Judy’s home late the afternoon of Friday, September 19th after doing a little grease seal installation on the speedometer cable in the parking lot of a local auto parts store.

9-21-14 Cousin Judy with her mother-in-law Sophie

Judy with her Mother-in-Law Sophie

We spent a restful evening dining in and catching up on about 10 years of family history with Judy, her son Michael’s family and Sophie, Judy’s mother-in-law housemate. On Saturday the 20th, Judy drove Jean and I 20 miles to the Gillette Castle positioned on a bluff overlooking the picturesque Connecticut River valley. Gillette, an accomplished actor and amateur inventor who played Sherlock Holmes 1,300 times in the early 20th century, designed and oversaw the construction of this stone mansion complete with uniquely carved doors with intricate latching mechanisms, interlaced rooms with walls of stone with decorative woven reed inserts for sound deadening and many other clever features for the amusement of his guests and himself. We could see the castle from the small (~8-car) ferry that we took across the Connecticut River to reach it.

9-20-14 Gillette Castle, Old Lyme, CT

Gillette Castle, Old Lyme, CT

After dinner out on Saturday evening, we visited with Judy’s son Michael, his wife Becky and their two young men at their comfortable home just up the hill from Judy’s home. Their home overlooks hill after hill of rolling farm pasture for as far as the eye can see. We had a great time getting to know this delightful and talented family whom we had only heard stories about and seen photos of before this visit.

Judy and I spent the early hours of Sunday talking about family, past and present, and her multi- decade passion for teaching the sciences to high school students. Later Sunday morning we went to Mass at the local St. Colman Catholic Church in Middlefield before bidding Judy and Sophie goodbye and heading off toward our next stop, the home of my cousin Vinnie and his wife Doreen on New Jersey’s central coast. Once again avoiding cities and freeways, we elected to travel first west, staying the night in Middletown, NY, and then south through the Delaware Water Gap on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River. The 50 mile journey along the river was slow-paced and picturesque; paralleling the river and a canal as we passed through what were once small towns supported by and supporting the canal traffic. Naturally, we had our traditional picnic lunch at one of the parks along the route.

9-21-14 Picnic Lunch in James Baird St. Park, Pleasant Valley, NY

 Picnic Lunch in James Baird State Park, Pleasant Valley, NY

9-22-14 Picnic lunch in Delaware Water Gap State Park, PA

Picnic Lunch in Delaware Water Gap State Park, PA 

9-23-14 Cousin Vinnie & Doreen Manahawkin, NJ

Vinnie and Doreen, Manahawkin, NJ

We reached the home of my cousin Vinnie and his wife Doreen early the evening of Monday, September 22.

We spent a pleasant Monday evening getting caught up with them at their home fronting on Barnegat Bay in New Jersey, the next day they took us for a tour of Long Beach Island and the Barnegat Lighthouse at the Barnegat Bay inlet. Barnegat Bay runs for 42 miles along the Atlantic coast of central New Jersey. Much of the water that enters and leaves Barnegat Bay does so by passing by the 172 foot tall Barnegat Lighthouse which was commissioned in 1856.

It had been 40 years since Jean or I had visited Barnegat Lighthouse. At that time we, along with our young daughters Mique and Jeanette, nonchalantly climbed the internal 207 step cast iron spiral staircase to the balcony at the top of the lighthouse. During the climb it was hard to perceive the height being achieved, as one could not easily see the interior base through the stair treads, nor get a good sense of the height by looking out of the small windows. However, when yours truly stepped out on the balcony, which as I recall at that time pitched downward toward a skimpy perimeter railing – I jumped backward, pressing my back and outstretched arms against the lighthouse exterior wall and clawed my way back to the doorway to the interior – all the time watching Jean and the two girls lean over the edge of the railing for a better look at the sea surging out of the inlet some 170 feet below. All I could see in my mind was a newspaper headline reading “Family of four plunges to their death as 100 year old cast iron balcony supports weakened by years of exposure to salt air collapse”. They never let me forget that episode.

9-23-14 Barnegat Lighthouse

Barnegat Lighthouse

9-23-14 Jean & Dan at the base of Barnegat Lighthouse

Jean and Dan at Barnegat Lighthouse

So, this year, figuring that if it had not collapsed in the past 40 years, it should be good for one more day, I accompanied by my fearless wife, climbed the 207 stairs to the balcony, and ventured out onto it – albeit for a gingerly 2 minutes. Tadaaaa. Incidentally, a few years ago I was somewhat reprieved when, shortly after Jean and I had climbed the then recently moved Cape Hatteras lighthouse, the structure was temporarily closed while they made repairs to corroded staircase.

9-23-14 Jean at top of Barnegat Lighthouse

Jean at the Top of the Barnegat Lighthouse

9-23-14 Sharkey and Woody at Vinnie and Doreen's house

Sharkey and Woody at Vinnie and Doreen’s House

As a reward for my bravery, cousin Vinnie, Doreen, Jean and I had a nice lunch at a fishermen’s dive near the Barnegat Lighthouse before returning to their home. The evening of the 23rd, Woody another of my dear cousins, and his wife Sharkey (a name given to her as a child because of her proclivity for water
sports) visited for a while at Vinnie and Doreen’s home and then went out for an excellent dinner and great conversation at a local Italian restaurant. Once again, our objective of renewing kinship with family and friends whose lives, like ours, had pulled them away from the fold, was accomplished with the help of our warm companions. Both cousins’ homes had been hit by Sandy a couple of years ago and the stories of the rebuilding effort (still very much in process in both of their areas) were amazing.

The morning of September 24th Jean and I packed up, thanked Doreen and Vinnie for their warm hospitality and headed to the southern tip if New Jersey to catch the 70 minute ferry from Cape May, NJ to Lewes, Delaware on our way to the night’s lodging in Ocean City, MD. The next day, we headed south through Maryland and the eastern peninsula of Virginia to take the 20 mile long Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel – no place to have a break- down – wish us luck!

9-24-14 Jeep on ferry from Cape May, NJ to Lewes, DE

The Jeep on the Ferry to Lewes, DE

9-24-14 Remains of Concrete Ship S.S. Atlantus at Cape May, NJ

Remains of the Concrete Ship S.S. Atlantus at Cape May, NJ


Blog Entry #8 Monday September 16 to Friday September 19, 2014 - Bedford and Mystic and Groton, Oh My!
Blog Entry #10 Wednesday September 24 to Friday September 26, 2014 - The Long Drive Home