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Stonington Point: The view is free but priceless

Stonington — How can a half-acre gravel lot be such a wonderful attraction?

Find out for yourself by taking a drive to Stonington Point, the small parcel at the end of Water Street in historic Stonington Borough, where you can stand in Connecticut and look out at Rhode Island and New York, see three lighthouses, and even get a glimpse of the Watch Hill home that superstar Taylor Swift bought for $17.75 million — all cash — in 2013.

Located at the tip of the small peninsula that is the borough, the point is open to the public for free and can accommodate about 40 vehicles. It is owned and maintained by the borough and is an incredibly popular stop for locals and visitors alike, year-round and all day long.

“It is one of the most amazing assets that the town and borough have,” said Dodie Bump, a member of the Stonington Village Improvement Association. “On July 4th, you can stand there and watch fireworks going off all over — in Watch Hill, Mystic, Noank, Fishers Island and Block Island. It’s the best show in town.”

On clear days, Montauk, at the eastern end of Long Island, and Block Island, to the southeast, are visible on the horizon from Stonington Point. More easily seen is the Simmons “castle,” a 25,000-square-foot turreted structure built at the east end of Fishers Island in the 1940s by the mattress-makers of the same name. Several years ago, there was an unsubstantiated rumor that Donald Trump was eyeing the property.

Sunset is a highlight at the point, with cars and pedestrians flowing to the rutted lot to watch fishing boats, with outriggers extended, heading home to the Town Dock as the sun sets over Wamphassuc Point.

Some visitors stay in their cars for the sunset show, but others bring picnic dinners and beach chairs and sit on the breakwall, especially this time of year.

Three lighthouses

Those who visit in the early morning get an unobstructed sunrise view, with the sun coming up in the east over Sandy Point and Watch Hill. Sandy Point, a 35-acre migrating island in Little Narragansett Bay that straddles Rhode Island and Connecticut, was attached to Napatree Point until it was severed in the 1938 hurricane. Since then, winds and tides have continually pushed it in a northerly direction.

About 150 yards from the point is the Old Lighthouse Museum, a stone tower attached to a stone house that has stood at the entrance to Stonington Harbor for more than 170 years. It no longer serves as a working lighthouse, but is a local history museum.

On the horizon to the east is the Watch Hill Lighthouse, where a nautical beacon has been aiding mariners since 1745. The original lighthouse was destroyed by a storm in 1781 and a new one, authorized by President Thomas Jefferson, completed in 1807. The Watch Hill Lighthouse marks the eastern entrance to Fishers Island Sound and warns captains away from the dangerous reef southwest of Watch Hill.

Out in Fishers Island Sound, visitors to Stonington Point can see a third navigational beacon — the Latimer Reef Lighthouse.

Historians report that Latimer Light is named for the courageous James Latemore, who during the Revolutionary War set out on a skiff to spy on a British fleet anchored in the Sound. According to www.lighthousefriends.com, Latemore was spotted by a redcoat, pursued and grounded on the reef that now carries his name. Once captured, Latemore was hanged on board an enemy frigate and buried at sea.

The Stonington Village Improvement Association owns duBois Beach, which is adjacent to the point, and has contracted with the Stonington Community Center to manage it seasonally. Fees are collected from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on beach days, but early mornings and evenings, visitors can enter the beach and its pavilion for free.

The SVIA also owns and manages the East Lawn, where there is green space and picnic tables for picnicking and memorial benches facing east for reading and relaxing. One of the benches honors Stonington native Josh Piver, who worked in the north tower of the World Trade Center for Cantor Fitzgerald and died in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He was 23.

There’s also a miniature lending library on the lawn, where visitors can leave or borrow a book. Bump, from the SVIA, said a woman recently returned a book she borrowed from the library kiosk a year ago and took out another one.

A fun vista

Marylou Gennetti, who was at the point on a recent weekday, said she was visiting from Iowa and a relative suggested she explore Stonington Borough and advised her not to miss Stonington Point.

“What a beautiful spot,” she said as she photographed a catboat sailing into the harbor and gulls cawing overhead. She was impressed when another woman at the point explained to Gennetti that she was looking out at Fishers Island, N.Y., and across to Watch Hill, R.I., while standing in Stonington.

“I think that’s so cool. Iowa is landlocked,” she said, “We don’t get views like this.”

There’s an information board on the lawn at the point, explaining to viewers what they are looking at and providing some local history. Gennetti had studied the board and was looking for the landmarks.

Jeffrey Callahan, the Stonington Borough warden, said the village owns and maintains the point and welcomes visitors.

“Water, the ocean, attracts people,” he said, “And it’s fun to have this vista, to see the fishing and pleasure boats coming and going. It’s a natural place to congregate.”

Weddings and picnics

Callahan said the borough was settled a century after the town of Stonington and was originally called Long Point because it was a peninsula.

In the War of 1812, inhabitants of the borough faced off against a powerful British naval squadron in August 1814 and held them off with just three cannons. A granite marker at the point’s tip commemorates the effort.

“Here the brave men of Stonington defeated a landing force from his majesty’s ship Ramillies bent on burning the town and its shipping,” it reads in part. The marker is situated beneath the point’s flagpole, where on New Year’s Eve, locals sometimes “drop” a ball in celebration and often light a bonfire.

Not far from Stonington Point is the borough’s Cannon Square, with two of the historic cannons used in 1814.

But Stonington Point is the more popular attraction. It’s not unusual to see wedding parties being photographed there, or sometimes, nuptials performed at duBois Beach or the pavilion. Throughout the day, picnickers meet on the East Lawn, and often, joggers or walkers stop at the point for a break, or to use the port-o-potty.

There’s a regular group of scuba divers who dive off Stonington Point, and, according to Callahan, help to defray the cost of the portable toilet.

He said the borough maintains the lot and asks visitors to take away their garbage.

“I go down there occasionally during the day and it’s amazing the variety of license plates,” he said. “You see someone from Alaska or someplace far away like that and wonder how they found out about it.”

“I came East from Iowa for a family gathering,” said Gennetti, explaining her visit. “And I’ve been here almost two weeks and I’ve seen all kinds of great things. But this, standing here with this view, well, that’s pretty wonderful. Except for family, I’d say this is the highlight of the trip.” 

Editor's Note: This version corrects the spelling of the first name of Dodie Bump.

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