Clifford J. Benfield is the contributing resource behind many successful historic educational efforts in Southold Town. As Southold was founded in 1640, there is a wealth of history to convey to the children of our community.
Mr. Benfield has been a dedicated volunteer since 1956, being active on the Union College Alumni Council for forty-eight years and serving as president of the New York-New Jersey chapter for nine years. He is an avid volunteer for Friends of the Library in Greenport, NY, and the Church of the Redeemer in Mattituck, NY. His wife Eunice, a busy volunteer also, stands firmly behind him on all his projects. Some of Mr. Benfield’s most far-reaching efforts provide historical educational venues for future generations.
Mr. Benfield has served as an Advisor to the National Lighthouse Museum and the Long Island Chapter of the US Lighthouse Society since their inception. He served as Chairman of the Southold Landmark Preservation Commission. He is a major volunteer for the East end Seaport Museum & Marine Foundation, having served as its Curator and as an Advisor to the Board. He is a major volunteer for Lady Stirling Committee, conducting Tall Ships events in Greenport, NY. He has been an extraordinary volunteer for Southold Historical Society (SHS) since 1977.
In late 1989, Mr. Benfield gathered a small but effective group of SHS volunteers, namely Robert Petit, Donald Bayles and Robert Kaelin, to restore the vandal-plagued and abandoned Horton Point Lighthouse. Horton Point had been selected in 1756 as an ideal lighthouse location by George Washington, then 25 years old, and Ezra Hommedieu, but the building was not built until 1857. In 1990, after six months of hard labor, they opened The Lighthouse Museum to the public. The Coast Guard installed a modem light in the Lighthouse’s lantern room and Horton Point Lighthouse literally became a point of light again, most fittingly on the Coast Guard’s 200th anniversary. The Coast Guard also donated a fourth order Fresnel lens to the Museum. Mr. Benfield’s coordination of the efforts of the community, SHS volunteers, Southold Park District which owns the property, the Town, and the Coast Guard resulted in a working educational Museum. In 1994, the Lighthouse was named to the State Register of Historic Places and the National Registry of Historic Places based on Mr. Benfield’s application.
The Lighthouse, with hands-on learning opportunities and extensive exhibits gathered by Mr. Benfield and others, is a popular destination for school groups and families, serving over about 5,000 people each year. Admission is free (adult donations accepted). In 2003, visitors came from twenty countries and forty-one states. Mr. Benfield has handed over the daily operation to an able volunteer staff, but remains as curator and still conducts the maintenance on the structure. He serves as a mentor to our next generation of local history experts like Robert Windhorst and Robert G. Muller, and is a sought-after lecturer.