Navigating the RI Coastline
Lighthouses are quaint. Most lighthouses have an historical past. Lighthouses are an important element for maritime safety. The United States has a national organization dedicated to the preservation of lighthouses. The American Lighthouse Foundation is based in Rockland, Maine. This foundation manages twenty historic lighthouses in New England.
Rhode Island is a small state with miles of coastline. Statistically, the Ocean State has 21 lighthouses. However, six of them are owned privately and another thirteen are working. The remainder are out-of-service. Foundations or some ruins can be seen for at least six more former lighthouses. The following are currently in service and active.
Providence River Lighthouses
The Pomham Rocks Lighthouse was designed by Albert Dow and built in 1871. It is accessible by water only. Its location is off the shore at the foot of Willett Avenue on the east shore of the Providence River.
This lighthouse is owned by the Exxon Mobil Corporation and managed by the Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse who were very diligent in funding and restoring the old lighthouse. It was inactive for 32 years and became active again on July 30, 2006.
Conimicut Lighthouse Foundation manages and operates the Conimicut Lighthouse which has been owned by the city of Warwick since 2004. It has been active since 1883 and recently restored with federal transportation enhancement funds from the Department of Transportation. This white-with-black-trim lighthouse is located on a shoal that divides the Providence River.
A 3-story keeper's quarters with two upper galleries, a lower gallery and a lantern stands close by. Visitors to Conimicut Point Park in Warwick can also see a wonderful view of this lighthouse which is accessible only by boat and, currently, closed to the general public.
East Passage Lighthouses
Narragansett Bay is divided into two channels by Conanicut Island. Along the East Passage, there are six active lighthouses: Hog Island Shoal, Musselbed Shoals, Prudence Island, Rose Island, Newport Harbor and Castle Hill.
The Hog Island Shoal Lighthouse is similar in color and design to the Conimicut Lighthouse previously mentioned. However, it is 18 years younger than Conimicut since it was built in 1901. The lighthouse was renovated and repaired in 1995 by the United States Coast Guard who made it available for transfer to interested preservation societies.
When no preservation group came forward, the lighthouse was sold to a private party in 2006. It is accessible only by boat and the Prudence Island ferry passes close enough to afford a good view for tourists, although the site and tower are both closed to the public.
Musselbed Shoals Lighthouse station was established in 1873 and destroyed by the Hurricane of 1938. It was re-built and activated in 1939. Although an active lighthouse, the site and tower are closed to the public. The owner of record is the United States Coast Guard.
In 1851, the 28-year-old Sandy Point Lighthouse was relocated from Goat Island near Newport to the Prudence Island location where it stands today. This is the oldest surviving lighthouse in Rhode Island. Sandy Point is a sharp jutting point of land at the east side of Prudence Island.
In spite of local protests, The American Lighthouse Foundation transferred the lease it had received from the United States Coast Guard to the Prudence Island Conservancy in 2001. Conservancy members refurbished the lighthouse. Visitors can access the site by ferry from Bristol and take a mile-long walk from the ferry to the lighthouse. The United States Coast Guard is still the owner of record and the site with the lighthouse is managed by the Prudence Island Conservancy.
Albert Dow designed the Rose Island Lighthouse which was activated in 1870. After 22 years of inactivity, this lighthouse is active and currently maintained by the Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation. The tower has an unusual eight-sided cylindrical shape and is mounted atop a two-story keeper's house built in the Empire-style of architecture.
The Rose Island Lighthouse is a tourist's dream-come-true. It is located in the middle of Narragansett Bay between Jamestown and Newport. During the summer, the toll ferry between Newport and Jamestown takes visitors to Rose Island at designated dates which are restricted during bird nesting season. The first floor is a museum. The second floor is available to volunteer caretakers for week-long stays all year long.
Guided tours are available off-season from Labor Day to June 30. For a small fee, visitors can tour the lighthouse during the summer months. The lighthouse is owned by the City of Newport and managed by the Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation.
The Newport Harbor Lighthouse is located on Goat Island. Its keeper's house was damaged by the crash of a submarine and subsequently demolished in 1923. This lighthouse is adjacent to the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Newport. For the safety of visitors, a fence was built around the pier on which the lighthouse stands.
Goat Island is accessible by a bridge that extends from downtown Newport. The lighthouse, itself, can be accessed from the hotel lobby. The site is open and managed by the Friends of Newport Harbor Light. However, the lighthouse tower – owned by the United States Coast Guard – is closed.
The Castle Hill Lighthouse has been active since 1890. A 2-story keeper's house stands near the Castle Hill Cove. This lighthouse is the setting of choice for weddings and other special events. It is a very short walk from the Castle Hill Cove Marina and the Castle Hill Inn, which is adjacent to the lighthouse.
West Passage Lighthouses
There are three active lighthouses along the west side of Narragansett Bay. The remaining three are out-of-service: two are privately owned and the third lighthouse is owned and managed by the United States Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard owns and manages the Warwick Lighthouse. The keeper's house is a 1.5 story wood Victorian structure that was built in 1889 and now provides housing for members of the Coast Guard. This station was established in 1826 and has been actively in service from 1932.
When the Hurricane of 1938 caused enormous beach erosion, the lighthouse was moved inland approximately 50 feet. The best view of this site is from the water as it is partially obscured when viewed from the end of Warwick Neck Road. The site and the tower are closed to the general public.
Plum Beach Lighthouse had been active from 1899 to 1941. The period of inactivity stretched across six decades from 1941 until 2003. It is currently maintained by a private party. The lighthouse tower is constructed of cast iron with double galleries seated atop a lower gallery and supported by the 3-story keeper's quarters. The entire structure then rests on a cast iron caisson.
During the period of abandonment, it accumulated rust and gained a choice position on the Lighthouse Digest Doomsday List. Finally, in 1998, a long-running issue over ownership was settled in favor of the State of Rhode Island. The state granted ownership to the Friends of Plum Beach Lighthouse.
A state $500,000 restoration grant accompanied the transfer of ownership. The same digest that formerly forecast doom for this lighthouse published a glowing article upon completion of the restoration project in 2003. Although the tower is now active, both the site and the tower are closed to visitors.
The Lighthouse at Dutch Island is owned by the State of Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. However, the site is maintained by the Dutch Island Lighthouse Society. Built in 1857, it was consistently active until 1979 when it entered a period of inactivity that lasted into 2007.
The tower was attached to the keeper's house until the house was demolished early in the 1960s. Neglect, decay and vandalism served to earn this lighthouse a position on the Lighthouse Digest Doomsday List. In 2000, the Coast Guard leased this site to the American Lighthouse Foundation and the foundation helped establish the Dutch Island Lighthouse Society. This society is responsible for the restoration of this structure and the reactivation of the lighthouse in 2007.
Lighthouse Digest published an article focused on the last keeper who lived in the house on this site. The lighthouse stands on the southern tip of Dutch Island, which is largely a wildlife management area. The only way to access the island is by boat; however, the island has been closed to visitors since 2000.
Four of the five lighthouses along the rocky coast facing Long Island Sound are active. These four active ones include: Sakonnet, Beavertail, Point Judith and Watch Hill. The Whale Rock Lighthouse was destroyed by the Hurricane of 1938 and its ruins were later discovered by an underwater archaeologist.
The Sakonnet Lighthouse was erected in 1884 and remained continuously active until 1955. This round cast iron tower, topped with lantern supported by two galleries and a lower gallery sat atop the 3-story keeper's quarters with the entire structure mounted on a concrete caisson. From 1955 to 1997, the lighthouse was deactivated.
The effort and determination of private persons along with local fundraising was enhanced by a federal grant of almost $850,000 enabling a long anticipated restoration project to go forward. The lighthouse site is currently owned and managed by Friends of Sakonnet Point Lighthouse, Inc. Both the tower and the site are closed to visitors and accessible only by boat.
Beavertail Lighthouse station was established in 1749 and, apparently activated in 1856. It is the nation's fourth oldest lighthouse. The granite tower, its lantern and double gallery are attached to a stucco-coated 2-story brick keeper's house, circa 1856. In 1898, another house was built for the assistant keeper. This additional house is now a museum housing the fourth lens used in the Beavertail lantern.
Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association operates the museum which supports the preservation of the lighthouse. The association is attempting to transfer ownership of this site and tower whilst retaining management rights and the operation rights to the museum. The keeper's house is currently occupied by a resident custodian.
Beavertail Lighthouse is situated in Jamestown on the southern tip of Conanicut Island. Visitors are welcome to the site daily. However, the museum is open daily from June until Labor Day and on weekends in the spring and early fall. The tower is closed.
The Point Judith Lighthouse Station
A lighthouse station was established at Point Judith in 1810. Since 1857, it has been an active Coast Guard Station. Until 1954, the site had a keeper's house which had fallen into disrepair. An oil house dating to 1917 and a fog signal building dating to 1923 are still standing. The Point Judith Lighthouse Station underwent a $200,000 restoration project during 2000. The Coast Guard owns and operates this station located in Narragansett at the end of Rhode Island's Route 108. The site is opened to the public for free on a daily basis. The tower is closed to visitors.
Watch Hill Lighthouse
The Lighthouse at Watch Hill is a very well-preserved working light station which is open to visitors, although the museum is open only sporadically during the summer months of July and August.
Westerly, Rhode Island is home to the Watch Hill Lighthouse Station which is located at the end of Lighthouse Road at Watch Hill Point. A keeper's house is attached to the unpainted granite tower, lantern and gallery. A resident caretaker currently resides in the keeper's house. The oil house contains a museum. The fog signal building has been actively on alert since 1909.
There is parking at the station for senior citizens and the disabled. Other visitors will enjoy a 15-minute walk from the town to the site – and back. The United States Coast Guard is the owner of record and the site is managed by the Watch Hill Lighthouse Keepers Association.
Block Island is 12 miles from the nearest point of the Rhode Island coastline. It is a mere dot in the water, and yet there are two lighthouses on this tiny island: Block Island North Lighthouse and Block Island Southeast Lighthouse.
Block Island North Lighthouse has been placed out-of-service on several occasions since it was established in 1829. Once again, it is temporarily inactive while restoration work is in progress. Its granite tower, lantern and gallery are attached to the front of the granite 2-story schoolhouse-style keeper's house. The first floor of the house has a small museum with artifacts from this lighthouse prominently on display.
The latest restoration began in 2008 with an unreleased completion date. This lighthouse has a special location within the boundaries of the Block Island National Wildlife Refuge at the northern point of the island. The site and the museum are open to visitors daily from June to September and can be accessed by walking the half-mile trail at the end of Corn Neck Road. The tower is closed.
The town of New Shoreham is the current owner of record and the site is managed by the Block Island North Light Commission.
Block Island Southeast Lighthouse dates back to 1875. Except for the four years of
1990-1994, this lighthouse has been consistently active. This structure is comprised of a brick tower and lantern atop a double gallery. The tower is attached to a Gothic style 2.5 story brick duplex keeper's house.
As the highest lighthouse in New England, this lighthouse found its way onto the National Historic Landmark list. As the bluffs at its site began to erode, Block Island Southeast was relocated in 1993 to a site almost 400 feet from its original location – no small feat considering that the entire structure weighed-in at 4 million pounds!
After four years of fundraising, restoration began in the fall of 2003. When completed, the assistant keeper's house became a museum and a bed and breakfast apartment is the destiny of the main keeper's house, which may become available to visitors. The owner of record is the Block Island Southeast Lighthouse Foundation. This foundation manages the site as well.
This is one of the few sites welcoming visitors to both the lighthouse and the tower from July 1st until Labor Day and then on weekends to mid-October.
Rhode Island Inactive Lighthouses
The inactive lighthouses are almost as numerous as the active ones. They include: Bullock's Point and Nayatt Point (Providence River); the Bristol Ferry, Gould Island, Gull Rocks and the Ida Lewis Rock Lighthouses (Narragansett East Passage); Conanicut Island, Wickford Harbor and Poplar Point Lighthouses (Narragansett West Passage) and Whale Rock Lighthouse (Soundside).
Preservation of Lighthouses
The American Lighthouse Foundation, located in Rockland, Maine, is the undeniable leader in lighthouse restoration and preservation. This foundation is currently named as the caretaker of at least 20 historic lighthouses along the New England coastline. The membership base, however, reveals a nationwide group of lighthouse aficionados.
The State of Rhode is their oyster (with a group of pearls hidden inside) just waiting to be opened.
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