Discovering Rhode Island's Lighthouses

Traveling with Alice
Latimer Reef Lighthouse, Fishers Island SoundRusty Watson/Unsplash

Rhode Island is renowned for the rolling coastlines and enchanting scenery. During warm and sunny summer months, beaches and waterfronts get crowded with local families and visitors enjoying fun and relaxing outdoor moments.

Some of the major attractions for tourists discovering the state are the many lighthouses present in the area.

Despite being the smallest state of the United States, with 40 miles (64 km) of coastline, Rhode Island counts 21 active lighthouses and the ruins of a few more.

These wonderful, mostly white buildings familiar in the region played a significant historic role in New England's extensive history.

Today, some of them are still well preserved and are waiting for you to discover their history and maybe spend a night as hosts of the lighthouse keeper!

Castle Hill, Newport

Active since it was built around 1890, Castle Hill Lighthouse stands 40 feet above sea level and marks the Narragansett Bay's east entrance. It can be seen from about 12 miles away.

The Richardsonian Romanesque style lighthouse, a round granite tower with lantern and gallery, flashes an intermittent red light every six seconds to warn sailors.

The upper half of the tower painted white, the lower half unpainted; lantern painted black.

A 2-story brick keeper's house stands near Castle Hill Cove, a few hundred feet from the lighthouse, while a fog bell believed to be from this lighthouse is on display outside the nearby Castle Hill Coast Guard Station.

The Castle Hill Lighthouse is situated in a beautiful, untouched environment, you can only meet the keeper or some seagulls here.
Castle Hill Lighthouse, NewportThomsonsr at English Wikipedia. CC BY-SA 3.0

Point Judith, Narragansett

Built in 1856, after the two previous lights were destroyed, at the end of RI 108 in Narragansett, this octagonal granite tower with lantern and gallery guards the western entrance to the bay.

The upper half of the tower is painted brown, and the lower half white turning the building into a more effective daymark for maritime transit.

In 1931, Point Judith became the first station in Rhode Island to have a radio beacon. These beacons allow ships to navigate at night or in fog without depending upon the light or the foghorn.

Unfortunately, the keeper's house was demolished in 1954, but the oil house (1917) and fog signal building (1923) survive.

In 1988 the lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and in 2000 a $200,000 Coast Guard project restored the lighthouse refurbishing the lantern and the original 4th order Fresnel lens, replacing the glass and repairing the brownstone tower.
Point Judith Lighthouse, 1460 Ocean Rd, Narragansetttedkerwin, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Newport Harbor Light, Newport

Also known as the Goat Island Light, the current lighthouse was built in 1842, has a 33 feet high octagonal granite tower with lantern and gallery height, and it's located at the north end of Goat Island.

The original lighthouse, constructed in 1823, was later relocated to Prudence Island in 1851.

An attached lighthouse keeper's house was built in 1864 and demolished in 1923 after being damaged in 1921 when a submarine hit the breakwater.

After a private developer, Globe Manufacturing, acquired Goat Island in the 1960s, the land between the northern end of Goat Island and the light was elected as the Gurney's Newport Resort site.

In 2000 the Coast Guard leased the light to the American Lighthouse Foundation for preservation; The Newport Harbor light is an active U.S. Coast Guard aid to navigation and is managed by Friends of Newport Harbor Lighthouse.
Newport Harbor LighthouseKenneth C. Zirkel, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Comm

Watch Hill Light, Westerly

Located on the north side of the east entrance to Fishers Island Sound in Rhode Island, the Watch Hill Light was built in 1808 after President Thomas Jefferson signed an act to make the lighthouse in 1806, but the first traces of a nautical beacon for ships go back to 1745.

Erosion forced it to close in 1855 and move farther away from the bluff edge. The next lighthouse opened in 1856 and remains as the present structure, a square cylindrical unpainted granite tower with lantern and gallery, attached to a 2-story brick keeper's house on a peninsula that is almost surrounded by ocean, giving breathtaking beauty to this area.

Due to the erosion that took place in the mid-1850s, the lighthouse was rebuilt and reaches today about 60 feet in height.

The lantern and the keeper's house are painted white with a red roof. The lighthouse keeper's house hosts a resident caretaker. There is a small museum in the oil house where you can admire the original 4th order Fresnel lens and its rotating mechanism.

Historical photos and documents can be viewed at the lighthouse during summer.

Several accidents occurred over the years off the lighthouse: the steamer Metis crashed off Watch Hill in 1872, killing 130 people; in 1907, the steamer Larchmont collided with a schooner killing 200 people four miles from the lighthouse, and the Leif Viking ran aground a few hundred feet from it in 1962.

Here, in 1879, Sally Ann (Gavitt) Crandall, widow of the former lighthouse keeper Capt. Crandall, became the first woman lighthouse keeper!

The lighthouse is today run by the Watch Hill Lightkeepers Association.

Watch Hill Light location is a great spot to enjoy magnificent sunsets featuring the lighthouse's silhouette.
Watch Hill, WesterlyRick Monteiro/Unsplash

Rose Island Light, Newport

Located in the middle of Narragansett Bay, just south of the Newport Bridge, the Rose Island Light was built in 1870.

It has an octagonal cylindrical wood tower with lantern and gallery, mounted on a 2-story Empire-style wood keeper's house.

Today, the first floor hosts the museum while the second floor has four guest rooms. It also features a brick oil house (1912) and a brick fog signal building (1912). The lighthouse is painted white, while the lantern is black.

After the construction of the Newport Bridge in 1970, the lighthouse became inactive.

In 1984, the Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation was established to restore the light on behalf of the City of Newport, which had received it from the United States government for free.

The lighthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987, and since 1992 it was reignited as private support to maritime navigation.

Since 1992 the Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation worked hard to restore the light to its 1912 appearance; a new, still historically accurate 6th order Fresnel lens was placed in 2013 and the year after the lighthouse received a state preservation project award.

Today, the lighthouse is still preserved, maintained, and operated by The Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation, and it is accessible during the summer by the Newport-Jamestown ferry.

The Rose Island light is one of the few locations that allow you to spend a night as a guest (paying a fee to the Foundation) or a week as the lighthouse keeper.

To become a lighthouse keeper, you have to sign for an environmental education program. You will learn about the lighthouse's history and the keepers' life. While at the lighthouse, you'll have to fulfill some duties, like making sure the windmill generates enough power to keep the light burning through the night.

The only power generator is a small wind turbine that keeps the lights inside the museum on. Be advised that there is no radio nor TV, no Internet, nothing! Do you still want to become a lighthouse keeper for a week?
Rose Island LighthouseOwilson, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Pictures license: CC BY-SA 3.0; CC BY 2.0

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