Rhode Island lighthouses
These stalwart sentinels have been keeping ships and shore safe for centuries. Some elegant and pristine, others weathered workhorses, they are iconic attractions well worth a visit. Some feature museums and gift shops, all have great storied histories, and for the intrepid, you can even play lighthouse keeper for the night at Newport’s Rose Island Lighthouse. A great way to take in the Ocean State's lighthouses is from the water on a lighthouse tour.
BLOCK ISLAND LIGHTHOUSES
Block Island is home to two lighthouses, which is not surprising considering its reputation back in the day for being difficult to navigate (there's quite a history of shipwrecks along its shores). The island's shoals and ledges were rough on mariners, many of whom nicknamed the island "stumbling block."
The Southeast Lighthouse was built in 1875, and sits on top of Mohegan Bluffs, 200 feet above the water. It's architecturally striking, with a 52-foot brick and granite tower and green light. Its grounds are accessible and the lighthouse and it's gift shop are open for tours in the summer. While visiting this National Historic Landmark, you can check out the boulder that marks its original location - 300 feet closer to the bluffs (it was moved in 1993 due to erosion), and enjoy the island's best views of the Block Island Wind Farm.
The historic North Light is a granite and iron lighthouse built in 1867. The tower is 55-feet high and flashes white light every five seconds. North Light was built to help keep mariners away from the dangers of Sandy Point. The lighthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places and although there is no tower access for visitors, the building is home to a museum that's open seasonally from Memorial Day to Columbus Day. The walk to the lighthouse from the parking lot at the end of Corn Neck Road takes roughly half an hour across the shore and features scenic views. The start of the walk from the lot will take you by Settler's Rock and past the lighthouse is Sachem Pond Wildlife Refuge.
NEWPORT COUNTY LIGHTHOUSES
Considering Newport County's seafaring and naval history, it makes sense that the area is home to nine lighthouses, each with its own unique story.
The Castle Hill Light (1890) sits on land once owned by a Harvard University naturalist and oceanographer, whose former mansion on the same property is now the Castle Hill Inn. The tower structure is 34-feet high and built from granite blocks. The still active lighthouse is at the end of famed Ocean Drive in Newport, and on the National Register of Historic Places. Although the light is no longer open to the public, visitors can still get a nice, close look by taking one of the nearby footpaths at either Castle Hill Inn or Castle Hill Cove Marina.
The first Newport Harbor Light (aka Goat Island Light) was transported to Prudence Island in 1851, and is still there today, known as the Prudence Island Light. The current Newport Harbor Light is on the National Register of Historic Places and is located on Goat Island, in Newport Harbor on property belonging to Newport Harbor Island Resort. It was built in 1842 from granite blocks on a granite breakwater (which was actually hit by a submarine in 1921 sustaining some damage) and has been guiding mariners with its green light ever since.
Ida Lewis Lighthouse was originally Lime Rock Lighthouse, built in 1854, but was renamed for Ida Lewis, the famous local heroine, who lived and worked at the lighthouse beginning in 1857. She became the official lighthouse keeper in 1879 and served until she died in 1911. Ida Lewis was credited with saving 18 lives (though there were likely more) during her tenure and was known as "the Bravest Woman in America" during her lifetime. As for the lighthouse, it rests on a limestone ledge roughly 220 yards from the shore in the Newport Harbor. It's a square, brick tower, which originally held an oil-burning lantern, attached to the lightkeeper's house. The lighthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places and is now privately-owned and operated as the Ida Lewis Yacht Club.
Beavertail Lighthouse (1749) is located in Beavertial State Park on the southernmost tip of Jamestown, RI. It was the third lighthouse built in the Thirteen Colonies. The current tower (1856) is made of granite and 64-feet tall. Beavertail contains a "beehive" Fresnal lens and is one of the premier lighthouses in Rhode Island. The building was burned and damaged when the British retreated from Rhode Island in 1779, but the light was reactivated a few years later. During World War II, Beavertail's strategic location on both the Atlantic Ocean and Narragansett Bay, made it an important guardian of coastal forts and observation posts. Today, that history is preserved for visitors at the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum. Beavertail still serves the state by guiding boats entering Narragansett Bay. The surrounding park is popular with locals and tourists for walking, exploring, fishing and more. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Prudence Island Lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse in Rhode Island, is more commonly known locally as the Sandy Point Lighthouse (built on Goat Island in 1823 and moved to Prudence Island in 1851). It is a 28-foot tall octagonal granite tower and one of few lighthouses in the US that still has its original bird-cage lantern top. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.This lighthouse is only accessible by boat and not open to the public.
Sakonnet Lighthouse (1884) is a 66-foot tall, cast iron "sparkplug" lighthouse near Sakonnet Point in Little Compton. Only accessible by boat, this lighthouse is not open to the public. The Sakonnet Light was deactivated in 1954 after Hurricane Carol and was set to be destroyed, when it was bought by the Haffenreffer family in 1961. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and acquired by The Friends of the Sakonnet Lighthouse in the 1980's and reactivated by the US Coast Guard in 1997.
Dutch Island Lighthouse (1857) was built to replace an earlier lighthouse built in 1826. It sits on six acres in the west passage of Narragansett Bay, off Jamestown. The lighthouse is a square, brick tower, 42-feet tall and includes a fog bell. It is not known if the island was fortified against sea invasion during the Revolutionary War, but it was so during the Civil War, Spanish American War and World War I. The lighthouse is currently owned by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and is not open to the public. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Hog Island Shoal Light (1901) is a cast-iron, "sparkplug" style lighthouse with a 60-foot tall tower. It sits on a shoal roughly 600-feet southeast of Hog Island, at the entrance to Mount Hope Bay. It was the last light station formally established in Rhode Island. It's not privately owned, not open to the public and best seen by boat. The Prudence Island Ferry from Bristol passes by it. It's on the National Register of Historic Places.
Rose Island Lighthouse (1870) is built on a bastion of Fort Hamilton, located on Rose Island in Narragansett Bay in Newport. It's one of several New England lighthouses built in an award-winning design by architect Albert Dow. It was decommissioned in 1970 and deeded to Newport by the federal government in 1985. The lighthouse is now managed by the Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation and is considered a Private Aid to Navigation, sanctioned by the US Coast Guard. Visitors can explore Rose Island and tour the lighthouse. Visitors can take the Jamestown-Newport Hop-On-Hop-Off Ferry, or arrive via kayak, canoe or small private boat. Visitors can also reserve a stay at the lighthouse for anywhere from one night to a full week to "walk in the steps of the lightkeeper." The Rose Island Lighthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Pomham Rocks Lighthouse (1871) was built from an award-winning design by Albert Dow and has seven rooms and a 42-foot tower all in a French Empire mansard-style. It was constructed as a navigational aid for the increased shipping traffic to Providence in the early 19th century. It sits in the Providence River, roughly 200-yards off shore in Riverside, East Providence. It was deactivated in 1974, but relit in 2006 and is now managed by the Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse. It's not open to the public, but can be seen from the East Bay Bike Path. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
SOUTH COUNTY LIGHTHOUSES
Point Judith Lighthouse (1816) is an octagonal brick building that was built to replace the original wooden lighthouse (1806) that was blown down in the Great Gale of September of 1815. Prior to that, the site was home to a tower beacon during the Revolutionary War. The last German U-Boat sunk in World War II went down two miles from the lighthouse. The Point Judith Lighthouse tower is 51 feet tall and its Fourth-order Fresnel lens from 1857 is still in use. Point Judith, Narragansett juts out from the coast and marks the entrance of Narragansett Bay and the waters are busy with traffic. Still an active Coast Guard station, neither the lighthouse nor grounds are open to visitors. It is on the National Register of Historic Places (1988).
Plum Beach Lighthouse (1897) is off Plum Beach Point in North Kingstown and served to protect ships from Plum Beach shoal. It's a "sparkplug" style lighthouse, with a 52-foot tall tower, made of cast iron and concrete. It was deactivated in 1941 following completion of the Jamestown Bridge. It is now owned and maintained by the Friends of Plum Beach Lighthouse and an now licensed as a Coast Guard Private Aid to Navigation. It is not open to the public and best seen by boat or while traveling over the Jamestown Bridge. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and is featured on a special series of Rhode Island license plates.
Watch Hill Lighthouse in Watch Hill has been a nautical beacon for ships since 1745, which served in the French and Indian War and Revolutionary War. That structure was destroyed and President Thomas Jefferson signed an order to build a new one which was completed in 1807. That lighthouse was forced to close in 1855 due to erosion, and was moved farther in from the edge of the bluffs. The next (and present) structure opened in 1856. It's a square, granite tower, 61 feet in height. The lighthouse can be accessed by foot via a private road, and although the lighthouse and adjacent buildings aren't open to the public, the Watch Hill Lighthouse Museum welcomes visitors and offers historical items of interest that tell the history of the lighthouse. The buildings at the lighthouse are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Whale Rock Lighthouse (1882) in Narragansett, was built to help mariners navigate past a dangerous reef in a busy part of the entrance to Narragansett Bay. It was a "sparkplug" style, four-story, cast-iron tower that was equipped with a fog bell. The lighthouse was swept away in the Great Hurricane of 1938, and lightkeeper Walter Barge perished. All that remains of the lighthouse today is part of the foundation, which can be seen from the area around Beavertail Lighthouse and on some local lighthouse cruises.
WARWICK & WEST BAY LIGHTHOUSES
Conimicut Lighthouse (1883) in Warwick is a "sparkplug" style, cast-iron active aid to navigation. It's tower height is 58 feet and it is located on Conimicut Shoal, at the entrance to Narragansett Bay. The lighthouse is not open to the public, but can be viewed from Conimicut Point Park in Warwick. The lighthouse is managed by the city of Warwick and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Warwick Neck Lighthouse (also known as Warwick Lighthouse) in Warwick, was first built in 1827, but the structure that stands today was built in 1932. The lighthouse is a 51-foot cylindrical tower with an octagonal tower and base made of cast-iron. The original keepers house was replaced in 1899. Warwick Neck Lighthouse was the last Rhode Island lighthouse to be automated (1985). The lighthouse station serves as Coast Guard Housing and is closed to the public and best viewed from the water. Warwick Neck Lighthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places.