Images of Beavertail Lighthouse (Rhode Island)
The present Beavertail Lighthouse was built in 1856, and still is the premier lighthouse in Rhode Island, USA, marking the entrance to Narragansett Bay. The 64-foot (20 m) lighthouse lies on the southernmost point of Conanicut Island in the town of Jamestown, Rhode Island in Beavertail State Park, on a site where beacons have stood since the early 18th century. The original lighthouse (which was then known as “Newport Light”) was built of wood in 1749, and was rebuilt in 1753 after a fire destroyed the original structure. The present lighthouse is the third to be built around that location.
The light provides navigation for boats and ships entering Narragansett Bay in the East Passage between Conanicut Island and Newport, Rhode Island on Aquidneck Island. Other lighthouses, such as Castle Hill Lighthouse, Point Judith Light, and Rose Island Light are visible from Beavertail Lighthouse.
Its white light rotates counterclockwise and makes a full rotation in about six seconds. The light is on 24 hours per day; it has a loud foghorn that blasts about every 30 seconds during the fog.
According to the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association website, key days in the history of the lighthouse:
1657 – Conanicut Island was purchased from the Narragansett Indians by a group of settlers from Newport.
1712 – The first official request for a permanent navigational aid (a lighthouse) was recorded in the documents of the Newport Town Meeting.
1731 – To raise funds for lighthouse construction, the first tariff was placed on imported and exported cargo passing through Newport (10 shillings per ton foreign; 18 shillings per ton local).
1749 – In February, the following appeared in the Newport Town Record:
“A committee was appointed to build a Lighthouse at Beavertail on the Island of Jamestown, alias Conanicut, as there appears a great necessity for a lighthouse as several misfortunes have happened lately for want of a light.”
Construction of the first lighthouse, the third in the colonies, began in May and ended in September 1749. The lighthouse was constructed of wood.
1753 – The wooden lighthouse was rebuilt after a fire destroyed the original.
1779 – British soldiers retreating from Newport burned the tower and removed the lighting equipment, leaving the beacon darkened for the rest of the Revolution.
1783 – Repair of the lighthouse was completed. United States Congress established its authority over the nation’s twelve lighthouses.
1852 – United States Lighthouse Board was established, and the agency quickly set about creating a modern lighthouse system.
1856 – A new lighthouse was constructed to replace the deteriorating 1753 structure. The new one measured 10 feet square, and 64 feet to the beacon. The new optic was a third-order Fresnel lens imported from France, a sparkling beehive of glass similar to that now housed in the Museum. The old tower was removed and on its foundation was built a fog-whistle house.
1898 – A dwelling was added to house an assistant keeper, who helped with fog signal duties. This house now serves as the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum.
1938 – The Great Hurricane of 1938 exposed the foundation of the original lighthouse, 100 feet in front of the present light. Hidden by the fog whistle building, it had long been forgotten.
1972 – The beacon was automated, part of a program which in 1989 ended the profession of lighthouse keeping in the United States (except for the Boston Light). Dominic Turillo was the last keeper to serve at Beavertail.
1983 – The Rhode Island Parks Association began restoring the deteriorating Assistant Keeper’s House as a lighthouse museum.
1989 – The Beavertail Lighthouse Museum was opened, the result of a joint effort by the Rhode Island Parks Association, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the Town of Jamestown, and the United States Coast Guard.
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