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 Castle Hill, RI    
A hike of some distance required.Photogenic lighthouse or setting.Lighthouse appeared in movie.
Description: Castle Hill Lighthouse is one of a number of navigational aids for ship traffic bound for Newport or Providence via the East Passage of Narragansett Bay. In 1875, Congress approved $10,000 for a fog signal at Castle Hill. A site was chosen, but the land’s owners had a summer cottage nearby and refused to sell, fearing that a fog signal would lower the property value. After two years of attempting to buy the site and unsuccessfully looking for alternative sites, the Lighthouse Board considered placing a whistle buoy off the point instead, but the position was so sheltered that the effectiveness of such a buoy was in doubt, and it was never installed.

In 1885, the Lighthouse Board resumed its attempts to build a signal at Castle Hill. This time they were successful, and the lighthouse was completed in 1890, after Congress allocated $40,000 in appropriations over a five-year period. The property it was built on belonged to the famous naturalist, oceanographer, and zoologist Alexander Agassiz, who sold the land for one dollar. Construction, however, was delayed when Agassiz refused to grant the contractor a right-of-way through his property. Since the construction site was on a steep rock face, it was basically inaccessible by water.

Agassiz detailed his objections in a letter to the Third Light House District. “It is impossible for me to make any further concessions in the matter of the light house. What with one thing and another I stand an excellent show of having my place ruined and nobody to foot the bill. I must protect myself of all hazards. I have signed a deed to the U.S. on the only terms which I will agree to and if the Government cannot carry out its part of the programme I shall take the necessary steps to re-enter the land. I don’t feel called upon in any way either to be guided by the interest of navigation or of the public to ruin a place upon which I have spent a great deal of money, the more so as I feel and have always felt that had the Light House Board met my objections there would have been no need of a light on Castle Hill and the transfer of the Brentons’ Reef Light Ship to a straight range with Rose Island would have given all the possible safety needed for so short a run.” It took almost two years of negotiations before Agassiz finally relented and deeded a 1.98-acre right of way.

This was not the last time the Lighthouse Board heard from Professor Agassiz. The new light station commenced operation on May 1, 1890, but the fog bell was discontinued in November of that year, after Agassiz complained about the terrible noise. Five years later, a larger fog bell, weighing 2,400 pounds, was installed. When the signal resumed operation, so did Agassiz’s complaints. “The Light House Board has not treated me fairly in the matter of the Bell at Castle Hill and had not kept their agreement with me.” The matter was finally resolved in 1898 when a screen was erected to deflect the sound.

Castle Hill Lighthouse with bell
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
The handsome Castle Hill Lighthouse is built right into a cliff face, and almost appears as a natural feature of the landscape. It is believed the design was by the influential architect Henry Hobson Richardson. The granite tower stands thirty-four feet tall and in former times featured a 1,300-pound fog bell. The keeper’s house had six rooms and an attached kitchen, and was set back about a quarter mile from the tower in Castle Hill Cove. Some sources claim the dwelling was destroyed in the hurricane of September, 1938, but it is actually still in place, though slightly modified.

The first keeper at Castle Hill was a Connecticut native named Frank W. Parmele, who was transferred from the Saybrook Breakwater Light. Parmele took a drop in wages with the move, going from $540 to $520 per year, but presumably that was offset by the huge convenience of being on duty at a land-based station.

The original beacon was a kerosene-powered fifth-order Fresnel lens, and in 1899 a set of new model fifth-order lamps were given to the keeper. That same year, the upper half of the station was repainted from gray to white. The lens was replaced with a modern 300-mm plastic lens when the station was automated in 1957.

Castle Hill Lighthouse is a solidly built structure, and has needed little more than routine care and maintenance over the years. The original wooden stairs were replaced by concrete steps in 1992. The Castle Hill Light remains an important active aid to navigation, showing a flashing red light every thirty seconds. It has been used countless times as a beginning and ending point for the famous yacht races taking place in Newport.

Although the lighthouse itself is not open to the public, the grounds are easily accessible by footpaths in the area. If you can afford it, you can stay nearby at the Castle Hill Inn, which was formerly the cottage/laboratory of Alexander Agassiz. The lighthouse is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Photo Gallery: 1 2 3 4

References

  1. America’s Atlantic Coast Lighthouses, Kenneth Kochel, 1996.
  2. Northeast Lights: Lighthouses and Lightships, Rhode Island to Cape May, New Jersey, Robert Bachand, 1989.
  3. The Ultimate Book of Lighthouses, Samuel Crompton and Michael Rhein, 2001.

Location: Located at Castle Hill Point, marking the east side of the entrance to Narragansett Bay.
Latitude: 41.46215
Longitude: -71.36296

For a larger map of Castle Hill Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: From Newport, take Thames Street south along the harbor and then turn right onto Wellington Avenue. At the first stop sign, turn right onto Harrison Avenue and then turn right at the next stop sign to remain on Harrison Avenue. When the road forks, bear right onto Ridge Road. After going past the Coast Guard Station the road turns sharply to the right and becomes Castle Hill Avenue, and then turns sharply to the left and becomes Ocean Avenue. From Ocean Avenue, make a quick right onto Castle Hill Road, which leads to the Castle Hill Inn. Public parking is available at Castle Hill Cove Marina, located on your right before the inn. A trail leads west to the lighthouse from the parking area.

Rhode Island Bay Cruises offers a 10 Lighthouses of Narragansett Bay cruise that passes by the Castle Hill Lighthouse.

The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds open, tower closed.

Find the closest hotels to Castle Hill Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
While in Newport, do take some time to visit some of the numerous historic mansions. Even if you don't have time for a tour, a drive down Bellevue Avenue is quite amazing. During one trip, we were in Newport during the Christmas Holiday and took a tour of The Breakers, which was decorated for the season. The Vanderbilts surely had some nice residences. Visit The Preservation Society of Newport County for information on touring the mansions.

Castle Hill Lighthouse can be seen in the quirky movie "Moonrise Kingdom."


See our List of Lighthouses in Rhode Island

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Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.