|Rose Island, RI|
Description: Through the years, Rose Island has been used by the military due to its strategic location at the entrance to Newport Harbor. During the Revolutionary War, the island was used by both British and colonial troops at different times to defend Newport. From 1798 to 1800, a military outpost named Fort Hamilton was under construction on the island, but it was never finished. In 1889, part of the island served as a rifle range, and during World War I and II it was used for storage by the U.S. Navy’s torpedo manufacturing plant in nearby Newport. Keepers stationed at Rose Island could definitely not expect peace and quiet all the time.
Because of its proximity to Newport, Rose Island was not as isolated as many lighthouse stations. However, keepers on duty there still had to deal with extreme weather at times. On February 2, 1876 the wind reached near-hurricane force and shook the tower violently. Two weeks later, another storm dragged the station’s boat and its 600-pound mooring onto the beach, damaging the boat. The wind moved the tower “1 ½ inches each way so that it broke the plaster inside of the house and the glass chimney in the lantern.”
On April 4 of the same year, yet another storm took the tower’s chimney down, and the roof leaked so badly that it was almost “as wet inside as out.” In November, a storm flooded the lighthouse, ruining the entire winter supply of vegetables stored there. The following month was no better, according to the lighthouse log: “Stormiest December on record, much damage to property and according to report, much loss of life at sea.”
In 1894, Captain Elijah Davis, who was nicknamed the Fog Eater for his skill at navigating in zero visibility, met his match when he ran his steamer Plymouth aground on the south shore of Rose Island. The 700 passengers on board were offloaded with no injuries, but the ship remained stranded on the island for several weeks.
Lighthouse keepers were not well paid, and they sometimes had to be creative to feed their families. At Rose Island, the keepers grew crops and kept farm animals, which sometimes wandered from the lighthouse grounds into the military compound, much to the officers’ annoyance. Two keepers at Rose Island, Charles Curtis (1887-1918) and Jesse Orton (1921-1936) both kept cows at the light station to supply milk. Curtis kept his cow in a long building behind the lighthouse that was also used for storing explosives.
The Rose Island Lighthouse narrowly avoided destruction on August 7, 1958 when two tankers collided in heavy fog near Fort Adams and burst into flames. One of the ships, the Graham, floated into Newport Harbor with the tide, ablaze and with her engines dead, and passed within 200 yards of the Rose Island Light. The walls of the lighthouse became so hot that the keepers were forced to flee the station. Finally, the tide and wind turned and took the ship away from the lighthouse. Eighteen men from the two ships were killed in the incident.
When the Newport Bridge was opened in 1969, both the Gould Island Lighthouse north of the bridge and the Rose Island Lighthouse became obsolete. Rose Island was deactivated in 1971. In 1976, the lighthouse and grounds were given to the University of Rhode Island to use for marine research, but the school was unable to maintain the property, and the decrepit, badly vandalized lighthouse was returned to the federal government. When the lighthouse was declared surplus property in 1984, the city of Newport took it over.
A local group, the Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation, was formed, and with the help of public and private funding, the ambitious organization completely restored the lighthouse. Much of the credit for the group's success is due to its first director, Charlotte Johnson, who devoted many years to the project. The exterior of the lighthouse was completely refurbished in 1990, and the interior received new wiring, plumbing, and plaster walls, as well as an energy-efficient in-floor radiant heating system. A septic field, a water cistern, and a landing dock were also installed. Altogether the restoration cost $250,000. In 1992, the lighthouse was opened to the public. The following year, the lighthouse once again became an active aid to navigation, showing a white light flashing every six seconds. In 1999, the Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation acquired the rest of the island, which is off-limits, save its beaches during a portion of the year, due to safety concerns.
Located on Rose Island in the middle of
Narragansett Bay and just south of the
Newport Bridge. The lighthouse is owned by the City of Newport and managed by the
Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation. Grounds open, dwelling/tower open during tours.
The lighthouse is owned by the City of Newport and managed by the Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation. Grounds open, dwelling/tower open during tours.
Notes from a friend:Kraig writes:
Although you are separated from the city of Newport and its opulent mansions by just a mile-wide channel, you still feel as if you were living in a different era when you stay at the Rose Island Lighthouse. This is intentional, as the lighthouse has been restored to reflect life in the early 1900s. Overnighters stay in rooms on the ground floor, which double as a museum during the day. A player piano, phonograph, and a coal stove are part of the authentic furnishings. The station’s water source is rainfall captured off the lighthouse’s roof and stored in a 3,000-gallon cistern in the basement, while a three-armed windmill mounted atop a skeletal tower provides the needed electricity. Life for the weeklong keepers who live upstairs isn’t quite as rustic, since they have access to running water, appliances and even a color TV. However, they do have to perform some light chores in return. A stay at the lighthouse is a great way to escape a busy, modern life and step back to a simpler time.Marilyn writes:
Kraig accurately describes a stay there well -- it was just plain fun to crank up the phonograph, play tunes on the player piano, put a puzzle together and hike around the small island where the world really was shut out for a day or two. The needlepoint in the bathroom "Two pees and a poo" before flushing summed up how far from civilization we really were!
See our List of Lighthouses in Rhode Island
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.