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 Newport Harbor (Goat Island), RI    
Lighthouse accessible by car and a short, easy walk.
Description: The Newport Harbor Lighthouse may not be the best-known light in Newport Harbor, but its place in history is unchallenged as the first beacon to guide mariners into the bustling Newport of the early 1800s. The lighthouse stands on Goat Island, so named because early Newport residents pastured their goats there, and is known locally as Goat Island Lighthouse. This lighthouse has overseen massive changes to Newport and its harbor over the last two hundred years.

Newport Harbor Lighthouse circa 1916
Photograph courtesy Rob Wrebb
Although Newport had been an important center of seaborne commerce since the early 1700s, the first lighthouse on Goat Island at the entrance to Newport Harbor was not completed until 1823. Activated on New Year’s Day of 1824, the stone tower was twenty feet tall with a multi-lamp and reflector apparatus showing a fixed white light. A nearby keeper’s dwelling had six rooms. The lantern room gave keepers little room to move, being only five feet high and four feet wide. Besides being crowded, the room was damp and ventilation poor, causing the condensation on the lantern glass to often freeze during the winter months.

The beacon failed to adequately mark the shallow reef just north of the island, and many vessels ran aground on the rocks. As a result, it was decided that the light would be of better service if it were placed at the end of a dike, off the northern end of Goat Island, and $67,700 was appropriated between 1834 and 1842 to construct the dike and erect a new, twenty-nine-foot tower. The exterior walls of the new octagonal tower were made of granite, while the interior was lined with hammered stone and had a spiral stone stairway that led to the lantern room.

The original lighthouse continued to shine until the new station was ready in 1842, at which time the lighting apparatus was transferred to the new tower. The displaced tower was dismantled in 1851 and relocated to Prudence Island, where it still operates today. A fourth-order Fresnel lens replaced the reflectors in the Newport Harbor Lighthouse in 1857.

During 1851, officers arrived at the lighthouse for a routine inspection, only to find Keeper Pardon Stevens absent. This situation often led to negative comments by inspectors. For instance, at a previous visit to Beavertail Light, the officer had written, “On my late excursion, the Captain and myself landed with some difficulty at [Beavertail], and was much mortified to find that the Keeper was absent with the key in his pocket.” The Beavertail keeper was informed that there was no possible excuse for his not being there. Keeper Stevens fared much better. Despite his absence, the report for the station noted “Everything managed better than in any light visited before.” This was a vast improvement from an 1838 inspection of the former Newport Harbor Lighthouse, when Lt. Edward R. Carpenter wrote, “I found this light, late in the afternoon, in the filthiest condition of any light in the district.”

Newport Harbor Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
In 1864, a new keeper’s dwelling was built adjacent to the tower on the breakwater. Four years after that, the old keeper’s house on Goat Island was taken down and its cellar filled. In 1873, a fog bell and striking machinery was added to the station. From 1906 on, the light’s characteristic was flashing white, with fifteen seconds of light followed by five seconds of darkness. The keeper’s dwelling was badly damaged in 1922 when a submarine rammed the breakwater, and the residence has since been torn down. That same year, the beacon was converted to electrical power.

Goat Island has been used by the military for even longer than a lighthouse has been present on the island. The island was ceded to the federal government in 1799 by Newport so that Fort Wolcott could be constructed to defend the harbor. The Naval Torpedo Station was built on the island in 1869 to supervise research and development of torpedoes. In 1906, the Navy Torpedo Factory was established on the island and became the sole manufacturer of torpedoes for the Navy. While the Goat Island Lighthouse was serving to save vessels, the rest of the island’s inhabitants were busy developing the best method to destroy them.

In the late 1800s, steamboat companies maintained a private beacon near the south end of the island, known as the Goat Island Shoal Dolphin. The beacon was made of piles tied together and driven into the sea bottom, with oil lamps on top. The lamps were replaced by electric lights in about 1891. In 1905, the government took over the beacon, and replaced it with a skeleton tower in 1912.

The Goat Island Lighthouse was automated in 1963, but remains an active aid to navigation. In the 1970s, the area between the lighthouse and Goat Island was filled in and a hotel was built on the property. The Newport Harbor Lighthouse was completely renovated by the Coast Guard in 1989. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In 2000, the Coast Guard leased the lighthouse to the American Lighthouse Foundation (ALF). A local ALF chapter, known as the Friends of Newport Harbor Light, was established to raise funds for restoration of the tower. Starting in 2005, the beacon showed a fixed green light with a visibility of eleven miles. The grounds are open to the public, although the actual lighthouse is not.

In the fall of 2005, the Newport Harbor Lighthouse reversed its traditional role for a week and actually invited mariners to approach the tower and disembark on its grounds. The station was serving as a staging platform for the annual Grey Goose International Sailing Federation Team Racing World Championship, which was hosted in Newport by the New York Yacht Club. This race has been described as “sailing’s equivalent of World Cup soccer.” The American Lighthouse Foundation extended its hospitable invitation in part to raise public awareness of historic lighthouses among a receptive audience of sailing enthusiasts.

Thanks in part to a $25,000 grant from The 1772 Foundation, the American Lighthouse Foundation was able to begin the first phase of a $120,000 restoration of the Newport Harbor Lighthouse during the spring of 2006. The work was done by Abcore Restoration Company, which also restored the Plum Beach and Pomham Rocks lighthouses, and included removing old paint and mortar, repointing the granite blocks, repairing railings, and painting the exterior.

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. American Lighthouse Foundation website.

Location: Located on the northern end of Goat Island in the harbor at Newport, adjacent to the Hyatt Regency Newport.
Latitude: 41.49333
Longitude: -71.32709

For a larger map of Newport Harbor (Goat Island) Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: In Newport take Highway 238 to its southern end and then go west to reach the bridge to Goat Island. You will see the lighthouse to your right as you approach the island.

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

The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard and leased to the Friends of Newport Harbor Light. Grounds open, tower closed.

Find the closest hotels to Newport Harbor (Goat Island) Lighthouse

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