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 Dutch Island, RI    
Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.
Description: Dutch Island Lighthouse sits on a small island off Conanicut Island, in the West Passage of Narragansett Bay. In 1825, the state of Rhode Island deeded the southern tip of Dutch Island to the U.S. government for the purpose of building a lighthouse. The following year a thirty-foot tower built of stone and slate extracted from the island was completed. A keeper’s dwelling was attached, church-style, to the tower, which housed a Winslow Lewis lamp and reflector optic showing a fixed white light. The light was fifty-six feet above the water and could be seen for thirteen nautical miles.

William Dennis, an American colonial and ship captain, was on a vessel in Europe when he heard news of the Boston Tea Party. The uprising prompted his quick return, and soon he was fighting in the Revolutionary War on the side of the colonists. In 1827, Dennis, who had twice been taken prisoner during the war, was appointed as the first keeper of the Dutch Island Lighthouse, a position he would hold until retiring thirteen years later at the age of ninety-three. In 1843, his son Robert Dennis assumed the keeper position.

The Lighthouse Board attempted to fire the younger Dennis because he had not, as his terms of duty required, been living at the lighthouse. Robert Dennis wrote an impassioned letter to the Board pleading with them to delay his removal as he wanted his father to live out his remaining days at the lighthouse. Records indicate that Dennis stayed on as keeper until November of 1844, when he was replaced by one William Babcock. Dennis, however, returned to duty at Dutch Island two years later, and remained keeper until 1853.

The author of an 1855 inspection report declared “the lantern and stairs of the tower of Dutch Island light are extremely bad. The stairs are very rough stone, dark, cramped, and slippery in winter. The lantern is wretched, astragals very broad, glass bad, and the door so broken that it cannot be closed tight. It is very desirable that the lantern, illuminating apparatus, and stairs of this tower, if not the tower itself, should be rebuilt.” A sum of $2,000 was deemed sufficient for the task.

Dutch Island Light Station
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
In 1856, Congress provide the generous amount of $4,000 for “reconstructing the light-house tower and for new illuminating apparatus.” The reconstructed tower was forty-two feet tall, made of brick, and rested on the island's rocky surface. The new illuminating apparatus was a fourth-order Fresnel lens that produced a fixed, white light. In 1924, the light’s characteristic was changed to flashing red.

Following the Civil War, gun batteries were placed on Dutch Island, and by the late 1800s the defensive works had grown to become Fort Greble, named after Lieutenant John T. Greble, an early casualty in the Civil War. The fort was home to as many as 495 soldiers during World War I, but was later abandoned in favor of other nearby installations. Remnants of the fort can still be see on the island today.

Extensive repairs were made at the Dutch Island Lighthouse in 1878. A capacious cistern was built in the cellar of the dwelling and connected to the kitchen, and atop the lighthouse, a lightning rod was installed. A fog-bell operated by machinery was also added to the station that year.

The lighthouse was almost destroyed by fire in 1923, when the mother-in-law of the keeper piled up what was left of the previous year’s crops behind the station and decided it was time to burn them. It was calm when she lit the fire, but a short time later the wind picked up, scattering sparks and igniting a fire in a nearby field. The keeper was away at the time, but his alert wife quickly called for help from nearby Fort Greble.

The few men who were stationed at the fort at the time all raced to the lighthouse to battle the blaze. The wind directed the fire towards a storage building that was soon engulfed in flames and then started to blow towards the lighthouse. The group of volunteer firefighters was finally able to extinguish the fire, although the storage building was a total loss. An investigation concluded that the fire was an accident, and no punitive action was taken.

When the light was automated in 1947, the Fresnel lens was replaced with a 375 mm lens. In the late 1950s, the Coast Guard transferred ownership of the lighthouse to the state of Rhode Island. The keeper’s dwelling was torn down at some point during the early 1960s.

In 1972, the Coast Guard decided to deactivate the light because, as one Coast Guard official wrote, “the light appears to have outlived its usefulness because it was out for a week last month and several days last Fall before someone reported it.” Local mariners and residents protested the announced closure, and the Coast Guard relented and kept the light operational. In 1979 vandals put the light out of commission, and the Coast Guard decided not to incur the expense of repairing the beacon.

In 2000, the lighthouse was leased to the American Lighthouse Foundation, and the Dutch Island Lighthouse Society was established to raise funds to preserve and restore the tower. By July of 2007, the society had raised almost $150,000 and was awarded $120,000 under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. Using $160,000, the society hired Keith Lescarbeau, of Abcore Construction, to stabilize and weatherproof the tower and restore its exterior. Lescarbeau had previously worked on the restoration of the Plum Beach and Rose Island lighthouses and said the Dutch Island tower was structurally “very, very sound." Work on the lighthouse was carried out in late 2007, and thanks to an anonymous donor the tower was activated as a private aid-to-navigation using a battery-powered, solar-charged light. The society is now focusing on securing funds for further restoration of the tower and island and for the establishment of a maintenance endowment.

References

  1. Northeast Lights: Lighthouses and Lightships, Rhode Island to Cape May, New Jersey, Robert Bachand, 1989.
  2. America’s Atlantic Coast Lighthouses, Kenneth Kochel, 1996.

Location: Located on the southern tip of Dutch Island, south of the Jamestown Bridge in the west passage of Narragansett Bay.
Latitude: 41.4967
Longitude: -71.40428

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


Travel Instructions: The Dutch Island Lighthouse is best seen from the water, but a decent view from land is possible by following these directions: From Highway 138 on the eastern side of Conanicut Island, take Canonicus Avenue south 0.9 miles to Narragansett Avenue. Turn right on Narragansett and drive 0.4 miles to S. West Avenue. Turn left on S. West Avenue and follow it to the narrow neck of land, which leads to the second lobe of the island. At this point, the road becomes Beaver Tail Road. Just after the narrow neck, turn right on Fort Getty Road, which will lead to a camping area from which you can view the light. Please note that you may be charged an entrance fee.

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

Access to Dutch Island has been restricted for several years due to collapsed cisterns and exposed bunkers.

The lighthouse is owned by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and managed by the Dutch Island Lighthouse Society. Grounds/tower closed.

Find the closest hotels to Dutch Island Lighthouse

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