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 Hog Island Shoal, RI    
Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.Privately owned, no access without permission.
Description: Hog Island is about 200 acres in size with a length of 1.5 miles and a width of three-quarters of a mile. The early settlers of Newport found the island, and others nearby, convenient for livestock, as the animals could not wander afar, no fences were necessary, and natural predators like wolves and foxes could not reach the island. Hogs were regularly kept on the small island, giving rise to the islands now common name.

Hog Island lies off Bristol Township and is situated just north of the passage leading from Narragansett Bay to Mount Hope Bay. The Bristol Ferry Lighthouse, completed in 1855, marked the narrow passageway, but a dangerous reef, extending south from Hog Island to the main shipping channel, was also a threat to ferries and other vessels transiting between the two bays.

The Old Colony Steamship Company placed a private light-boat near Hog Island to protect their own interests, but the vessel’s light was so dim that it was only visible during good weather, and therefore basically useless. The Lighthouse Board informed Congress in 1869 that if it saw “fit to relieve this company of this unusual expense, which it incurs for the benefit of others as well as for itself, by authorizing the building of a light-house with a protecting pier, in about six feet of water on the reef, the estimated cost would be forty-five thousand dollars.”

The board’s request for a lighthouse was not funded, so in 1885 Congress was asked to approve the transfer of the Eel Grass Shoal Lightship, made unnecessary by the completion of the Latimer Reef Lighthouse at the east end of Fishers Island Sound, to Hog Island. With Congress’ blessing, the ship was towed to Hog Island and renamed Hog Island (later to be known as LV 12 when the Lighthouse Board started numbering its lightships). Built in 1846, the lightship was a seventy-two-foot-long wooden schooner built from white oak and locust with two masts. The ship displayed a single lantern on its foremast, showing eight oil lamps with reflectors. Before making its way to Eel Shoal and then Hog Island, the lightship had previously served at York Spit, Virginia, Wolf Trap Shoal, Virginia, and Cornfield Point, Connecticut.

Hog Island Shoal Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
In 1889, the ship developed serious leaks in its wooden hull and was temporarily removed for repairs. Over the next few years, it became obvious that the aging ship was “structurally weak from general decay, induced by her old age, and that she is completely beyond economical repair.” The cost of building a new lightship was estimated to be $70,000 and that amount was requested from Congress in 1891. After repeating the request for a new lightship, the board switched tactics in 1896 and asked for $35,000 for a lighthouse at Hog Island instead. The old lightship had to be patched up each year until funds were finally provided for the lighthouse in 1899.

Construction on the Hog Island Shoal Lighthouse began during the summer of 1901, and LV 12 remained on duty while the lighthouse was being built. On July 12 of 1901, the lighthouse tender Cactus pulled up alongside the lightship to deliver supplies. A ship’s officer boarded the lightship and asked for Keeper William Wallin. When Wallin appeared, he was obviously drunk. “I accused him of it,” wrote Lt. Spencer Wood, “and he said he had only been drinking tea; after a few questions I ordered him to go below.” After a proper investigation, Keeper Wallin was dismissed from lighthouse service.

Regulations against drinking on duty and other infractions by lighthouse keepers were strictly enforced from the beginning of the lighthouse service. As early as 1806, President Thomas Jefferson had written, “I think the keepers of light houses should be dismissed for small degrees of remissness, because of the calamities which even these produce.” The Hog Island Shoal Lighthouse began service in 1901, and LV 12 was sold at auction two years later for $360.

The light station’s caisson-supported structure is similar to a number of other “coffee pot” or “spark plug” lighthouses built between 1871 and 1915. This type of lighthouse, usually built in an offshore location, typically sits on a cast-iron caisson foundation. However, a different technique was tried when building the Hog Island Shoal Light and another light nearby at Plum Creek. Instead of dropping the foundation into place (with a floating crane, usually) and then pumping the water out of the caisson’s interior, pneumatics were used to pressurize the bottom ring of the foundation to give workers a relatively dry work area. As muck and silt were removed from the seabed by the men in the pressurized compartment, the caisson naturally settled into place on the bedrock. 1,500 tons of riprap were placed around the base of the tower as part of the construction contract.

The new tower at Hog Island Shoal sat at the entrance to Mount Hope Bay and was sixty feet tall with five decks. The first deck, surrounded by a covered gallery, served as the station's galley. The second and third decks housed living quarters, the fourth deck a work and storage area, and the fifth deck held the lantern. The original optic was a fifth-order Fresnel lens, replaced in 1903 by a fourth-order lens.

The Hog Island Shoal Lighthouse is listed in the National Register of Historical Places and remains an active aid to navigation, showing a flashing white light with an interval of six seconds. The station, which has been automated since 1964, was renovated by the Coast Guard in 1995.

In 2004, the General Services Administration announced that the Hog Island Shoal Lighthouse was available under the provisions of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. Qualified parties were required to prove that they could maintain the structure, as well as offer public access to the lighthouse. When no qualified recipient was found, the lighthouse was placed on the auction block on May 23, 2006. The winning bidders, Jon and Juli Chytka of South Dakota, paid $165,000 and will need to negotiate a "submerged lands" lease with the state Coastal Resources Management Council. Juli placed the winning bid from a cafe in Paris, France. Her husband, a lieutenant colonel in the Army was deployed in Iraq at the time. As the property is on the National Register of Historic Places, the new owners must adhere to strict guidelines in any restorative work.

Photo Gallery: 1

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 Keeper’s Log, Spring 2005.

Location: Located just south of Hog Island and Bristol Harbor.
Latitude: 41.63235
Longitude: -71.27318

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


Travel Instructions: The light is best viewed from the water, but reasonable views can be had from the Mount Hope Bridge on Highway 114. Distant views are possible from the Prudence Island - Bristol Ferry. For a ferry schedule, call (401) 253-9808.

The lighthouse is privately owned. Tower closed.

Find the closest hotels to Hog Island Shoal Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
Not far from the Hog Island Shoal Lighthouse is found the old foundation for the Musselbed Shoals Lighthouse, which was activated in 1873.

See our List of Lighthouses in Rhode Island

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