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 Bristol Ferry, RI    
Lighthouse accessible by car and a short, easy walk.Privately owned, no access without permission.
Description: The Bristol Ferry Lighthouse is located in Bristol Township under the Mount Hope River Bridge, which crosses the narrow passage linking Narragansett Bay and Mount Hope Bay. It has been retired since 1930, when the opening of the bridge made the lighthouse redundant. The structure is similar in design to the Nayatt Point lighthouse, also in Rhode Island, as well as the Sand Point Lighthouse in Escanaba, Michigan.

The passage in front of the lighthouse was notorious among mariners, who pleaded for the establishment of at least one lighthouse there. Local ship captain William Brown argued eloquently in an 1853 letter to the Lighthouse Board, “Those of us who have to pass through this strait on dark and stormy nights, or else are brought to a stand in the attempt to grope our way through, realize that, as it is now, we are subjected frequently to a responsibility more weighty than to be placed on any one.” Captain Brown went on to explain that although his employer, the Old Colony Steamboat Company, had established a lighted wooden tower there in 1846, this private light did not have the necessary elevation or brightness to help one safely navigate the channel.

Bristol Ferry Lighthouse in 1884
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
The strait was only about six hundred yards long, but coming through from Narragansett Bay was especially treacherous, due to Hog Island Shoal protruding one thousand yards into the passage on one side and Musselbed Shoals extending from the opposite shore one quarter of a mile further into the passage. (Both of these hazards would eventually have lighthouses placed on them.) Brown concluded, “There is probably no locality in the country, certainly none within my knowledge, where a lighthouse is so needed.” Congress responded to Captain Brown’s impassioned plea and approved $1,500 in 1854 for a lighthouse at Bristol Ferry.

The lighthouse consisted of a keeper’s house with an attached 28-foot tall tower, both made of brick. The tower was topped with a wooden deck and lantern. The front door of the house opened to a narrow hall with stairs leading to the second floor. To the right was a small (6x6) room directly below the tower. To the left was a sitting room that led to the dining room, and then to the kitchen. There were three bedrooms upstairs.

When the new station opened on October 4, 1855, its beacon was a sixth-order lens that exhibited the light from a whale oil powered lamp through an arc of 220°. This was replaced in 1902 by a fifth-order Fresnel lens powered by electricity producing an omnidirectional fixed white light at a height of thirty-five feet above the water.

The first keeper at Bristol Ferry was George Pearse, who had sold the property for the lighthouse to the government for $100. He apparently didn’t fancy his new occupation, as two months later Henry Dimon became keeper. Dimon had a short tenure at the lighthouse as well, dying less than a year after taking the position. His widow, Elizabeth, assumed responsibility for the light, but the only female keeper to work at Bristol Ferry Lighthouse served an even shorter time than her late husband, dying within six months.

Bristol Ferry Lighthouse in 1917
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
In 1916, the original wooden tower and lantern were found to be rotten and not worth repairing, so a cast-iron lantern was brought from the retired Roundout Lighthouse on the Hudson River. The tower was raised six feet when the new lantern room was added.

The Bristol Ferry Lighthouse sat in a small depression that caused it to flood during storms almost every year. In 1917, a keeper named Baldwin wrote in his logbook: “NE to SSE gale. Heavy seas and high tide flooded station throughout the ground floor, 2-3 inches in depth, washed bulkheads and walks away.” After that incident, inspectors from the Lighthouse Service visited the station and recommended that the floors be raised a foot and drainage in the area be improved. A month later, before any of the improvements could be made, the station was again flooded. Baldwin wrote in his logbook: “Station surrounded by water from rain flowing into the pond, causing a back up to surround the station. Cistern filled with water which made it unfit for use.” Funds were allocated to relieve the situation, but it is unknown whether the floors were ever raised.

In 1927, while the Mount Hope River Bridge was being built above it, the Bristol Ferry light was retired. An offshore steel tower temporarily took over navigational warning duties for the next three years, but was also retired when the bridge was finished. In 1929, the lighthouse (with the lantern removed) was put up for public auction by the Lighthouse Service, and sold to a local resident named Anna Santulli for a high bid of $2,050. This was much less than the property’s assessed value of $3,900, but the Lighthouse Service had heavily advertised the auction, and apparently felt that further advertising was not likely to bring any significantly higher bidding.

After falling into disrepair following years of neglect, new owners refurbished the old lighthouse during the early 1990s, putting a new mahogany lantern on the tower. In 1999, the station was put up for sale with an asking price of $469,000. The lighthouse, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, remains a private residence today and is not open to the public.

Photo Gallery: 1 2

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.

Location: Located under the northern end of the Mount Hope Bridge, on a point where Mount Hope Bay and Narragansett Bay meet.
Latitude: 41.64288
Longitude: -71.26028

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


Travel Instructions: From the northern end of the Mount Hope Bridge, take Old Ferry Road down to the foot of the bridge where you will see the lighthouse, now a private residence.

The lighthouse is privately owned. Grounds/dwelling/tower closed.

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