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 Pomham Rocks, RI    
Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.
Description: Pomham Rocks Lighthouse (also known as Pomham Rock and Pumham Rocks) is located on a large rock on the east side of the Providence River. The square, two-story, wood-framed keeper’s residence has a mansard roof with the tower and lantern rising from the center front of the house. The eight-room building is very similar in design to the now-gone Sabin Point Lighthouse in Rhode Island, as well as Vermont’s Colchester Reef. The tower may appear to be hexagonal due to the beveled corners on its upper part, but it is actually square. The window frames on the upper story have Victorian-influenced scrolling. The lantern room was reached by a wooden stepladder in the second-floor watch room. The small, separate stone building also found on the rock is the station’s oil house.

Aerial view of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
The forty-foot-tall lighthouse went into operation on December 1, 1871 with a sixth-order Fresnel lens showing a fixed red light at a height of sixty-nine feet above the water. The first keeper was C.H. Salisbury. In 1872, his wife Mary applied for an appointment as assistant keeper, but was turned down. When her husband died in 1893, she was appointed as acting keeper, but only held that post for a few months.

Although the Pomham Rocks Lighthouse was less than a mile from shore, it had few of the comforts and amenities that mainland residents already took for granted at that time. There was no electricity, telephone, or running water at the station. The only light came from oil lamps, and for water, rain was collected from the roof and stored in a brick and concrete cistern. The Coast Guard finally brought electric power to the lighthouse in the 1950s.

The short trip from the lighthouse to shore was still difficult at times. In the middle of the winter, the river was frozen solid and the trip could easily be made on foot. At other times, the ice was too thin to walk on, so the keeper had to get into his small rowboat and laboriously cut his way through the ice.

When Keeper Adolph Aronson’s wife suffering from appendicitis, she was too ill to be moved in a small boat, so the doctor and his staff came out to the station and performed the emergency surgery right in the lighthouse. Typical leisure time for the Aronsons included reading and playing the piano. The piano had been brought to the station aboard a schooner - suspended above the ship’s deck, using lines tied between the two masts. When the ship pulled up next to Pomham Rocks, the crew shifted weight to one side, tipping the boat over far enough to lower the piano to the ground.

In 1900, a new fog signal was installed, but its noise was extremely bothersome to nearby residents. A local newspaper ran a headline reading, “THE GREATEST NUISANCE IN THE HISTORY OF THE STATE.” The text of the article said that the signal had “a sound to make the flesh creep, indescribably lonesome and cheerless, creepy and dreary.” Besides the annoyance it caused the sleep-deprived locals, many ship captains and pilots felt that the signal’s uninterrupted blast made it difficult to find the lighthouse in the fog. Others voiced resentment at what they considered unnecessary control by remote bureaucrats in the nation’s capital. One man was quoted as saying “It beats the dutch how that Light House Board, sitting in Washington, and considered the fattest snap [with the most influence] in the navy, can tell what is best for the mariners and residents of Narragansett Bay, better than they can tell themselves.”

Some urged installation of a fog bell as a replacement, but since a bell was already in place at the nearby Sabine Point Light, it was feared a second bell would cause confusion to mariners. Finally, the characteristic of the Pomham signal was changed to a three-second interval followed by twelve seconds of silence. Three years later, the fog siren was replaced by a bell after all.

In 1939, the light was upgraded through the installation of a fourth-order lens. This lens was removed in 1974, and is now located at the Custom House Maritime Museum in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Pomham Rocks Lighthouse was retired in 1974, replaced by a skeleton tower, which continues to show a fixed red light to mariners. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In 1980, the lighthouse and grounds were put up for public auction, with the high bid of $40,100 coming from the Mobil Oil Company (now Exxon Mobil), which had a terminal nearby. A resident caretaker employed by Mobil lived on site to maintain the historic property.

In 2005, Exxon Mobil leased the structure to the American Lighthouse Foundation and Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse. The corporation also generously donated $50,000 towards the lighthouse’s restoration. Abcore Restoration Company, who had recently completed an overhaul of Rhode Island’s Plum Beach Lighthouse, was contracted to implement the restoration plans that include installing a new roof, rebuilding the chimney, restoring the siding, and repairing water damage to the framing and rafters. The lighthouse was re-lit in 2006 after the restoration was complete.

Recognizing the dedicated efforts of the Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse, Exxon Mobil donated the lighthouse to the support group, and a private ceremony to celebrate the transfer was held on April 17, 2010.

Photo Gallery: 1 2 3

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 on a small rocky island on the east side of the Providence River, just north of Riverside.
Latitude: 41.77763
Longitude: -71.36946

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


Travel Instructions: The land on the east side of the Providence River with the best views of the lighthouse is part of the East Providence Pollution Control Facility. We stopped at the facility and received permission to enter the grounds to photograph the lighthouse. To reach the facility, take Highway 103 to Riverside, and then go south on Bullocks Point Avenue. Turn right on Crest Avenue to reach the water treatment plant.

If you would like a nice walk, proceed further south on Bullocks Point Avenue to Washington Avenue. At that intersection, there is a parking lot for the East Bay Bicycle Path. The path is open to walkers as well as bikers and extends from Providence to Bristol. Views of the lighthouse can be had by walking north on the bike path for about a quarter mile. You can also get a fair view of the lighthouse from the Stone Gate Apartments on Bullocks Point Avenue.

A Fresnel lens used in the Pomham Rocks Lighthouse is on display at the Custom House Maritime Museum in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

The lighthouse is owned by the Exxon Mobil Corporation and is leased to the American Lighthouse Foundation. Grounds/dwelling/tower closed.

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