|Poplar Point, RI|
Description: Poplar Point Lighthouse is an excellent example of an “integral” lighthouse – that is one in which the light tower is incorporated into the keeper’s living quarters. Integral lighthouses were appealing to their frugal overseer as they cost little more to build than a regular house. The earliest integral lighthouse in the United States was built in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1769.
Quite a few integral lighthouses were built during the early 1800s, but when the Lighthouse Board took over lighthouse administration in the 1850s, it found many of these lights to be inadequate for their purpose, in poor condition, or both. Most of these integral lighthouses were torn down and replaced, usually with taller towers. Only five integral lighthouses remain from the time of Stephen Pleasonton, Fifth Auditor of the Treasury and supervisor of U.S. lighthouses from 1820 to 1852. Besides Poplar Point, the surviving integral lighthouses are Point Lookout Lighthouse and Fishing Battery Lighthouse, both in Maryland, Selkirk Lighthouse on the eastern shore of Lake Ontario in New York state, and East Point Lighthouse in New Jersey. All of these have gone through long periods of neglect except for the Poplar Point Lighthouse, which has been continuously occupied and well preserved throughout its history.
In 1831, Congress approved $3,000 for a navigational beacon at Wickford Harbor, and Poplar Point, at the southern entrance to the harbor, was selected as the site for the lighthouse. Land was purchased from Thomas Albro for $300, Charles Allen was hired to build the lighthouse for $1,889, and Winslow Lewis was contracted to supply the lamps and reflectors for $375.
The octagonal tower was built of wood and attached to the eastern gable of a one-story, rubblestone keeper’s dwelling. Access to the tower, whose interior was initially left unfinished with its studs exposed, was through a small, windowless bedroom, which during the winter, was unlivable as its unlined walls freely admitted cold and snow.
Poplar Point’s first keeper was Samuel Thomas, Jr., who received his appointment in November of 1831 at an annual salary of $350. Lieutenant George M. Bache included the following details on Poplar Point Lighthouse in an 1838 report.
The light is shown from a wooden tower placed over the keeper's dwelling and is elevated 48 feet above high-water mark.The lighting apparatus was replaced in 1855 by a sixth-order steamer lens, still showing a fixed white light.
It seems the Poplar Point Lighthouse did little to help vessels coming through Narragansett Bay’s West Passage, as it was located within a shallow bay two miles from the middle of the channel. The lighthouse did, however, serve as an entrance light for Wickford Harbor, but few ships would attempt to enter Wickford Harbor after dark, instead waiting for daylight at the well-protected anchorage between Dutch and Conanicut Islands.
In 1870, the inside of the tower was finally finished, a dormer window was installed in the attached bedroom, and a partition was put in place to separate the bedroom from the tower. The inside walls of the tower were also finished, and a new lantern with an iron deck was installed.
Poplar Point Lighthouse had a short life. In 1880, Congress appropriated $45,000 for lighthouse on Old Gay Rock at the mouth of Wickford Harbor, just offshore from Poplar Point. When the Wickford Harbor Lighthouse was activated on November 1, 1882, the Poplar Point Lighthouse was discontinued. Keeper Henry F. Sherman, who had been serving at Poplar Point since 1874 was transferred to the Wickford Harbor Lighthouse, where his annual salary remained $480. The Wickford Harbor Lighthouse was torn down in 1930 and replaced by a metal tower. A modern beacon can still be seen on the lighthouse's original pier today.
After Poplar Point was closed, the land and buildings were sold at auction to an Albert R. Sherman of Pawtuxet, RI for $3,944.67. The property has been resold a number of times over the years, mostly being used as a summer home and now a year-round residence. Both the tower and the dwelling are well preserved, although various owners have added to it over the years and altered its original appearance. The Poplar Point Lighthouse is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Located on Poplar Point, at the southern side of the entrance to Wickford Harbor from Narragansett Bay. The lighthouse is privately owned. Grounds/dwelling/tower closed.
The lighthouse is privately owned. Grounds/dwelling/tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.