Lighting the Way
Historic Lighthouses of Newport Harbor
On a balmy summer afternoon the harbor is filled with pleasure craft of all types and sizes. The flow of traffic streams in and out of small inlets and coves creating a texture of waves for those to navigate their vessels. Sailboats showing all the colors of a rainbow move slowly across the waters only dictated by the winds as they show off their beauty. Power boats motor on a course dictated by the depths of the ocean floor and the proximity of other vessels.
Historically, these waters of Newport Harbor and Rhode Island Sound were navigated by the Indians and first settlers who found Newport to have an excellent harbor for island inhabitants. The island with its rocky cliffs, spectacular views of the ocean and ideal conditions for sailing and fishing has a celebrated history of commercial fishing and as a summer resort.
In the early days many ships went aground thus the birth of the lighthouse as an aid to navigation.
One of the first lighthouses that one may see if returning from the sound is Beavertail Lighthouse. As the third lighthouse built in Colonial America, the 58 foot wooden tower was built in 1749. It was rebuilt in 1754 after a fire the year before. Built of brick and rubble this tower too was set afire by the British in 1779. The heat of the fire warped the masonry but repairs were again made keeping the tower in service. In 1851 a foghorn was powered by compressed air, using a horse tethered to a revolving walker to pump air into a tank. The present day Beavertail Light is made of composed granite and was completed in 1856. Known as the red roofs, this lighthouse serves to direct a mariner into the waters of the west passage.
Coming into the harbor is Castle Hill Light built in 1890 into the rock crevices and boasting a height of 40 feet above the waters surface. This 34 foot tower stands at the west end of Newport Neck. Its style is of Richardsonian Romanesque. In 1938 a hurricane destroyed the associated dwellings. There are stories of the area as being haunted by ghosts. But as it turned out the keepers’ wife had a habit of going for walks on hot summer nights in her white nightgown.
Motoring past Fort Adams a once flashing white light on Goat Island is known as Newport Light. The first lighthouse was completed in 1823 at the south end of Goat Island, a 20 foot tall stone tower. This lighthouse confused many a sailor and ships were wrecked on the north end of Goat Island. In 1838 the light was moved to the north end of the island. In 1865 a new tower replaced the old standing 38 feet tall and made of hewn granite. In 1922 an American submarine rammed the pier and personal were withdrawn. The light was electrified and renovated by the USCG in 1963. Today is has a steady green light and welcomes all from the north.
Located in inner Newport Harbor is Lime Rock Light, known today as Ida Lewis Rock Light built in 1854. The light was first lit in 1854 and then automated in 1927. Made of brick the tower height is 13 feet and is square in shape, attached to the side of a building. Ida Lewis born in Newport and the daughter of the light keeper was said to have saved sixteen sailors one foggy night as the light keeper, her father ill. She was astonishingly a very young age at the time and has become famous as a result of her bravery.
On the rocks close to Rose Island, winter seals congregate after a lively swim in the harbor. Rose Island is a tiny island in Newport Harbor. Rose Island Light built in 1870 at a height of 50 feet was considered strategically located and aided in the defense of Narragansett Bay during the 18th century. The lighthouse is located on the south west point of Rose Island and was deactivated in 1971 and turned over to the University of Rhode Island who were unable to maintain the property. It was then turned over to the federal government for disposal. In 1984 a group of concerned citizens formed the Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation, which restored the structure. Today the foundation is alive and active functioning as a museum and Innkeeper Hotel with its house reserved a few years in advance.
Now, each of the harbor lighthouses in unspoiled condition is used by many a mariner as an aid to navigate Newport Harbor waters as those who previously plotted a course navigating the waters. Aquidneck Island known by the Indians as “Isle of Peace,” is today known as a summer resort.