Although illness has kept me land-bound this summer I’ve made the point to keep most of my adventures close to the water. This was especially true of a recent weekend escape to Newport, RI where my girlfriend and I spent an afternoon exploring some of the area’s more fabled lighthouses. Newport, RI certainly boasts its fair share of historic lighthouses. There are four within the city limits alone (Castle Hill, Lime Rock, Goat Island, and Rose Island) and close to a dozen if you include those stationed in the surrounding villages and towns. We were lucky enough to visit three during our trip and here is what we learned:
Beavertail Lighthouse, Jamestown, RI
Our first stop was at the historic Beavertail Lighthouse in Jamestown, RI. (Granted, this lighthouse is not in Newport but it was in the close vicinity and hard to pass up!) Beavertail Lighthouse was established in 1749 at Beavertail Point on the southern tip of Conanicut Island (Jamestown). How did this lighthouse get its name you ask? Well, if you were to look down on the southern half of Conanicut Island from space then you’d see the rough outline of a beaver with the lighthouse sitting on the tip of its tail! It was the 3rd lighthouse to be built in the American colonies after Boston Harbor Light (1716) and Nantucket’s Brant Point Light (1746). This lighthouse serves to mark both the east and west entrances to Narragansett Bay and to keep mariners off the rocks at Beavertail.
Originally the land on which the lighthouse sits at Beavertail was owned by the great grandfather of Benedict Arnold. However, when the lighthouse was first built in 1749, the population of Jamestown was dominated by native Narragansetts who would naturally become the first keepers of the light. The original, circular tower stood 69 ft tall and was designed by the renowned Newport architect Peter Harrison. The present lighthouse was built in 1865 and sits back 100ft inland of its original location. It consists of a 45ft tall, white, square tower built of granite blocks. Beavertail Lighthouse remains an active aid to navigation maintained by the US Coast Guard (3rd oldest still remaining in operation behind Sandy Hook, NJ, 1764 and Boston Harbor, rebuild in 1784). The light utilizes a modern optic that flashes a white beam every 6 seconds.
Castle Hill Lighthouse, Newport, RI
We stumbled across the next lighthouse on our list during our mid-afternoon tour of Ocean Drive in Newport. Castle Hill, the western-most point in Newport, served as the site of a watchtower was early as 1740. Discussion about building a permanent lighthouse began in 1869 but building was stalled by a land ownership dispute. Alexander Agassiz owned a summer home on the Castle Hill property and denied the government an easement to the lighthouse site until 1889 when he finally folded and sold a right of way for land-based construction. The lighthouse, designed by HH Richardson, was completed a year later in 1890.
Castel Hill Lighthouse continues to mark the rocks along the east passage of Narragansett Bay on the approach to Newport Harbor. The light is now automated to blink red for three seconds and the land is now maintained by the Castel Hill Inn and Resort. Right of way is granted to the public via an ocean-side path that starts at the southern end of the Resort parking lot. It’s definitely worth checking out as the vista offers panoramic views of Narragansett Bay. Meaghan and I discovered a pair of lawn chairs on the rocks next to the lighthouse where we watched as dozens of sailboats make their way through the bay!
Lime Rock (Ida Lewis) Lighthouse, Newport, RI
The last lighthouse on our Newport Lighthouse tour was the Lime Rock Lighthouse in Newport’s Inner Harbor. Lime Rock Light, later dedicated Ida Lewis Light, stands as a memorial to the most celebrated lighthouse keeper in American history! Idawalley Zoradia Lewis was the daughter of the original keeper of Lime Rock Light and took over keeper responsibilities at the age of 16 after her father suffered a stroke. As a young girl, she was touted as being one of the strongest rowers and swimmers in Newport! Her record as a lifesaver leaves little doubt to her athletic accolades as she was officially credited with saving 18 lives in service of Lime Rock Light (although she may have actually saved upwards of 35 lives). Her most notable rescue involved saving two soldiers from drowning in frigid waters after their rowboat capsized in March 1869. This earned her a gold congressional medal for lifesaving and secured her place in American lifesaving lore!
The original lighthouse was built in 1857 on the largest of the Lime Rocks located 900ft from the southern shores of Newport Inner Harbor. The tower consisted of a narrow brick column attached to the keepers house which held a small lantern in the a second story alcove. The “lighthouse” is now home to the Ida Lewis Yacht Club which services the lantern in the original tower from May through October. Meaghan and I were lucky enough to get a tour of the property from the club’s bar tender; another example of how a good camera can make you look official!!!
Location: Jamestown and Newport, RI
Highlights: Flying kites at Beavertail State Park, Panoramic views at Castle Hill, Watching the sailboats from Lime Rock, Ocean Drive
Good Eats: Lucia Italian Restaurant (Gluten Free options), 186 Thames Street Newport, RI
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