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Dutch Island Lighthouse

Dutch Island Lighthouse
Courtesy of Coast Guard Historian's Office

Location: Southern tip of Dutch Island
Location: 1826 - presentl Lat 41 29 48 N - Long 71 24 15 W
Established: 1826
Original Lighthouse Constructed: 1826
Current Lighthouse Constructed: 1857
Deactivated: 1979 - 2007
Original Illuminating Apparatus: Eight lamps and reflectors (1826)
Second Illuminating Apparatus: Fourth Order Fresnel lens (1857)
Third Illuminating Apparatus: 375mm lens (1947)
Current Illuminating Apparatus: Solar Powered Beacon (2007)
Height:30 feet 1826 - 1857
Height:42 feet 1857 - Present
Status: Restored/Private Aid To Navigation
Light Characteristic: Fixed White (1906)
Light Characteristic: Occulting Red every 10 second (1940)
Light Characteristic: Flashing Red every 10 second (1950)
Light Characteristic: Flashing Red every 6 second (1979)
Light Characteristic: None (2005)
Light Characteristic: Flashing Red every 6 second (2007)
Range: 12 miles (1906)
Range: 9 miles (1925)
Range: 13 miles (1940)
Range: 12 miles (1950)
Range: 6 miles (1979)
Range: None (2005)
Range: 3 miles (2007)
Fog Signal: Bell Struck By Machinery (1912)
Fog Signal Characteristic: Bell Struck 1 Times (1912)
Fog Signal Characteristic: Silent for 15 Seconds
Fog Signal Characteristic: Bell Struck 1 Times
Fog Signal Characteristic: Silent for 15 Seconds

The first Dutch Island Lighthouse, a four room keeper's dwelling with the light on the roof, was built on the southern end of the island in 1826. It was built of slate and other stones found on the island. An ad was printed in the April 29, 1826 edition of the Providence Patriot seeking proposals to build the first Dutch Island Lighthouse. It goes into great detail about the dwelling house. It included its dimesions, how many floors, how many windows, and the materials used to build it. The lantern was located in the center of the lighthouse like the 1837 Mayo Beach Lighthouse in Massachusetts.

After thirty years in service the light needed major repairs. In the Lighthouse Board's 1855 annual report, the condition of the lantern and tower were described as "extremely bad." The report recommended that "the lantern, illuminating apparatus, and stairs of the tower, if not the tower itself, should be rebuilt."

A new tower and keeper's dwelling was built in 1857. A temporary light was placed on the island during the demolition of the old lighthouse and the consrtuction of the new tower and keeper's dwelling. A fourth order Fresnel lens was installed in the new tower.

On November 18, 1875, the Robin, a 210 ton schooner, was transporting a cargo of coal from Weehawken, New Jeresy to New Bedford, Massachusett. While trying to put into Dutch Harbor to avoid bad weather, she hit Whale Rock and went down in less than five minutes. The four man crew got into a small boat and screamed for help. George W. Fife, Dutch Island Lighthouse's keeper, heard their cries for help. He went out and brought them back to the lighthouse. They stayed at the lighthouse for a couple of days until they were taken to Newport. The crew sent the following letter to Chairman of the Lighthouse Board:

"Sir: I have the honor to report to you the gratitude that we, the undersigned feel for the kindness we have received from Geo. W. Fife, keeper of Dutch Island light-house. My vessel was lost on the night of the 18th, on Whale Rock, mouth of Narragansett bay, atwhich time we fell into the hands of Mr. Fife, who has treated myself and crew with kindness, and we cannot speak too highly of his humanity. We have been stopping at his house until this date, for which we are unable to pay, but we leave him our sincere thanks, and we trust that his noble-heartedness will mentioned throught you to the Light-house Board. In him we feel you have a faithful servant.
Very respectfully yours J.F. WARREN
Late Master Schr. Rabin, Millbridge, Me.

The Seaboard a freighter with the Joy Line, was traveling from New York to Boston on January 21, 1903. She ran into a storm off Point Judith. The Seaboard's captain decided to put into Dutch Island Harbor and wait it out. The ship entered the west passage of Narragansett Bay. There was heavy fog in the bay. She moved up the bay at half speed but the incoming tide was moving it very fast. Dutch Island lighthouse suddenly appeared out the fog. The Seaboard was headed straight for the lighthouse. The people in the pilot house thought the ship was going ram into the lighthouse and destroy it. The ship slammed into the rocks in front of the lighthouse. The rocks slowed the ship to a stop just thirty feet from the lighthouse.

Captain Wilcox of Edgemont made a complaint to the government about Albert H. Porter, Dutch Island Lighthouse's keeper in September 1908. The captain claimed as the ship was sailing up the west passage, on September 22, the light at the lighthouse was not on. He turned the ship's searchlight on and pointed it at the lighthouse, hoping to wake the keeper up if he was sleeping. He said he didn't want to make trouble for anyone "but the importance of this light renders it necessary that it be burning all the time during the night ...".

Dutch Island Lighthouse's light was extinguished during World War II. This was done so it couldn't be used as an aid to navigation by German U-boats.

Dutch Island lighthouse was automated in July 16, 1947. The light was converted from kerosene vapor to an electrical light. The new light was powered by batteries. The fourth order Fresnel lens was replaced with a 375mm lens. The light's fogbell was replaced with a gong buoy. Seaman first class Olin T. Knight, the light's last keeper, was transferred to Castle Hill after the light was automated. The keeper's dwelling was later torn down.

In 1949 Dutch Island Light was put in danger by the U.S. Navy. In February they announced Dutch Island was going to be used as a bombing range. The Navy plan called for north to south or south to north runs on ground target, to be marked with blocks or stones in the center of the island. The Navy was not going to use real bombs or large dummy bombs, but two pound four ounce or four eight ounce smoke bombs. Even this small object, when dropped from a thousand feet will be traveling at over 150 miles per hours when it hit the ground. If a pilot missed his target and hit the lighthouse it would damage it. The bombing was stopped from May 15 to September 15. It resumed in November and continued to May 1950. I'm unsure if it continued after that.

In 1972 the Coast Guard wanted to close the light. Captain B.E. Thompson said, "the light appears to have outlived its usefulness because it was out for a week last month and several days last fall before someone reported it." After local residents and boaters protested the closing, the Coast Guard decided not to close it.

Vandalism was big problem for Dutch Island Light in the late 1970's. It cost over $7,000 to repair the light in 1976 and 1977. Vandals used a welding torch to cut the door, smashed the door in and stool light bulbs. The light remained in service until 1979, when vandals damaged it again. The Coast Guard didn't repair it.

In April 2000 the Coast Guard leased the light to the American Lighthouse Foundation. A local chapter of ALF, the Dutch Island Lighthouse Society, was founded to preserve and restore the lighthouse.

In 2007 after years of fundraising by Dutch Island Lighthouse Society and a $120,000 grant from the Rhode Island Department of Transportion, restoration started on the lighthouse. The work was done by Abcore Restoration of Narragansett, Rhode Island.

A solar powered beacon was installed in the restored Dutch Island Lighthouse. It was paid for an anonymous donation. On November 17, 2007, just after 7:00 PM, the lighthouse was relighthed

Dutch Island Lighthouse in 1900
Dutch Island Lighthouse
 Courtesy of N.L. Stebbins

For information on the Dutch Island Lighthouse Society, contact:

Dutch Island Lighthouse Society
P.O. Box 435
Saunderstown, RI 02874

Updated 6/15/2015