Rhode Island Lighthouses

Pomham Rocks Lighthouse

Pomham Rocks Lighthouse
 © 2004 R. Holmes 

Location: East Side of Providence River
Location: 1871 - presentL Lat 41 46 39 N - Long 71 22 10.39 W
Established: 1871

Lighthouse Constructed: 1871
Deactivated: 1974 - 2006
Reactivated: 2006
Original Illuminating Apparatus: Six-Order Fresnel lens
Second Illuminating Apparatus: Fourth Order Fresnel Lens (1935)
Third Illuminating Apparatus: 250-mm lens (2006 - 2017)
Current Illuminating Apparatus: VLB-44 (LED)
Height: Lighthouse: 40 feet (1906)
Height: Skeleton tower: 20 feet (1974 -2006)
Status: Private Aid To Navigation/Owned by American Lighthouse Foundation
Light Characteristic: Lighthouse: Fixed Red (1906) (2006 - Present)

Light Characteristic: Skeleton tower: Fixed Red (1974 - 2006)
Range: Lighthouse: 7½ miles (1906)
Range:lighthouse: 6 miles (1925)
Range:lighthouse: 12 miles (1935)
Range:lighthouse: 14 miles (1952)
Range:lighthouse: 6 miles (2006)
Range: Skeleton tower: 6 miles (1974 - 2006)
Fog Signal: Bell Struck By Machinery (1912)
Fog Signal Characteristic: Bell Struck 1 Times (1912)
Fog Signal Characteristic: Silent for 2.5 Seconds
Fog Signal Characteristic: Bell Struck 1 Times
Fog Signal Characteristic: Silent for 17.5 Seconds

Fog Signal Characteristic: Bell Struck 2 Times (1952)
Fog Signal Characteristic: Silent for 20 Seconds
Fog Signal Characteristic: Bell Struck 2 Times
Fog Signal Characteristic: Silent for 20 Seconds
Location: Established: Lighthouse Constructed: Deactivated: Reactivated: Original Illuminating Apparatus: Second Illuminating Apparatus: Third Illuminating Apparatus: Current Illuminating Apparatus: Height: Status: Light Characteristic: Range: Fog Signal: Fog Signal Characteristic:

Pomham Rocks lighthouse was built in 1871 on a large rock on the East Side of the Providence River. The two story wooden keeper's dwelling has a light tower attached to the roof. On December 1, just before sunset, the light's first keeper, C.H. Salisbury, climbed into the lantern room for the first time and lit the Sixth Order Fresnel lens for the first time. He remained at the light until his death in 1893.

Mary Salisbury, C.H. Salisbury's widow, was appointed the new keeper on May 25, 1893, She didn't serve long. She resigned within six months. She was replaced by Nathaniel Dodge in November 1893.

Pomham Rocks Lighthouse's first fog signal was established on June 30, 1900. It was a blower siren, powered by a two and a half horsepower oil engine, with a continuous blast. There were complaints about it almost immediately from captains and pilots using Narragansett Bay. The neighbors around the lighthouse also complained about the siren.

On March 16, 1901 seventy-five percent of all the captains and pilots in Narragansett Bay signed three petitions for removal of the siren and replacing it with a mechanical bell. They felt the siren was worse than nothing because its sound was deceiving. The petitions were send to Rhode Island's U.S Senator Nelson W. Aldrich and U.S. Representative Melville Bull. They forwarded the petitions to the lighthouse board.

At the Lighthouse Board's next meeting on April 1, 1901, they discussed the matter. They decided the siren should stay. The nearby Sabin Point Lighthouse had a fog bell. They felt in the fog, captains might confuse the lighthouses. The Board changed the fog signal's characteristic from a continuous blast to a three seconds blast followed by twelve seconds of silence.

Residents Want Siren Removed
Residents Want Siren Removed
The Boston Globe(Boston, MA) - March 20, 1901 

This didn't solve the problem. The neighbors around the Pomham Rocks Lighthouse were still unhappy. They complained the noise was nerve racking. Families had moved out of their houses because of the sound. It was causing people to lose sleep and some to get sick. Congressman Bull kept after the Lighthouse Board about the siren. In March 1902, the Board gave in and decided to replace it with a fog bell. The fog bell went into operation on October 1, 1902.

Adolf H. Aronson was appointed keeper in 1908 and remained at the lighthouse until 1937. Maintaining Pomham Rocks Lighthouse required a lot of work. In one man lighthouses the keeper's wife would often be the light's unofficial assistant keeper. In a 1950 letter to a congressman requesting benefits for lighthouse keeper's widows, Nille Aronson, Adolf's wife described different jobs she did at the lighthouse. One of her jobs was to wind and maintain the lighthouse's fog bell. She wrote the following statement about it in her letter.

"One thing I had to learn was how to take care of the fog signal, which was a large bell struck by machinery—double blow every 20 seconds. It has to be wound by hand—or did in those days."
"I can assure you, sir, that winding a fog signal and winding a clock are entirely different. It was hard work—manual labor. When something went wrong with the machinery, and it often did, I'd have to pick up a heavy sledge hammer and ring the bell that way —every 20 seconds."

Adolf was a tough and resilient keeper. He was injured in an accident traveling between the lighthouse and shore. One of his feet was amputated. He returned to work at the lighthouse after a two months sick leave.

Adolf and his family had a pet cat named Tommy. The cat had an unusual talent. He liked to fish. Tommy would sit on a rock at the water's edge and wait for a fish. When he saw one, he would jump into the water and bite into it. He would bring it back to shore and hide it under a lilac bush until he had enough fish to eat.

Pomham Rocks Lighthouse is 1000 feet from East Providence. Traveling between the lighthouse and shore was difficult because of the currents around the island. In the winter of 1939 the water surrounding the lighthouse froze up. Keeper William Howard and his family were stationed at the lighthouse. His wife needed to go ashore to get supplies. It required a lot of work. The ice surrounding the Pomham Rocks was too thin to walk on and too thick for a boat to row through. Howard worked three days to chop a path wide enough to get the boat through. He rowed his wife to shore. To get off the boat, a ladder was stretched from the boat to the land. She crawled across the ladder to the land. The next day she went back to the lighthouse. She was lifted off the boat in a boatswain's chair. The supplies were hauled up after her.

Howard also had to maintain Fuller Rock Light. He had to travel to it in all kinds of weather. During what the Providence Evening Bulletin called a "howling westerly gale", the light went out. He cut his way through a frozen Providence River to relight it.

Howard called Pomham Rocks his Little Alcatraz. He retired in 1951 and was glad to leave it. In a December 10, 1951 United Press article he stated why.

He says there are three reasons he's glad to leave. When the lighthouse was established 80 years ago it had no electricity, running water or bathtub. It still doesn't.

For most of its years in service, Pomham Rocks Lighthouse did not have electricity or running water. If the keeper or his family needed water, they had to get it from a well pump. In the 1950s, the Coast Guard electrified the lighthouse.

Lighthouse (1970s)

Pomham Rocks Lighthouse was discontinued in 1974. A light on a skeleton tower replaced it. The light's last keepers, Petty Officer Jerome Murray and Petty Officer Dennis Tardif, were reassigned to other stations in Rhode Island.

Pomham Rocks Lighthouse's fourth order Fresnel lens was removed and was sent to the Lightship Museum in Boston. The Fresnel lens remained at the Lightship Museum for several years. In the early 1980s the Coast Guard loaned it to the Custom House Maritime Museum in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

In July 1980, the General Service Administration, the government agency responsible for disposing of unneeded government property, put Pomham Rocks Lighthouse up for auction. It received thirty bids for the light. On August 12, the bids were opened. The high bid, $40,100, was placed by the Mobil Oil Corporation (now Exxon Mobil), who has a terminal nearby.

In 2012, The Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse wanted to rehabilitate the lighthouse's interior. They requested that The Roger Williams University Historic Preservation Graduate Program, in collaboration with the Community Partnerships Center at Roger Williams University, conduct a Historic Preservation Assessment of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse. The Pomham Rocks Lighthouse: Reuse and Rehabilitation Feasibility Report was prepared by Arnold Robinson of the Community Partnerships Center, Caitlin Merritt, Nina Caruso and, Derek Danderan. It provided The Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse with the following information.

1. Identification of the history, significance and character-defining features of the buildings and surrounding area.
2. A visual survey of the interior and exterior existing conditions of the building and site.
3. An assessment to determine and inform a rehabilitation reuse for Pomham Rocks Lighthouse.

Exxon Mobil leased the Pomham Rocks Light to the American Lighthouse Foundation in 2005. The Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse, a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation, was formed in January 2005 in East Providnece, Rhode Island. Exxon Mobil donated $50,000 to the American Lighthouse Foundation for the restoration of the lighthouse.

On a June 6, 2005 ceremony at Pomham Rocks Lighthouse, the Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse and the American Lighthouse Foundation awarded a $300,000 contract to Abcore Restoration to repair and restore the lighthouse. Abcore Restoration plans to install a new roof, rebuild the chimney, restore the siding, and repair water damage to the framing and rafters. They plan to start work immediately and finish the restoration by November 2005.

In 2006, after the exterior restoration was completed, the Coast Guard to moved the light back to the lighthouse. A 250mm Mariner lens was installed in the lantern. On August 30, 2006 the light was officially relighted by Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri.

250mm Mariner Lens (June 2006-July 2017)
250mm Mariner Lens (June 2006-July 2017)
Courtesy of Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse 

On April 17, 2010 ExxonMobil donated the lighthouse to the American Lighthouse Founation and its local chapter, the Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse. Bob Trapani, the American Lighthouse Foundation's director said, "We applaud ExxonMobil's generosity in donating the lighthouse to us and its willingness to partner with us over the years to keep it a part of the Narragansett Bay landscape"

In 1980, after the government sold Pomham Rocks Lighthouse to ExxonMobil, the electricity was cut off. On October 16, 2016 Specialty Divers Services started work to restore electricity to the lighthouse. They dug a trench with a conduit from the lighthouse basement to the shoreline of the island. On October 20, 2016, Specialty Divers Services put a conduit in the trench. An electric cable was pulled through the conduit and laid underwater to the nearby shore, where it was connected to a power pole. A 900 pound transformer and circuit breaker were installed in the basement. The final cost for it was $301,000.

In July 2017 the lighthouse's 250 mm lens was replaced with a Vega Marine LED Beacon.

Vega Marine LED Beacon (July 2017 - Present)
Vega Marine LED Beacon
Courtesy of Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse 

On July 27, 2017 Abcore Restoration Company, Inc. was the high bidder to complete the interior restoration of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse. The cost of interior restoration was $325,000. A portion of the money to pay for the restoration came a from $150,000 grant from Rhode Island Historic Preservation & Heritage Commission and $60,000 came from a membership capital campaign and an anonymous donor. Over seventy members contributed nearly $30,000 and an anonymous donor matched this amount dollar for dollar. Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse arranged for a line of credit for the rest of the money. The work on the interior of the lighthouse started in October 2017 and will be finished in either December 2017 or January 2018.

In January 2017 the Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse joined
Flickr, the image and video hosting website and uploaded over 1700 photographs. The subjects of the photographs range from the 2005 restoration to the 2016 Electric Cable Project.

In 2021 the Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse wanted the lighthouses's first Fresnel lens returned to the restored lighthouse. It required discussions with the U.S. Coast Guard, who owns the lens, and the Custom House Martime Museum. They both agreed to its return to the restored Pomham Rocks Lighthouse.

The move required a Coast Guard certified lampist, a person skilled in the constuction and repair of Fresnel lenses. Kurt Fosburg, owner of Superior Lighthouse Restoration, was hired to move the fourth order Fresnel lens.

On September 1, 2021 Fosburg went to the Custom House Martime Museum. He wrapped the lens in quilts and placed it in a specially designed wood moving crate and transprted it to the lightouse. It was accompanyed by Dennis Tardiff, one of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse's last keepers. He's now the chair of the board of directors of Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse. He stated, " It was an honor to bring it home."

On September 3, 2021, Fosburg, Tardiff and other members of Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse went to the lighthouse to set the lens up. The 1926 4th order pedestal was brought down from the lantern room and placed in a room on the first floor of the lighthouse. Fosburg put the lens on the pedestal. A replica of a 4th order Funck lamp, made by Fosburg, with a red glass chimney was placed in the restored lens. A replica of a 1871 6th order pedestal was placed in the lantern room. The current LED light was place on it.

After the installation was completed, Dave Kelleher, founder of Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse, led a group, including Alex Dias, Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse vice chair, Jeremy D'Entremont, president of the American Lighthouse foundation, and his wife, Charlotte, in a champagne toast, honoring all those who made the return of the 4th order len possible.

The website 360cities.net has 360 degree panoramas of Pomham Rock Lighthouse Tower, Pomham Rocks Lighthouse - over the tower and Pomham Rocks Lighthouse Flag Pole

U.S. Lighthouse Society News
The Light Hearted Podcast ep 70 July 6, 2020
Dennis Tardiff, Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse, Rhode Island

U.S. Lighthouse Society News
The Light Hearted Podcast ep 253 November 26, 2023
Gary Kalan, Stamford Harbor, CT; Judianne Point, Pomham Rocks, RI

For information on the Pomham Rocks Lighthouse, contact:

Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse
Chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation
PO Box 15121
Riverside, RI 02915

Updated 5/8/2021