Rhode Island Lighthouses

Prudence Island Lighthouse

Prudence Island Lighthouse

Location: Sandy Point on the East Side of Prudence Island
Location: 1852 - present lLat 41 36 21 N - Long 71 18 13 W
Established: 1852

Lighthouse Constructed: 1823
Automated: 1939
Original Illuminating Apparatus: Fifth-Order Fresnel Lens
Second Illuminating Apparatus: Fourth Order Fresnel Lens (1935)
Current Illuminating Apparatus: 250-mm lens
Height: Lighthouse: 30 feet
Status: Active Aid to Navigation
Light Characteristic: Fixed White (1906)

Light Characteristic: Fixed White Alternating Flashing Red every 5 seconds (1924)
Light Characteristic: 2.5 seconds fixed white, 1 seconds eclipse
Light Characteristic: 0.5 seconds red flash, 1 seconds eclipse

Light Characteristic: Fixed White Alternating Flashing Green every 5 seconds (1935)
Light Characteristic: 2.5 seconds fixed white, 1.15 seconds eclipse
Light Characteristic: 0.2 seconds green flash, 1.15 seconds eclipse

Light Characteristic: Occulting Green every 4 seconds (1945)
Light Characteristic: 2 seconds flash, 2 seconds eclipse

Light Characteristic: Flashing Green every 6 seconds (1955)
Light Characteristic: 2 seconds flash, 4 seconds eclipse
Range: 10 miles (1906)
Range: 6 miles (2005)
Fog Signal: Bell Struck By Machinery (1912)
Fog Signal: Electric Bell (1952)
Fog Signal Characteristic: Bell Struck 1 Time (1912)
Fog Signal Characteristic: Silent for 15 Seconds
Fog Signal Characteristic: Bell Struck 1 Time
Fog Signal Characteristic: Silent for 15 Seconds
Location: Established: Lighthouse Constructed: Automated: Original Illuminating Apparatus: Second Illuminating Apparatus: Current Illuminating Apparatus: Height: Status: Light Characteristic: Range: Fog Signal: Fog Signal Characteristic:

In 1850 Congress appropriated $3,500 to build Prudence Island Lighthouse. Plans were prepared for a two story stone keeper's house with a light tower on the roof. It was decided in 1851 to use the old Goat Island Lighthouse instead. The light was discontinued in 1842, when a new lighthouse was built just off the northern tip of Goat Island.

Prudence Island Lighthouse Opening Announcement
Lighthouse Tender Pansy
  Fall River Monitor (Fall River, MA) February 14, 1852

The reason for the change could have been the cost of the new Prudence Island Lighthouse exceeded the money appropriated for it. Instead of going back to Congress and asking for more money, they used the old Goat Island lighthouse. The cost of buying the land for the lighthouse, paying to move it and building a new lantern was $3,258.82. Even with the cost saving, Prudence Island Lighthouse came in just $241.18 under the money appropriated.

Horace Vaugh was awarded a $900 contract on October 15, 1851 to move the old lighthouse to Sandy Point on Prudence Island. The tower was disassembled and the stones were numbered so they could be matched together when it was rebuilt. I. N. Stanley and Brother, an iron foundry in Newport, made a new deck and lantern for Prudence Island Lighthouse. The rebuilt lighthouse was first lighted on January 17, 1852.

A wooden keeper's house was built 200 feet west of the lighthouse. A fog bell in a large wooden a-frame was built next Prudence Island Lighthouse in 1885.

In October 1887 Prudence Island Lighthouse keeper John T. Clark was granted a three week leave because of his health. He was visiting his family in Fall River, Massachusetts. On October 12, he walked out of a shoe store and collapsed. He died fifty four minutes later.

There were two letters in his pockets. One was written by a Doctor Sullivan. It stated, "Mr. Clark was suffering from pulmonary complaint and recommending a three month leave of absence. The other letter was from Alex Benham, Inspector Third District. A copy of the letter is below.

Thompkinsville, N.Y., U..S
General Lighthouse Dept.
Sir-Leave of absence for three weeks is hereby granted you on condition that a competent person is left in charge of the station. If at the end of your leave your infirmity is not such as to permit an early return to duty it will be best for you to resign, as indefinite leave of absence cannot be granted (Signed)

Alex Benham
Inspector Third District

Clark left a wife and several children. He was buried on October 16 in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. A newspaper article in the October 17, 1887 edition of the Fall River Daily Evening News stated it was "largely attended."

John Follet was appointed Prudence Island Lighthouse's keeper in 1888 and remained at the lighthouse until 1894. He remained with the lighthouse service until he retired in February 1916. His last station was at Montauk Lighthouse in New York. He moved to Pawtucket, Rhode Island but had a very short retirement. He got pneumonia after he walked eight miles, in freezing weather, from the Montauk Lighthouse to the Montauk train station to take a train to Pawtucket. He died two weeks after he retired.

Martin Thompson was one of Prudence Island Lighthouse's longest serving Keepers. He served from 1905 to 1933. He was stationed at Borden's Flat in Fall River, Massachusetts before he was transferred to Prudence Island.

Martin lived at Borden's Flats with his wife and five children. He wanted to move to a bigger lighthouse in 1905. He told the lighthouse inspector he wanted a transfer to a lighthouse on land. The lighthouse inspector told Martin on September 30, 1905 there was an opening at the Prudence Island Lighthouse. Martin applied for it the same day. The Lighthouse Board wired him on October 1 that he got the job. It also wired him be ready to leave at 9 o'clock in the morning on October 2. The lighthouse tender Cactus arrived early the next morning and picked up Martin, his family and their belongings. It took them to Prudence Island.

Lighthouse Tender Cactus
Lighthouse Tender Cactus
 Courtesy of Lighthouse Digest

In July 22, 1906 Joseph Anthony, his wife and their two daughters sailed to Prudence Island. Their youngest daughter was in a baby carriage. A gust of wind flipped the boat over and threw everyone into the water. A group of men, in a nearby boat, pulled one of the daughters out of the water. They tried to resuscitate her, but she was dead.

The baby carriage floated toward the beach near the lighthouse and was pulled on shore. The baby was alive. Mrs. Thompson, Martin's wife took care of the baby until relatives picked her up

In 1925 Martin was one of three lighthouse keepers in New England awarded a lighthouse efficiency flag. It was a symbol the lighthouse and its keeper operate at "highest general efficiency during the year 1924."

During the Hurricane of 1938, Martin Thompson lived in a house next to the lighthouse, James Lynch and his wife Ellen sought refuge with the light's keeper George Gustavus and his family in the keeper's house. Thompson believed it was the safest place on the island. He said, "She'll stand it all right. She stood it for 25 years." He was wrong.

In the Edward Rowe Snow book, A Pilgrim Returns to Cape Cod, George Gustavus wrote about what happened during the hurricane.

Those folks, my wife and son and I were caught inside by the tidal wave and after two 17-foot seas of water along with plenty of wind hit, we were caught like rats in a trap. We all rushed up the stairs, when the house broke up we were thrown into the rushing water ...

The people in the keeper's house were swept into the bay. Gustavus was the only survivor. George Taber, an eighteen year old Island resident, put a piece a lumber into water as Gustavus floated by. Gustavus grabbed onto it in what he described as a death grip and was pulled out of the water.

The tidal wave that destroyed the keeper's house also damaged the light. After the hurricane, Milton Chase, general manger of the Homestead Utility Company, put a temporary light in the tower. He received a letter of commendation for his action.

Today the light is still an active aid to navigation. In 2000 the Coast Guard gave the Maine based American Lighthouse Foundation a 20 year contract to care for the light. A local group, the Prudence Island Conservancy, was also seeking a contract to care for the light. When the Conservancy found out about the Foundation's contract, they asked Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy for help. He wrote a letter to the Coast Guard asking to reconsider the contract with the American Lighthouse Foundation.

When the Foundation found out about the Conservancy's request to care for the lighthouse, it gave up its contract to care for the light. In August 2001, the Prudence Island Conservancy was given the contract to care for the light.

The U.S. General Services Administration issued a Notice of Availability for the Prudence Island Lighthouse on July 10, 2020, because it was determined as excess to the needs of the United States Coast Guard. Under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, lighthouses are made available to federal agencies, state and local agencies, non-profit corporations, educational agencies or community development organizations for educational and park, recreational, cultural, or historic preservation purposes at no cost.

Any group that wants the lighthouse has 60 days form the issued a Notice of Availability to submit a letter of interest to the General Services Administration. Every group that sends a letter, will receive an application from the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service. The Coast Guard will announce a date for an inspection of the lighthouse. All the interested groups will get a chance to inspect the lighthouse. They have to submit an application within 90 days from the inspection.

The National Park Service will review the applications. This could take anywhere from 6 to 12 months. They will make a recommendation to the General Services Administration on who should receive the lighthouse. The General Services Administration will transfer ownership of the lighthouse to the selected group. If government groups or non-profit organizations don't want the lighthouse, it will be offered for sale to the public.

Updated 6/3/2021