Rhode Island Lighthouse History

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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: 30 feet
Status: Active Aid to Navigation
Light Characteristic: Fixed White (1906)

Light Characteristic: Fixed White Alternating Flashing Green every 6 seconds (1935)

Light Characteristic: Flashing Green every 6 seconds (2005)
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


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.

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.

During the Hurricane of 1938, Martin Thompson, a former Prudence Island Lighthouse keeper who 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 Foundations'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 Convervancy's request to care for the lighthouse, it gave up its contract to gave for the light. In August 2001, the Prudence Island Convervancy was given the contract to care for the light.

See more of Prudence Island Lighthouse in Rhode Island Lighthouses: A Pictorial History by R Holmes.


Updated 2/14/2013