Rhode Island Lighthouse History

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Sakonnet Point Lighthouse


Sakonnet Point Lighthouse
© 2013 R. Holmes




Location: On Little Cormorant Rock at the entrance to the Sakonnet River
Location: 1884 - present lLat 41 27 12 N - Long 71 12 12 W
Established: 1884
Lighthouse Constructed: 1884
Deactivated: 1955 - 1997
Original Illuminating Apparatus: Fourth Order Fresnel Lens
Current Illuminating Apparatus: 300-mm lens
Height: 66 feet
Status: Active aid to Navigation/Owned by Friends of Sakonnet Lighthouse
Light Characteristic: Fixed White Alternating Group flashing (3) Red every 60 seconds (1924)
Light Characteristic: Fixed White for 30 seconds, 2.6 seconds eclipse
Light Characteristic: 4.8 seconds flash, 5.2 seconds eclipse
Light Characteristic: 4.8 seconds flash, 5.2 seconds eclipse
Light Characteristic: 4.8 seconds flash, 2.6 seconds eclipse

Light Characteristic: Flashing White every 6 seconds - Red sector from 015 to 170 (2005)

Light Characteristic: Flashing White every 6 seconds - Red sector from 195 to 350 (2006)
Range: White 12 miles - Red 10 miles (1924)
Range: White 7 miles - Red 5 miles (2005)


In 1883, the Lighthouse Board picked Little Cormorant Rock, 800 yards off Sakonnet Point, as the site for the Sakonnet Point Lighthouse and began construction on it. Work continued late into the year, completing the lighthouse's pier, before winter storms forced construction to stop. There were concerns, due to the site's exposed location, that additional funding would be needed to finish the lighthouse. However, these concerns proved to be unfounded.

George H. Child, an employee of the West Island Club, an exclusive club on a small island near Sakonnet Lighthouse, went to the Sakonnet Point steamboat landing for the club mail, on July 24, 1903. He had no problem getting the mail, but on his way back to the club a huge wave swamped the boat and pushed it onto rocks near Sakonnet lighthouse. The whale boat was destroyed. Child swan to a nearby rock and climbed into a crevice on it. He clung tightly to the rock to stop himself from being pushed off by the huge wave. Two boats were sent from the club to rescuse but could not get near the rock because of heavy seas. They gave up and returned to the island.

Nils Nelson, Sakonnet Lighthouse assistant keeper, launched the lighthouse supply boat to rescuse him. The keeper, Richard Curran, stayed at the lighthouse and directed Nelson by signals to the rock. Nelson made it to the rock. He shouted to Childs to throw himself towards the boat after the next wave passed. Childs jumped towards the boat and was pulled into it by Nelson. Both men made it safely back to the island. On June 23, 1904 Nelson was awarded a gold lifesaving medal by the Secretary of the Treasury for his action.

In 1938, Rhode Island was ravaged by a hurricane. During it, Sakonnet Point Lighthouse was repeatedly pounded by huge wind driven waves. They hit with such force that they caused the light's base to crack. It was repaired but cracked again during Hurricane Carol, in 1954.

The Coast Guard decided not to repair the lighthouse and planned to blow it up. The people of Little Compton asked the Coast Guard not to destroy it. The Coast Guard offered the light to Little Compton if they agreed to maintain it and leave it permanently unlighted. The town agreed and received ownership of the light.

In 1961, the lighthouse was sold to Carl Haffenreffer for $1,111.11. In 1985, he donated it to the Friends of Sakonnet Point Lighthouse, Inc. The group raised $100,000 to restore the lighthouse.

After years of work, the light was relighted on March 19, 1997. On March 22, hundreds of people gathered at Sakonnet Point to celebrate the relighting.

In 2010 restoration started on the lighthouse. A Rhode Island Department of Transportation grant of $844,323 and $170,000 raised by The Friends of Sakonnet Lighthouse will pay for the restoration and upkeep. The restoration work included rebolting the lighthouse's external plates and repainting the interior and exterior of the tower.

In March 2010, the project to restore the lighthouse went out to bid. The contract was awarded to the Joseph Gnazzo Company of Union, Connecticut on March 23. The company specializes in restoration work. They also restored the Avery Point Lighthouse in Groton, Connecticut.

In June 2010 restoration started on the lighthouse. A three level work platform was built next to the lighthouse. It was needed to hold cranes and other equipment. On July 12, 2010 three men working at the lighthouse were thrown into the water when their workboat was swamped by a wave. The men were rescued by kayakers and a nearby boat. The restoration continued during the summer. The lighthouse was secured for the winter.





During the restoration, the interior brick wall was removed and checked for damage. The wall was rebuilt and remortared using 75 percent of the original brick. New windows and portholes were installed at the lighthouse. Most of the work was completed in September 2011. With the restoration done, the three level work platform and equipment had to be removed. On December 11th, the tug Hope towed the barge, the James Wooley, to the lighthouse and removed the work platform and equipment.

On July 7, 2012 the Friends of the Sakonnet Lighthouse celebrated the three-year restoration of the Sakonnet Lighthouse and its 125th anniversary by having a sail-by of the lighthouse. The boats in the sail-by ranged from large sailboats down to kayaks.



Sakonnet Point Lighthouse in 1900
Sakonnet Point Lighthouse
 Courtesy of N.L. Stebbins



For information on the Sakonnet Point Lighthouse, contact:

Friends of Sakonnet Lighthouse
P.O. Box 154
Little Compton, RI 02837


Updated 10/21/2013

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