Chris J LeBlanc Photography - Lighthouses
Providing details and historical information of lighthouse pictures taken during my travels
Beavertail Point, Rhode Island
Location: Located on the southern tip of Conanicut Island.
Latitude: N 41.44941
Longitude: W 71.39946
Year Constructed: 1856 (station established 1749). Active
Tower Height: 52 feet Focal Plane: 68 feet
Square cylindrical granite tower with lantern and double gallery, attached to a 2-story stucco-clad brick keeper's house. The tower is unpainted granite; lantern and watchroom painted black; keeper's house white with red roofs.
Historic Postcard of Beavertail Lighthouse
This is the nation's fourth oldest light station (after Boston MA, Tybee Island GA, and Brant Point MA). The foundations of the 1749 lighthouse remain visible. In 1749, a wooden tower standing 68 feet tall, and 24 feet in diameter at its base, and tapered to 13 feet at the lantern deck was built.
The wooden lighthouse burned to the ground only four years after it was finished, but in 1754 a 58-foot brick and stone tower was built to replace it. During the early part of the Revolutionary War, British troops controlled Newport. In 1779, as they were retreating, the redcoats set fire to the lighthouse and took the optic. Although the fire warped the masonry walls, the tower was repaired and put back into service in 1783.
Since the station was so close to the water, it often caught the full force of storms. Sometime during the early 1800s, Keeper Philip Caswell and his family were forced to flee when high waves threatened to destroy the small two-room keeper’s house. The dwelling escaped this storm with minimal damage, but the hurricane of 1815 would destroy the edifice. Fortunately, Caswell had again moved his family elsewhere before the storm as a precaution. The lighthouse tower survived the hurricane, although all twenty panes of glass in the lantern house were broken. The next year, a new five-room keeper’s dwelling was constructed.
In 1856, the currently standing 52-foot granite block tower was built and the old 1754 tower was razed to its foundation, and when a new keeper’s dwelling was completed in 1859, the prior dwelling was demolished as well. The new 1856 tower was equipped with a third-order Fresnel lens that produced a fixed white light. Somewhere around 1899, the optic was downgraded to a smaller fourth-order lens.
When electricity reached the station in 1931, the lantern room’s clear windows were covered with green Plexiglas storm panes to change the light’s characteristic, and an electric strobe device was mounted on top of the keeper’s dwelling to automatically activate a fog signal when visibility fell below two miles.
Beavertail Light was automated in 1972. The station remains an active aid to navigation, currently equipped with a modern plastic lens.
Beavertail Lighthouse Links
© 2011 - Chris J LeBlanc Photographer
- Station Established: 1749; rebuilt 1753; rebuilt 1856
- Year Current Tower(s) First Lit: 1856
- Foundation Materials: TIMBER/ROCK CRIB
- Construction Materials: GRANITE
- Height: 45-feet; height of focal plane 68-feet
- Markings/Pattern: NATURAL W/ BLACK LANTERN
- Original Lens: THIRD ORDER, FRESNEL 1856
- 1749: This was the third lighthouse to be built in the United States.
- 1779: Conanicut Island had already gained fame from its association with the privateer, Captain William Kidd, during the late 1600s when Captain Kidd used the island as a hideout. During the Revolutionary War, the British burned the lighthouse when they left the area in 1779; the rubblestone tower survived the burning, but it was not fully repaired and back in operation until 1790. During the mid-1800s, the station had a true one-horse power fog signal; whenever the fog set in, the keeper walked his horse on a treadmill which operated a pump to provide pressure to the horn.
- 1856: It is the third lighthouse on the site. The original optic in the 1856 square granite tower was a third-order Fresnel lens; it was replaced with a fourth-order Fresnel lens in 1899. The fourth-order lens was retired in 1991. It is currently equipped with a modern plastic lens (DCB 24).
- 1938: The station was heavily damaged during the hurricane of 1938, but the tower survived.
- The station was used for numerous fog signal experiments; signals tested included bells, horns, whistles, and trumpets, which were mounted on the foundation of the 18th century tower.