|Nearest city||Jamestown, RI|
|Area||4 acres (1.6 ha)|
|Architectural style||No Style Listed|
|Governing body||United States Coast Guard|
|MPS||Lighthouses of Rhode Island TR (AD)|
|NRHP Reference #||77000024 |
|Added to NRHP||December 12, 1977|
Beavertail Lighthouse, built in 1856, was and still is the premier lighthouse in Rhode Island, USA, marking the entrance to Narragansett Bay. The 64-foot (20 m) lighthouse lies on the southernmost point of Conanicut Island in the town of Jamestown, Rhode Island in Beavertail State Park, on a site where beacons have stood since the early 18th century. The Whistle House and Garage were destroyed by the New England Hurricane of 1938. The light provides navigation for boats and ships entering Narragansett Bay in the East Passage between Conanicut Island and Newport, Rhode Island on Aquidneck Island. Other lighthouses, such as Castle Hill Lighthouse, Point Judith Light, and Rose Island Light are visible from Beavertail Lighthouse.
Its white light rotates counterclockwise and makes a full rotation in about six or seven seconds. The light is on 24 hours per day with a rotation every 6 seconds, unlike many lighthouses that are near it. It has a loud foghorn that blasts about every 30 seconds during the fog.
Prior to the establishment of a lighthouse at Beavertail, local Native Americans would keep pitch fires burning, to warn sailors away from the rocky coastline. The earliest records of the town of Jamestown making reference to construction of a beacon date to 1712, and mention a watch house in 1705. In 1749, a wooden tower was built, and the light (which was then known as "Newport Light") became the third lighthouse established in the colonies, preceded only by Boston Light in Boston Harbor, and Brant Point Light, Nantucket. A fire was lit at the top of the tower, as was common for the time. Four years later it burned down and was replaced by a stone tower.
In 1779, as British sailors retreating from Newport near the end of the American Revolutionary War, they left a trail of destruction behind them. This included burning the lighthouse and removing the optics, which left the light dark for the rest of the war.
In 1856, the tower was again replaced with what is now the current tower, made of granite which is 10 ft (3.0 m) square, and 64 feet (20 m) from ground to beacon. A 3rd order Fresnel lens was placed and over the next forty years it was the site of numerous fog-signal tests, under the supervision of the United State Lighthouse board. In 1898 quarters for an assistant keeper were added to the keeper's house, the assistant helped, among other things, with fog-signaling.
During the 1938 hurricane, the whistle house was destroyed, revealing the original base for the 1749 structure, which sits 100 feet (30 m) from the current tower. A few miles southwest of Beavertail point, Whale Rock can be seen, resembling a submarine attempting to surface. Whale Rock Lighthouse, and its keeper, Walter Eberle, were swept into the waters of Narragansett bay during the hurricane of 1938; Eberle's body was never recovered.
In 1939, the US Coast Guard took command of all lighthouses and navigational aids, and in 1989 Beavertail light was automated, as part of a program by the Coast Guard, which ended the job the keeper at all stations except for Boston Light, which to this day, remains the only manned lighthouse in America.
In 1989, following a joint effort by the US Coast Guard, Rhode Island Parks Management, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, and the town of Jamestown, the building was restored and reopened to the public. In 1993, Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association (BLMA) was established to oversee the operations of the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum, which is located in the assistant keeper's house. The museum includes a Fresnel lens, and the history of, models and photos of many Rhode Island lighthouses.
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