Beavertail Lighthouse, built in 1856, was and still is the premier lighthouse in Rhode Island, USA, marking the entrance to Narragansett Bay. 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.
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, among other things, with fog-signaling. The dwelling that houses the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum was also built in 1898 to house an assistant keeper, who helped maintain both the beacon and foghorn systems.
The first Beavertail Lighthouse was built in 1749 and was the premier lighthouse in Rhode Island, third in the country following the 1716 Boston Harbor light and the 1746 Great Point light on Nantucket.
The British damaged the building in their retreat from Rhode Island in 1779, but a few years later, the light was reactivated to guide vessels of Rhode Island merchants engaged in the trade with China.
Although this wooden tower was burned to the ground just four years later, the rubble tower which replaced it lasted until the present granite lighthouse was constructed in 1856. The base of the older tower was exposed by the Hurricane of 1938, and today is marked by a granite plaque erected by the Jamestown Historical Society.
Known for many years as the Newport Light, the Beavertail beacon was first to witness the triangular trade which contributed to Newport’s prominence before the Revolution, when ships carried molasses, rum, and slaves between the colonies, the West Indies and Africa.
While the history of the light goes back to 1749, an amazing 27 years before the Revolutionary War, it was in 1856 that the present granite light tower and its adjoining keeper’s quarters were built as mentioned before. As the station’s importance grew, a second assistant keeper’s quarters were built in 1896.
The last of the larger sound-signaling buildings, along with its two fog horn system generators and compressors, was destroyed in the 1938 hurricane. The subsequent removal of building and equipment debris revealed the remains of the stone foundation of the first light tower sited at Beavertail in 1749.
The destroyed foghorn building was replaced by the current, smaller fog-signal house that presently houses the RI Department of Environmental Management’s aquarium. Restoration of both keepers’ houses began in 1983, and the museum opened in 1989 as a part of the RI State Parks Association.
The property, still owned by the U.S. Coast Guard, has gradually fallen into disrepair since the Coast Guard automated the light in 1972. Over the following years, attempts have been made to stabilize and preserve the buildings by both the Town of Jamestown and the BLMA.