Beavertail Lighthouse Museum
Beavertail Lighthouse Museum
Conanicut Island was purchased from the Narragansett Indians by a group of settlers from Newport.
Construction of the first lighthouse, the third in the colonies, began in May 1749 and ended in September. Peter Harrison was the architect. The lighthouse was constructed of wood. The tower was 58 feet high to cornice with an 11-foot lantern on top. Abel Franklin was appointed the first keeper.
In 1753 the wooden lighthouse was rebuilt after a fire destroyed the original. Stones from Goat Island were used as building materials. The foundation is visible today 100 feet in front of the present light tower. Abel Franklin manned his post during construction, warning ships with a hand held lantern. In 1779, British soldiers retreating from Newport burned the tower and removed the lighting equipment, leaving the beacon darkened for the rest of the Revolution. In 1783 repair of the lighthouse was completed.
Then in 1817 the beacon was lit with manufactured gas for one year in an experiment conducted by Newport inventor David Melville. Despite the cleaner, brighter flame produced by gas, the backers of whale oil persuaded the Federal Government to end its support for this competing form of fuel.
In 1856 a new lighthouse was constructed to replace the deteriorating 1753 structure. The new one measured 10 feet square, and 64 feet to the beacon. The new optic was a third-order Fresnel lens imported from France, a sparkling beehive of glass similar to that now housed in the Museum. The old tower was removed and on its foundation was built a fog-whistle house.
The first in a series of experiments involving fog-warning devices took place at Beavertail in 1857. A Daboll "Fog Trumpet" -- driven by compressed air -- was tested. This was followed by the installation of the first steam powered foghorn in 1857. Several other "firsts" in foghorn equipment were tested at Beavertail over the next 40 years.
In 1931 the first electric light beacon was installed during the tenure of Captain George T. Manders, who served as keeper for 24 years. The Great Hurricane of 1938 exposed the foundation of the original lighthouse, 100 feet in front of the present light. Hidden by the fog whistle building, it had long been forgotten.
The beacon was automated in 1972, part of a program which in 1989 ended the profession of lighthouse keeping in the United States (except for the Boston Light). Dominic Turillo was the last keeper to serve at Beavertail.
Pictures and information were provided by the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association
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