Located on a small island off the coast of Newport, Rhode Island, the Rose Island Lighthouse is a stunning sight. While lighthouses are a common feature in movies and literature, and most tourists can view them from the outside, it is almost unheard of to be able to live in one. Nowadays, ships have advanced navigation systems that have rendered lighthouses obsolete. The year is 1880, and the solitary light keeper, with clockwork precision, must do their duty of ensuring that ships do not crash into the rocky shore at night and in foggy weather. The fate of vulnerable lives is at stake. What was life like in one of these nautical towers of immeasurable importance? Visitors can get a glimpse of this extinct way of life at the Rose Island Lighthouse.
A History Of The Rose Island Lighthouse
In the 1860s, Rhode Island saw an uptick in maritime trade. Steamships and ferries would regularly carry freight and passengers from Boston to Narragansett Bay and back. This necessitated the construction of a lighthouse to help ships navigate the bay and prevent them from crashing into Rose Island. Thus, the Rise Island Lighthouse was built. According to records, it cost about $7,500 to build, which in 1869 was probably worth over a million dollars in today's currency.
The lighthouse was initially built as a bare-bones single-purpose structure, but after a few decades of use, it was modified and modernized. First, a fixed red light was installed, which made it more effective as a permanent navigation fixture. There was an unprecedented volume of ships traversing the maritime region at the turn of the century. Due to the ferocity of east coast winters, a fog bell was installed to improve safety conditions. Since the fog bell was an analog feature, it had a negative impact on the hearing of the light keeper, who would have had to go up to the bell room and physically ring the bell. Eventually, the fog bell was replaced with a fog horn, which was both more effective and less harmful to the operator.
The first light keeper was a Civil War veteran by the name of George C. Williams. Back then, light keepers had to be trusted and disciplined, which is why most lighthouses were historically maintained by the army or coast guard. The stereotype of a book-loving drunkard living in a lighthouse may have had some basis in reality, but for the most part, a light keeper had to be highly conscientious and sober to do their job. After all, lighthouses were a matter of public safety. The foggy Skeleton Coast of Namibia is an example of what happens when there is no lighthouse -- the coastline becomes a ship graveyard.
Eventually, in the 1970s, the Newport Pell Bridge was built, which included all the features of a lighthouse and more. As a result, the Rose Island Lighthouse was decommissioned. For years, the county did not know what to do with the abandoned structure. Vandals and thieves defaced and ransacked it, leaving nothing behind. In the mid-1980s, there was a concerted effort to restore the lighthouse. It was made possible by the grandson of one of the former light keepers. The grandson, Wanton Chase, had spent years of his childhood living in the Rose Island Lighthouse and had an intimate knowledge of how it operated. He recalled every minute detail, from the design of the stove in the kitchen to the heating mechanism for the living quarters. With the help of Wanton, the Lighthouse was fully restored to look like it had in the early 20th century.
Visiting The Rose Island Lighthouse
Visitors can only reach Rose Island by boat. Daily visits are available with the Jamestown Newport ferry. The ferry runs in the warm season, from around May to October. The ferries run between 10 AM and 4 PM daily, so if visitors are going for an afternoon trip, they should be sure to get back to the boat by 4 PM to avoid getting stranded for the night.
- Transportation: Jamestown Newport Ferry
- Hours: 10 AM - 4 PM
- Cost: $12 for adults, $8 for children
- Active: May - October
Personal boats are allowed, so visitors can kayak or sail to Rose Island if they want. However, there is no dock, so the boats must either be beached or anchored.
Living In The Rose Island Lighthouse
As a way to raise money for maintenance, the Lighthouse has been converted into a hotel of sorts. There are several rooms on different floors, each boasting unique features. Most of the rooms have indoor fireplaces, coffee makers, living rooms, and sofas. Guests may stay for up to a week.
One of the most popular rooms is the Lighthouse Keeper's Apartment. Prices per night range from $220 to $400.
Visitors should note that there is usually limited availability due to high demand. Who wouldn't want to book a romantic getaway in a remote lighthouse?