On a short drive around our small island, we can see eight lighthouses. The most famous is Beavertail, which is the first thing you see when making landfall from offshore. It is a much photographed and visited place at the southern tip of a long, narrow state park, a place where day-trippers who have no intention of actually going out in a boat can enjoy a picnic while surrounded by water on three sides. No matter how benign the weather, the waves breaking on the rocks perfectly define that boundary between ocean and land. It's a very special place, and a great example of the draw these historic structures have for all of us.
But my favorite lighthouse is a few miles north, on Dutch Island.
It's much less prominent than Beavertail, and impossible to drive by in a car, since it's on a tiny island in West Passage. Even as a navigational aid it's pretty insignificant these days. But it greets me on my morning paddles, winks red to me after dark, and welcomes me when I return home to Dutch Harbor—either from a distant car crossing the Jamestown Bridge, or up close in a boat returning from an adventure around Beavertail.
Dutch Island has had a lighthouse on its southern tip since 1827, though it sounds like neither the original living quarters nor the light itself were up to standard. In 1857 a new tower was built, and keepers maintained it until 1947 when the light was automated.
Apparently I'm not the only person who cares about this lighthouse, even if it's not very important to today's navigators. According to the DILS history, "The Coast Guard proposed discontinuing the light in 1972, saying it had outlived its usefulness. They pointed out that in January of that year the light had been out for several days before anyone reported the problem to authorities."
And yet... "There was tremendous opposition to discontinuing the light."
As a result of the many petitions and letters received, the Coast Guard actually increased the strength of the light. But vandals continued to wreak havoc on the property, and in 1977 a red bell buoy was installed to keep boats off the rocky point.
Locals tried to keep it looking pretty, and a bit of a friendly rivalry developed between Jamestown (to the east) and Saunderstown (to the west), which included several painting sessions to maintain the tower's looks—though only on the side visible to each group. Finally the two groups got together, and thanks to a grant and many private donations, the tower was fully renovated in 2007. "At a little after 7:00 p.m. on November 17, 2007," the DILS website crows, "the lighthouse was relighted as an aid to navigation."
You can learn about the keepers and see photos of the lighthouse in all seasons on the DILS website.
For more about Beavertail, visit the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum website.
Got a favorite lighthouse? Tell us about it in the comments below.