Previous Light:
Point Judith
Next Lighthouse:
Dutch Island

Beavertail Lighthouse

beavertail lighthouse

83 Beavertail Road, Jamestown, Rhode Island
Built in 1749

Location:

In Beavertail State Park at the end of Beavertail Road, at the southern tip of Conanicut Island, Narragansett Bay.

Latitude: 41° 26' 58" N
Longitude: 71° 23' 59" W

 

Historic Stories:

Beavertail is the third oldest lighthouse in America. Beavertail Point near where the current Beavertail Lighthouse is located, had a watch house constructed in 1705 by the early settlers. It was then developed into a fire-lighted beacon that was tended by the local Indians in 1712. The first real government lighthouse consisting of a 69-foot wooden tower, which used fire to act as a light source was erected in 1749. The tower burned down in 1753, and a new one was built at the same location, this time made of brick and stone.

In 1817, Beavertail was the first lighthouse to be lit by gas; however, opposition from the whale industry (whale oil) caused the government to decide not to use the more efficient energy source. It was also used in many situations to conduct experiments with new fog signals and lighting equipment.

In December 1908, servicemen at nearby Fort Adams were practicing a routine of firing dummy shells into the ocean. One day, their aim caused quite a stir at the lighthouse as one of the shells buzzed by the tower, one landed behind the keeper’s house, and another hit the tower’s foundation. The keepers were not hurt, but complained to the Lighthouse Board, and were able to gain assurance from the War Department, who also made the repairs, that the incident wouldn’t happen again.

Keeper George T. Manders stayed at the lighthouse from 1913-1937. During his tenure, one of his hobbies involved carving tiny baskets from peach stones that would be used as little watch charms. He also once claimed to have seen a white whale from his position in the tower, but his accounts were dismissed as on that particular day of the sighting, as the area was engulfed in a thick fog.

 

Keeper's Tragedy During the Hurricane of 1938

During the unsuspected tidal wave caused by the unknown Hurricane of 1938, New England’s worst hurricane, a school bus carrying Keeper Carl Chellis' son and daughter were heading towards the lighthouse. The bus became swamped by the surge. The bus driver Norman Caswell, fearing he and the children would drown if they stayed on the bus, tried to bring the kids to higher ground. He was too late and another storm surge hit and swept all the children away, drowning them all, except only the keeper's son and the distraught bus driver himself. Keeper Chellis had not only watched the lighthouse become practically destroyed from this destructive storm, but also had to receive the horrible news that his daughter had drowned by the tidal wave sweeping over her school bus. Caswell died shortly after the incident, overcome with guilt and unable to cope with deaths of the children. Keeper Chellis would perish seven years later on tour of duty in the Pacific during World War II.

seagull flies by Beavertail light

 

 

Places to Visit Nearby:

Jamestown is a quaint island community connected by bridges from the Newport area to Conanicut Island. It is an area filled with history, 18th and 19th century architecture, and hosts many community events. There are a host of parks with trails and small wildlife refuges for birding for visitors to relax and enjoy.

One of the main tourist attractions is Beavertail Lighthouse, the nation’s third oldest lighthouse, located inside Beavertail State Park for picnicking and hiking. Be sure to also visit the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum, which features a collection of information, documents, and artifacts about the history of the lighthouse and the area.

Beavertail lighthouse among rock formations Explore the unique rock formations that surround this park. Tours to the lighthouse are sometimes also provided.

Other museums in the area include Watson Farm, a living history museum that offers a glimpse into the way most people lived in Jamestown for three hundred years, the Jamestown Fire Department Memorial Museum collection of antique fire fighting equipment, and the Jamestown Museum collection of ferry system memorabilia, historic photos, maps, and other items that help tell the story of Jamestown's history. Ferry service is available from and to Jamestown, and there are plenty of opportunities for fishing off the dock in the harbor. There are more than 40 museums located within 40 minutes of Jamestown.

Nearby, Newport is connected by bridges for tourists to visit and explore while they’re in the area.

This region provides some of the best sailing around the Narragansett Bay, as well as providing tourists with plenty of boat tours, excursions, and events.  sailing in Newport harbor

Visit some of the famous elaborate mansions of the most powerful people that shaped America’s 19th and 20th centuries, and its numerous parks and museums.

Fort Wetherill State Park is situated on top of 100 foot high granite cliffs for a spectacular view of Narragansett Bay. Charter fishing is available at the Dutch harbor Boat Yard.

 

Directions:

You can also view the lighthouse from the water. The best view of this lighthouse is at the park itself:

 

Contact Info:
Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association
P.O. Box 83
Jamestown, RI 02835
Phone: (401) 423-3270

 

 

 

Local Boat Tours

Boat cruises mentioned below offer many types of cruises. While some may offer specific lighthouse cruises, some will pass by specific lighthouses as part of charters, narrated wildlife and historic tours, ferrying passengers, whale watching, fishing tours and other types of excursions. Contact info is provided to help you plan your special trips to New England’s shorelines. Enjoy!

 

Rhode Island Bay Cruises
Offers weekly lighthouse tours in season.

347 Roger Williams Way
North Kingstown, RI 02852
(401) 295-4040
info@rhodeislandbaycruises.com

 

Save the Bay Tours
Special organization for lighthouse and coastal preservation. In addition to various educational, nature, and historical tours, they provide an Ultimate Lighthouse Tour, and Southern and Northern Bay Lighthouse Tours on specific days during the summer. Tours may include stopovers to tour inside a particular lighthouse.
100 Save the Bay Drive, Providence, RI 02905
(401) 439-0670

 

My 300-page book, Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Southern New England: Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, provides special human interest stories from each of the 92 lighthouses, along with plenty of indoor and outdoor tours and coastal attractions you can explore. You'll also find more heroic and tragic stories during the Hurricane of 1938 that devasted the coastal areas around Naragansett Bay.

Look inside!

book about lighthouses in southern New England

 

Back to Top