Recognized and appreciated for her beautifully
restored Lighthouse, Rose Island lies a mile offshore between Newport
and Jamestown in the shadow of the Pell-Newport Bridge. It is from
this vantage point that many thousands of people get a glimpse
of the Lighthouse past the impenetrable thicket that covers the
rest of the island. It
has taken Mother Nature 60 years to reclaim most of Rose Island’s
structures and open space, transforming them into valuable bird nesting
Of course, during World Wars I and II the
grass was kept short, for then Rose Island was considered by the
US War Department to be the ideal munitions storage facility for
the Newport Naval Torpedo Station’s millions of pounds of
explosives. Rose Island was a safe distance from the populace.
In addition, there already existed two large “bombproof” buildings
the Navy could easily convert into magazines. Few people know they
were the barracks and northwest circular bastion of Fort Hamilton,
originally constructed from 1798-1800.
In 1999 the Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation
(RILF) purchased the Navy’s 15 acre lot and began to create
a practical balance between protecting the island’s environment
while uncovering its hidden historic structures. A $50,000 grant
from the van Beuren Charitable Foundation jump-started RILF’s
work to reclaim the NW bastion. As for the magnificent barracks,
work to replace the roof will proceed through the summer with funds
from a State Preservation Grant and from the Prince Charitable Trusts,
and not any too soon! Hurricane force winds in December ripped
the roof open–Mother Nature’s in-kind contribution to
the demolition work!
top: 1819 drawing of Fort Hamilton from the National Archives
in Washington, D.C.
This 1895 photo by Edward W. Smith
reminds us to keep our eyes on the prize.
Storm-damaged barracks roof. January
A backhoe was purchased to remove the bombproof cement
that supported the roof and also the earth that covered the exterior
stone wall. March 2006.
© 2006 Newport Harbor
Guide. All rights reserved.