Island Lighthouse stands on an 18-acre island in the middle of Narragansett
Bay between the shores of Newport and Jamestown in the shadow of
the Pell-Newport Bridge. Although it’s painted white, it has
been “green” for nearly a quarter of a century.
atop a circular bastion of an 18th century fort, the Lighthouse was
established in 1870 and was operated by industrious keepers and their
families for 100 years. After the bridge was built, the Lighthouse
was no longer needed as a navigation aid, so it was abandoned and
over the next 14 years fell victim to vandalism and the weather.
By 1984 when the General Services Administration offered the property
at no cost to the City of Newport, many thought its condition was
so poor that it couldn’t be saved. Wanton “Jagger” Chase,
who lived at the Lighthouse until 1918 with his grandparents Charles
and Christina Curtis, summed it up by proclaiming, “It can’t
be saved. The life has gone out of it.”
Now some might have
considered his remark to be the end of that, but Yankee ingenuity
being what it is – a combination of not wanting
to see anything go to waste on the one hand, and a fiercely independent
spirit that says, “You’re not going to tell ME what I
do!” on the other – motivated a small group of citizens
to form the Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation (RILF) to restore,
maintain and operate the historic lighthouse as a public site.
by Wanton’s reminiscences about his grandmother’s
big black stove and the pitcher pump at the pantry sink, plus the
fact that no city services or utilities extended to the island, RILF
volunteers restored the historic rainwater harvesting system from
the roof into a basement cistern, and developed new, independent,
renewable energy systems that rely on the sun and wind.
Relighting the navigation beacon in 1993 with wind-powered
electricity marked the completion of the lighthouse restoration and
the first stage in RILF’s long-range plan to preserve all of
Rose Island and establish it as an environmental education center.
More than anything, the operating light and RILF’s open invitation
for people to stay overnight in the lighthouse and to voluntarily
take on the keeper’s responsibilities and chores unquestionably “put
the life back into the lighthouse.”
RILF saved the rest of the
island from development by purchasing it in 1999. At that time it
was so overgrown with vegetation it was nearly impossible to discern
that it had served as the Naval Torpedo Station’s munitions
depot during World Wars I and II. Efforts soon began to reclaim the
oldest of Rose Island’s fort structures: a unique 9-room bombproof
barracks and the northwest circular bastion of Fort Hamilton, which
was constructed between 1798-1800.
Today’s visitors can learn
much from the keeper’s self-sufficient,
resourceful way of life, as well as the practical side of living “off
the grid” with minimal impact on the environment. Today we
simply call it “being
green.” Its success depends on the awareness and ingenuity
of its visitors and its volunteer keepers who monitor and conserve
these precious resources.
© 2008 Newport Harbor
Guide. All rights reserved.