Prudence lighthouse, 2 others getting new owners

Sandy Point Lighthouse transferred to Prudence Conservancy

Posted 7/11/23

PRUDENCE ISLAND — The oldest continuously operating lighthouse in Rhode Island will soon have a new owner.

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Prudence lighthouse, 2 others getting new owners

Sandy Point Lighthouse transferred to Prudence Conservancy


PRUDENCE ISLAND — The oldest continuously operating lighthouse in Rhode Island will soon have a new owner.

Sandy Point Lighthouse on Prudence Island is one of three lighthouses in Rhode Island that the U.S. Department of the Interior has recommended be transferred to new owners who will preserve them for future generations, according to U.S. Sen. Jack Reed. 

Reed said he expects Sandy Point Lighthouse will be turned over to the Prudence Conservancy, a nonprofit that has protected and preserved over 800 acres of land on Prudence Island since its founding in 1987.

Beavertail Lighthouse in Jamestown will be transferred to the R.I. Department of Environmental Management, while Watch Hill Lighthouse in Westerly will be turned over to the Watch Hill Lighthouse Keepers Association.

The agreements were reached after a multi-year process that included action by a variety of federal agencies and entities, such as the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Interior, and the National Park Service. The final step is for the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) to officially accept the recommendations from the National Park Service.

The U.S. Coast Guard will continue operating Sandy Point Lighthouse’s lights and fog horns as active navigation aids as needed. But going forward, the day-to-day operations of all three lighthouses will be turned over to their new owners.

Reed says the three historic lighthouses were deemed “excess property” by the U.S. government. 

First built in 1823

Built two centuries ago and noted as the oldest lighthouse in Rhode Island that is still standing and operating, the Sandy Point Lighthouse was originally constructed in Newport Harbor in 1823 and then moved to Prudence Island in 1851.

The 28-foot, cast iron lighthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

Notably, the hurricane of 1938 claimed the lives of the lighthouse keeper’s wife and son, but the structure itself survived the storm. Keeper George T. Gustavus was pulled to safety after being caught in a wave, but his wife Mabel and 13-year-old son Edward were swept away. Mabel’s body was later found on a beach near Newport, but Edward’s body was never recovered. 

The storm also claimed the lives of three guests who were staying in the lighthouse, as well as three more people who were on the island at the time.

Today, the 28-foot-tall octagonal granite light tower occupies a two-acre property on the east side of Prudence Island in Narragansett Bay, about a mile off the “mainland.”

The two-story light tower is one of a few in the country capped by a “bird cage” lantern. The lighthouse is accessible only by boat and is not open to the public.

The Prudence Island Conservancy began managing the Sandy Point Lighthouse in 2001 in conjunction with the Coast Guard. Today, the lighthouse uses solar power and remains an active part of the Coast Guard’s ATON system, which will continue after conveyance.

Since the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000 was enacted, the federal government has transferred ownership of over 150 lighthouses to applicants nationwide, with 81 transferred to governments and nonprofits at no-cost and another 70 auctioned off, raising more than $10 million for the Coast Guard to reinvest in its Aids to Navigation (ATON) mission, according to GSA.

“These lighthouses are part of Rhode Island’s history and continue to serve as local landmarks, boosting tourism and preserving public spaces with breathtaking views. Transferring ownership to local care and ensuring the preservation of these sites is a win for the community. It ensures public access and will keep the lighthouses standing as symbolic beacons for future generations,” said Reed, a member of the Appropriations Committee, which is working on new legislation, the LIGHTS Act, to make new federal grants available for historic lighthouse preservation work. 

“Rhode Islanders are beaming with delight because this means DEM and responsible nonprofits will keep watch over these landmarks and ensure they continue to remain a strong, enduring symbol of Rhode Island’s maritime heritage.”

Prudence Island, Sandy Point Lighthouse, Prudence Conservancy

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