Location: Rhode Island
Date Built: 1901
Height(Approximate): 54 Feet (16.5 Meters)
Open For Tours: No
Constructed more than a century ago, the Hog Island Shoal Lighthouse is located in the Narragansett Bay. Around 200 acres in size, area settlers used the island to raise livestock. These settlers rarely lived on the island. However, they found that the islands were the perfect place to house livestock, since the animals would not be able to wander off and would be safe from predators. As the name implies, Hog Island was predominately used to raise hogs, but the island was difficult to access due to the large shoals and reefs that surround the coast. Many ships were damaged or wrecked as they passed. In 1838, a buoy was used to warn passing vessels about the dangerous shoals and reefs without success. As vessels continued to accrue substantial damage to their ships navigating the treacherous waters, those maintaining the area realized that a light was needed to increase visibility.
In 1886, the Old Colony Steamship Company commissioned for a light boat to be stationed in the area to help improve visibility and light up the rough waters. However, this was not very effective in severe weather, as the light was deemed too weak for the regularly harsh conditions of the Narragansett Bay. The lighthouse board requested funding from Congress to build a lighthouse that would decrease the danger in traveling the tricky terrain, but Congress opted to bring in a more powerful light ship called the Eel Grass Shoal Lightship. When the Eel Grass Shoal began to have costly maintenance problems, Congress finally approved plans for what is now the Hog Island Shoal Lighthouse. In 1899, with a budget of $35,000, the plans were finalized and construction on the lighthouse began.
The Toomey brothers from Guilford, Connecticut were chosen to supervise the construction of the Hog Island Lighthouse. They decided on a similar design to the nearby Plum Beach Lighthouse, which sported a cylindrical structure with a cast iron caisson; a common design for offshore lighthouses built during this time. After building a temporary wharf to the side of Hog Island for construction staging in 1901, a foundation cylinder was sunk to the bottom of a shoal. After the infrastructure of the lighthouse was completed, 1500 tons of granite was placed at the base of the caisson, to protect the lighthouse from large chunks of ice that would drift in. The diameter of the lighthouse’s watch room measured 11 feet, while the lighthouse’s first three levels, the space where the lighthouse keeper lived and worked, measured 20 feet. The lighthouse was constructed without a dock, instead using a ladder that could be climbed to reach the main gallery’s hatch.
Not much is known about the lighthouse keepers who have taken care of the lighthouse over the years. Some keepers made the news in 1935 when the keeper and his assistant found the body of a drowned man who had fallen out of his boat. In 1959, the lighthouse was converted to run on electricity generated by kerosene and a submarine cable was installed. The lighthouse became fully automated in 1964, eliminating the need for a lighthouse keeper altogether.
The Hog Island Shoal Lighthouse has needed many repairs over the years, many of which have been overseen by the Coast Guard. A full renovation was performed in 1986 when the caisson was repainted and the access ladder was reinforced in order to make it more secure. Old davits were also removed at this time. The lighthouse is now checked by the Coast Guard once every three months.
Under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, the lighthouse was available to purchase to an owner that would pledge to preserve the lighthouse’s historical significance. Unfortunately, although there was some interest from potential purchasers, including Roger Williams University, no one applied for ownership within the specified time and the lighthouse was sold to a private owner for $165,000 in November of 2006.
Although the lighthouse is still active, it is not open for tours. However, it can be seen by taking the Prudence Island Ferry or by standing on Mount Hope Bridge. Have you seen Hog Island Shoal Lighthouse from either the ferry or the bridge? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!