Winter 2010

A publication of Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association,
PO Box 83, Jamestown, RI 02835-0083 • Tel: (401)423-3270
E-mail: • Website:

Richard Sullivan

Vice President
George Warner

Recording Secretary
Paula Florentino

Membership Secretary
Clarice Willis

Richard Koster

Board of Directors 
Suzi Andrews

Anthony Antine
Guy Archambault
Varoujan Karentz
John Leyon

Lanette Macaruso
Warren O’Sullivan
Frank Sullivan
Joan Vessella

Shipwreck Historian
Jim Jenney

Log Editor
Guy Archambault

Jamestown, RI
Conanicut Island
41° 26’ 58” N 71° 24’ 00” W

A Message from BLMA President, Richard Sullivan

IF YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN TO THE Beavertail Light Station in January or February, you have missed a wonderful opportunity to experience the “off season”. Visitors are fewer, but no less enthusiastic then the summer crowd. Joggers, walkers, photographers and birders find pleasure in the seasonal assortment of waterfowl, shipping and ever changing patterns of waves and clouds.

Shipwreck historian Jim Jenney has contributed a seasonal drama to this issue that highlights the dangers inherent in winter maritime activity.

This season, visitors have been treated to the arrival of the latest in outdoor bathroom facilities. Four Clivus Multrum Composting Toilets have been delivered and installed in the location of the porta potties. Solar panel installation and landscaping remain to be completed in the spring. See the photo.

Repair and restoration activities are being planned for the spring and sum- mer. A grant from the Doris Duke Fund for Historic Preservation was awarded in January by the Newport Restoration Foundation for restoration of the oil house. An article by Varoujan Karentz addresses this as well as other projects for the upcoming months.

Lanette Macaruso has penned an es- say that addresses an important aspect of our research efforts- the appearance of the 1749 light. A future newsletter issue will present some new information about Abel Franklin, the keeper of this light.
Fund raising activities continue to be planned for the up coming months, Tony Antine, Chair of the Committee, has prepared a year end summary, with some thoughts about 2010.

Now is the time to be giving thought to your involvement this season. Before long, Volunteer Coordinator Mary Kelley will be setting up the summer docent schedule.

Spring clean up is scheduled for May 6th and the Volunteer Orientation will be Saturday, May 8. The Paint Beavertail event offers opportunities for active involvement. - RES

A BLMA & CIAA Collaboration

IT IS NEVER TOO EARLY TO DREAM OF warmer weather. Beavertail Light- house Museum Association and The Conanicut Island Art Association have part- nered to plan a creative summer event. “Paint Beavertail Through the Artist’s Eye.” will be held June 24 — 27, 2010.

Artists will be invited to create paintings with the Light Station featured as visitors will be encouraged to mingle with the artists and view the work as it is being created.

Completed works of art will be displayed for a silent auction on Sunday, June 27th with the proceeds to benefit both Non-profit organizations.

Volunteers are needed. The following committees are looking for help; publicity, artist registration, greeting com- mittee, hanging committee, and the chil- dren’s tee shirt contest committee. Contact Joan Vessella, 423-0208, if you would like to get involved with this exciting event. - JV

Beavertail’s Early Lights:

Speculating, Dreaming and . . . Still Looking . . .

We know that architect Peter Harrison (1716- 1775) designed both the first and second light towers at Beavertail. At this time, however, we don’t know nearly as much about these structures as we would like. We know less about the first tower, made of wood in 1749 and accidentally destroyed by fire in 1753, than we do about the second tower, made of brick and stone, and lasting from 1754 until 1856 when it was replaced by the current, granite tower. We think there may be more images available – probably of the second tower, and we are intent on finding any images and information that we can – of and about either tower.

Our search begins with questions: What did that first tower look like? Did Harrsion have a specific lighthouse on which he modeled Newport Light? What did the people who saw the tower think of it? Was it beautiful? Did it inspire? We want to know if Harrison designed it with the same assiduous care expressed in his masterpieces, like the Redwood Library, or Newport’s Market building, or the Touro Synogogue. Or, did he design the tower as simply a functional lantern house? We think that applying what we know about Harrison’s life and work, as well as looking at lighthouses with which he was no doubt fa- miliar, can provide us insights into the design possibilities of the first tower.

Wayne Craven, author of American Art and Cu- ture, notes that Harrison was an excellent example of the ‘gentleman-amateur architect’, who, whether born in England or in the colonies prior to the Revolution- ary War, considered himself English. Craven notes that architectural trends in Britain in the early 1700s had turned away from the Wren-Baroque style to the architectural design of Inigo Jones (1573-1652) and Andrea Palladio (1508-80). Harrison’s renowned collection of books included works by and about these designers. This new spirit of design, which emerged during the reign of King George I (reigned 1714-1727), filtered through to the American colonies around 1740, leading to a golden age of Georgian splendor in the 1760s.” (p. 81.) Harrison’s edifices reflect this understated grandeur.

This brings up another question: Was this new British style trend - classical with strong influences of Palladianism-displayed in the design of lighthouses? Did Harrison’s tower indi- cate any of these elements?

Those familiar with Harrison’s fate know that few, if any, of his drawings can be consulted. All the drawings Harrison brought with him in 1768 to his home and customs office in New Haven, Connecticut were, along with his architectural books, either burned, scattered, or completely destroyed by a mob of patriots two weeks after his death in June of 1775. This terri- ble loss presents a tragedy for anyone researching the life’s work of Harrison, and certainly to BLMA in its study of the early history of Beavertail Lighthouse. Surely, someone, perhaps a person aware of the genius of Harrison’s design of the Redwood Library, completed in 1750, drew a picture of the brand new Newport Light when it was completed in 1749?

The hunt for any verifiable image of our lighthouse might start with the stone foundation that remains at Beavertail. The BLMA’s 2008-9 study indicates an octogonal shape to the tower foundation, stimulating speculation that either of the towers might have been octagonal in shape as well. Interestingly, a wooden, octagonal spire is what formed the first Eddystone Lighthouse, made of wood and lit in 1698 on a famously treacherous reef 15 miles southwest of the port of Plymouth, England. The first Eddystone Light was designed by famed engineer Henry Winstanley, and like Beavertail’s first tower, lasted only several years. Even though Eddystone I was lost in 1703, thirteen years before Harrison was born in York, England, Harrison might have studied its design when drawing his plans for Beavertail’s first tower.
Interestingly, the second tower of the Eddystone Light, built by John Rudyard, was conical in shape, its core made of brick and stone, its fašade constructed of wooden timbers. Like Harrison’s second tower, Eddystone II lasted much longer than its predecessor. Lit in 1709, it was heavily damaged in a lantern fire in 1755, while Harrison’s brick and stone tower lasted 102 years.

There are several depictions of Harrison’s second tower, and those show a conical shape. The picture here is taken from a 1796 engraving used as part of the seal of the Providence Marine Society established in 1798. Shown also on page 11 of Sarah Gleason’s Kindly Lights, this depiction clearly shows a coni- cal tower. We can trust that this tower was, in its hey day, very handsome. Carl Bridenbaugh, in Peter Harrison, First American Architect, reports that Britain’s Reverend Andrew Burnaby, visiting Newport around 1760, noted a few buildings of outstanding design (all Harrison’s designs!), wrote, “At the entrance of the harbour is likewise an exceeding good light- house.” (Bridenbaugh, 110)

Millar, who attributes several other Newport buildings to Harrison, including the Malbone house, dispels Bridenbaugh’s naming of Harrison as the colonies’ first archi- tect” in favor of Pennsylvania’s James Porteous (1660-1737). Millar states nevertheless that “Harrison’s only flaw was that he a Tory”.

Millar speculates that it was fortunate Harrison died before the Revolution, because “Harrison would have been torn between fighting for his King and for the country where he had poured out so much of himself.”(p. 171) Millar calls the burning of Harrison’s books and drawings “a shameful act by a mob of so-called patriots an act of violence that did not advance the cause of the Revolution. He further surmises that if Thomas Jefferson had known about Harrison’s work and what was in store for it, “he would have taken drastic action to save the books and the drawings.” Jefferson believed himself the first in the new nation to experiment with the classical architectural design infused with Palladianism. This became the national style for a time, because of Jefferson’s great influence. As Millar says, “If Jefferson had only known.”

We can dream about Jefferson stepping in to save Harrison’s drawings, especially those of the first two towers at Beavertail Point, but we can’t tarry too long with dreams and speculation. Possible pictures of earlier towers may well exist. They may be held in storage - in private hands, perhaps, possibly in places far beyond Rhode Island, or perhaps very near to us. If you know where any depiction of either or both of Beavertail’s first two towers exist, please notify us.

Craven, Wayne, American Art: History and Culture, McGraw- Hill, New York, 1994

Millar, John Fitzhugh, The Architects of the American Colonies, or Vitruvius Americanus
, 1968, Barre Publishers, Massachusetts.

Bridenbaugh, Carl, Peter Harrison, America’s First Architect, 1948

Gleason, Sarah, Kindly Lights, 1991, Beacon Press, Boston, 1991

2010 Restoration and Maintenance Activities

Oil Storage Shed
Late this past fall, BLMA submitted a grant application to the Duke Historic Preservation Fund. Notification was received January 30th from the Newport Restoration Foundation fund custodian, that the project has been funded. Project Director is Guy Archambault.
The funds requested will be used for restoration and preservation of the historic “Oil Storage” building located at the rear of the Keepers Quarters. This structure has been used for general storage since 1971 and has fallen into disrepair due to lack of maintenance funds. The BLMA replaced the roof shingles in 2005, thereby saving the building from severe water intrusion.

The single story brick structure is 13 x 17 ft in size. It requires extensive maintenance, including repair of exterior brick surfaces, deteriorated doors, decaying wood soffits, treatment of interior walls and overhead wooden trusses, and addition of a usable floor surface with raised ramp for handicap entrance access. Decrepit electrical services must be replaced with more modern service and overhead track lighting must be installed.

As part of its museum expansion project, BLMA intends to use the structure for visitor educational enhancement to tell the story of its original use and how various 18th and 19th century fuels and lamps were used at Beavertail. The exhibits within the building will include source stories and images of early lights, fuels such as lard oil, whale oil, kerosene, pressurized burners, wicks and the series of illuminated lenses, Fresnel, dioptics, beacon and shrouded and rotated optics over the Beavertail’s 260 year operational period.
The requested funds will cover material costs only. Labor services will be provided by our own volunteers. Preparation and design of exhibits are additional costs.

1749 Foundation Ruin
We are a going into our 3rd year of trying to devise a preservation plan and raise funds to save the original foundation ruin, which sits across the road next to the fog signal. A number of studies have been completed including an underground radar survey. There is general consensus by the professional community who have participated in the preservation studies that the best and simplest course of action is to remove loose mortar, replace the missing stones and re-cement any loose stones. This would require preparing a firm base pinned to the bedrock below southwest cavity of missing stones. Over time, the old base has deteriorated to a “flaky” shale composite which is susceptible to continued flaking.

A rough estimate of $80,000 is required for the project.

Expansion of the Museum
Now that the tower restoration and external repairs to the two keeper buildings have been completed and made watertight, it is time to turn attention to interior preservation needs. “Our houses” are old and need attention. Any expansion of the museum as outlined in our Master Plan into Keepers quarters and incorporation of new exhibits first requires restoration and preparation of interior spaces. Electrical services throughout the buildings are both archaic and barely adequate. For future use there is the need to upgrade and provide better and safer illumination along with the power service of adequate amperage and distribution. Heating utilities along with baseboard radiators that also need upgrading while floors need refinishing and all windows require interior rehabilitation. Plaster repair, paint and finishing are on the list of things to do as well.

The intent is to keep everything in its period and historic form, yet provide improvements which preserve the interior of buildings as was done this past year with the external work. The outcome will provide years of life while providing safety and conven- ience to our docents and visitors alike. This undertaking will require the next two years and additional fund raising efforts. -VK

Fund Raising Activities

A very good initial response from the membership

In the summer of 2009 BLMA launched a fund raising campaign with a goal of raising $150,000. At years end we achieved close to 50% of our goal. A very good initial response was received from the membership. Benefactor levels of giving included eleven donors who contributed $1,000 to $4,999; six donors who gave between $5000 to $9999, and 2 individuals who gave $10,000 or more.

Grant writing has been an excellent source of funds over the years. Elsewhere in the newsletter is the announcement of a grant to provide materials for the oil house restoration. Plans for 2010 include applications to the Champlin Foundations and the Rhode Island Foundation. Grant writing is an ongoing activity.

Wine and cheese gatherings are in the planning stages for 2010. There will be invitational gatherings at the tower as well as openings for the general public.

The Fund Raising committee welcomes your ideas and assistance. Contact Tony Antine, 401.423.2873 or Guy Archambault 401.423.2823.
- TA


A position of increasing responsibility within the BLMA organization is that of Webmaster. The latest additions to our website,, relating to the fund raising drive and online gift shop, have been only possible due to the “behind the scenes” work of David Auld.

The son of long time BLMA members Anna and the late Charlie Auld, David has been on the job since setting up the site some 10 years ago. For many years, David balanced the cerebral tasks of web work while competing nationally and internationally in Street Luge. A serious accident in 2007 led to his retirement from the sport. These days, he enjoys hiking and airboarding.

David is employed by Pepsi and is part of a partnership with Starbucks making ready to drink coffee.

Thank you, David, for all your efforts. - RES

“Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow”

For those of us who live or have lived in New England, snow is a fact of life. Like it or hate it, there is usually no escaping it for as many as four to six months of the year. But as beautiful as it can be when watched from the comfort of your living room or kitchen, snow must be given the respect that it is due. In sufficient quantity, the fluffy flakes can be as deadly as any storm at sea, the greatest concern being from the reduction in visibility which, for a mariner at sea in the early years of the 20th century, caused more than one marine disaster. The story of three coastal barges sailing northward with coal on a cold December day in 1917 provides an excellent example.

At the end of the first week of January, the tug CHARLES A. MCCAFFERTY of the towing company of the same name, departed from the port of New York bound for Narragansett Bay with three heavily laden coal barges in tow, CHIPPEWA, MADISON, and MARION B. Aboard the 441 ton MADISON was Captain John Fox; on the 421 ton CHIPPEWA, Captain George A. Newman and his two children; on the 510 ton MARION B., a captain whose name was not disclosed and his wife. The vessels stopped in New London, perhaps due to the weather but when they departed on Saturday morning, the 8th, they had no way to know that the worst, by far, was yet to come. Captain George McDuffart (McGuggart in one account) picked his way carefully along the coast, being ever alert to the dangers off Fishers Island and Watch Hill. The final destination of the voyage was Fall River for the CHIPPEWA and the MARION B. but the voyage included a stop at Newport to leave the MADISON and 1,600 tons of coal for winter residents who were in dire need of the fuel. As the tug and her tow rounded Point Judith , the master must have breathed a sigh of relief. Point Judith marked the most serious threat on this route, and he had passed it safely, but almost as soon as he turned toward the northeast the intensity of the weather increased dramatically.

According to McDuffart, “... at 7 o’clock [the vessels] were off Beavertail Lighthouse when a blinding snowstorm set in. A gale, more like a hurricane, struck us in addition to a rough sea, shutting off sight of the barges from the tug which seemed to be doing all well as we were making for the mouth of Newport Harbor. Soon afterward the tug became unmanageable. Then we knew one or more of the barges had foundered, as there were no lights to be seen nor could we hear the horns of the barges blowing. To save the tug and those on board we let go our steel hawser about 7:30, circling around for some time searching for the barges and those aboard them. After continuing these tactics for some time and failing to see anything of the people or barges, the engineer informed me the tug was making water, and we made for Newport harbor...” As intense as the storm was, the full impact of the incident would not be known for some time after the blizzard passed.

Two of the barges, the MADISON and the MARION B. drifted ashore on the west side of the bay just south of Narragansett Pier where they were soonturned into kindling mixed with water soaked coal. The fate and location of the third barge, the CHIPPEWA, was not learned and it is likely that she was the first of the three barges lost and was sunk in deep water somewhere off Beavertail Point. Without a doubt, the most serious aspect of this inci- dent was the loss of all six of those aboard the barges at the time, a statistic much more se- vere than that of the cargo loss. But with the newspapers of the time filled with news of the war, the disaster would not long be remembered by any but those local residents and mari- ners who knew all too well, that the fluffy flakes of snow and a winter blizzard, although pretty to look at must never be underestimated.



Did you know that as a BLMA member, you will receive our newsletter, email notifications of special events, a 10% discount on purchases from our gift shop and discounts on event admission fees.

Don’t delay—join today!

It was a cold January day when the Clevis Multrum Composting Toilets were installed.

Lighthouses are rapidly disappearing all around the world,
and with them goes an invaluable link to our past. Your membership will help a great deal to keep Beavertail Lighthouse, the third oldest in the United States, from following that sad pathway. Please talk to your friends, neighbors, and family members and urge them to join all of us who are thoroughly convinced that Beavertail Lighthouse is most worthy of our efforts to save it. Thank you in advance for sharing this membership application!
BMLA is dedicated to the preservation of America’s third oldest light, providing educational experiences reflecting the best current thinking for all learners and engaging in fund raising activities necessary for enhancing visitor experiences.


Mark your calendars and save these dates . . .

• Spring Museum Clean-Up Thursday, May 6

• Docent Orientation Saturday, May 8

• Great Outdoors Pursuit Sunday, June 13

Beavertail State Park will be the site of the 2nd Annual “Great Outdoors Pursuit — No Child Left Indoors” June 13,2010. An exciting family day is being planned by DEM with some fun BLMA activities.

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