The Lighthouse Log
Spring 2008

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

George Warner

Vice President
Richard Sullivan

Paula Florentino

Richard Koster

Board of Directors 

Anthony Antine

Guy Archambault

Joe Bouchard

Varoujan Karentz

Lanette Macaruso

Charlotte Richardson

Joan Vessella

Log Editor
Charlotte Richardson

Jamestown, RI

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

Spring 2008 Smiles on the Lighthouse – A Message from the BLMA President

It’s great to be back and talking to you from the pages of this newsletter, especially after such an eventful fall and winter ushering in what is already a busy spring.

As you can see from the announcements in this mailing – we’ve got our traditional pre-opening events set for May: - Clean-up Day on the 7th, and Docent Training Day on the 10th. I hope you’ll join fellow BLMA members and enjoy the fresh air and cheery atmosphere that make work at the light seem like play.

You probably noticed that the lighthouse has been in the news lately - for the generous grant funding it has received, for one thing. On the other hand, I’m sure many of you felt alarmed at the front page photo of Beavertail with the caption “No one watching the house”. Well, to clarify things a bit, I must point out that our volunteers do keep careful tabs on the site, even during the winter – when, for example, we had the keepers’ house beautifully lit for the holidays. It is also, true, though, that no one is calling the place home these days, and no one will be, either.

You see, the owner of the site is - and has been - the United States Coast Guard. Through a license agreement, the Town was given access to the buildings, and the right to house a caretaker in the Keeper’s house. This the Town did successfully for many years. However, after assessing environmental and safety issues at the site prior to renewing the license, the Coast Guard has now disallowed anyone to live there on a permanent basis. Subsequent to this decision, the Town decided not to renew its license agreement. The State of Rhode Island, which, like the Town, has been a long-term partner with the BLMA and the Coast Guard, agreed to take over the license agreement. Permissions will be sought to have security volunteers – real people - keep a watch over our historic buildings and beautiful grounds, although it’s different from what we are used to. It is essential to protect the buildings against vandalism and damage.

We are grateful to all groups and individuals who keep watch over the light and support its preservation and educational mission. As members of the BLMA, each one of us plays an important role in its care and use. We open May 24 - Memorial Day weekend, (see 2008 Museum Hours in this newsletter and on the website). Please come on in and volunteer to help and have fun with us this season. Enjoy the sea breezes, fascinating history, and good feelings the light never fails to give those who care for it.

On a sad note, we mark the passing of two people who served in leadership roles during the BLMA’s formative years. Our first president, Hugh Bucher, passed away this past fall. He was instrumental in getting the Beavertail Museum Lighthouse Association launched and off to a great start during the early nineties. On the same note, Connie Armbrust, also a charter member, passed away in March. We recall that her mugs, note cards, and paintings of Beavertail, displayed on the stairwell of the early museum, provided many of the items of our first gift shop. The benefits of Hugh’s and Connie’s care continue on, and make us smile to think of them….

- George Warner

Membership dues have gone up just a bit – so if you are joining or renewing, here’s what to send us...
Memberships Levels Available (established Dec., 2007):                       Memberships Forms: WebPDF

Family Life:

Individual Life:







$ 40

$ 25

As a member of BLMA, 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.

Also: Please contact us about helping with BLMA projects.  Our historic tower and keepers’ houses are very much in need of repair.  We have successfully sought,  and are actively seeking and grant support for restoration projects, but we need so much more.  Come and see the buildings!  Your donations will help us fulfill our dual mission of preservation of these historic buildings and education about the inspiring history of Beavertail Light Station.

Name _____________________________

Address ___________________________

City/State/Zip ______________________

Email _____________________________

Please make checks payable to: BLMA
PO Box 83, Jamestown, RI 02835
Tel:  (401) 423-3270

Varoujan Karentz, Preservation of Beavertail Lighthouse Properties.

This summer will see some major repairs and preservation steps taking place around some of the light station buildings and grounds all thanks to BLMA obtaining grants funds from private, state and national sources plus some cooperation from RI Department of Environmental Management.

As the result of a US Coast Guard license modification, BLMA has been given authorization to include the previously "off limits" accessibility of the granite light tower to now allow needed repairs and restoration of the tower. BLMA applied and received a $227,000 grant from the Rhode Island based Champlin Foundation to perform the restoration. This is the largest single competitive grant BLMA has ever received.

Considerable work is needed on the ironwork in the upper catwalks, railings, the internal spiral staircase, plus masonry work on the granite blocks will be undertaken by ABCORE Restorations Inc., of Narragansett. ABCORE has performed work at Beavertail previously and recently completed the restoration of the Dutch Harbor lighthouse.

BLMA is hopeful that upon completion of the work the tower will be open more frequently to visitors with many of our safety concerns resolved.

BLMA also received a $50,000 matching grant from the Rhode Island Preservation and Heritage Commission to undertake repairs to both keeper houses. Work will include sealing external water leaks in soffets, gutters, chimneys, and internal walls; removal of deteriorated material from basements and installation of sump pumps.

A third grant ($5,000) was received from BankNewport to replace the 800 plus feet of deteriorated and broken post and rail perimeter fence surrounding the lighthouse grounds. RI DEM will provide services to BLMA and remove the old fence, its posts and install the new fence.

The U. S. National Trust for Historic Places has provided a matching grant of $1,000 to allow BLMA to undertake an underground non-evasive radar imaging survey of the 1749 lighthouse foundation. This survey will help document the detail of the foundation and help determine actions if any, which can be taken to preserve the structural remains of the original lighthouse. However, this funding falls short of the required project funds and may have to be returned.

For information, while these grants provide a significant stepping-stone in the preservation of the Beavertail site, there is much more which needs to be done on all the buildings and grounds to get them back to pristine condition that they once were.

Our Vision for the Future



The Scholarship Committee, Guy Archambault, Lanette Macaruso and Richard Sullivan, has been hard at work this year, refining the application process and the design of a new prompt for the essay portion of the application. 

The reading requirement calls for them to draw ideas and facts from an essay provided in the application about the history of the Beavertail Lighthouse Station. 

Applicants are to respond to that prompt by writing a formal essay of their own expressing and supporting their opinions on the value of investing time and effort in historic preservation.

Applicant essay-writers could also opt to discuss what Beavertail Lighthouse Museum means to them, to their community and to region, and why its conservation and expansion is or is not important.  

The awarding of the two $1000.00 scholarships to college-bound Jamestown high school seniors attending schools throughout the state has become a highlight among the spring activities of BLMA officers and Board members.

A thank you to David Auld, Web Master of the BLMA's

Our deepest thanks to David Auld, the BLMA's talented Web Master, who works with great skill and lightning speed to keep our website robust and up-to-date. Facts, information, pictures, and news items are posted at the site to the benefit of thousands of online visitors and the BLMA's mission of education and preservation. David formatted and uploaded the membership brochure mailed in December of 2007 to Jamestown residents and property owners, and uploaded the spring Scholarship Application. David provides these services and tracks the numbers of visitors and downloads from our site as well - and he does it all as a volunteer. His care for Beavertail Lighthouse makes a valuable difference in this digital age of communication - to us here at the BLMA and to all we serve.

Thank you, David!

If you’re not from Beavertail

By Cayla Haggarty

If you’re not from Beavertail, you don’t know the waves
The waves that rush up on the rocks
The waves that splash you from the highest star
The waves that turn colors as the wind swishes by
The waves that smell of salt water,
If you’re not from Beavertail, you don’t know the waves

If you’re not from Beavertail, you won’t know the lighthouse
The lighthouse that guides sailors to the shore in gusty winds
The lighthouse that stands tall in case of a storm
The lighthouse that brightens the way for anyone who dares to cross the dangerous seas
If you’re not from Beavertail, you won’t know the lighthouse

If you’re not from Beavertail, you won’t know the rocks
The rocks that glitter in the sun
The rocks that look beautiful along the shores of the beach
The rocks that remind you of what a great place you’re in
If you’re not from Beavertail, you won’t know the rocks.

If you’re not from Beavertail, you most certainly will not know how it makes people feel when they walk around and see the blossoming flowers, the fish jumping in the sea, the rocks shining in the sun, or the lighthouse which guides the sailors to shore.

Cayla was just ten years old when she wrote this poem filled with the celebratory sense of place that Beavertail Point evokes.

The Bells, Whistles, & Enlightening History: Varoujan Karentz’s Beavertail Light Station
By Lanette Spranzo Macaruso

What a richly detailed account of lighthouse functionality, development, and management we have in Varoujan Karentz’s Beavertail Light Station. His history of our lighthouse and of the lightships and buoys around Conanicut and Aquidneck Islands opens a window of learning about how and why those often amazing light and foghorn devices worked. The BLMA has sought for a long time to better understand the continuum of instruments that grumbled, flashed, rang, whistled and boomed over southern Narragansett Bay, and Varoujan has shown us the systems and stewardship behind them. He did a daunting amount of legwork – interviewing historians, curators, researchers, descendants of keepers, and scores of people fascinated with lighthouse history. He traveled to libraries and US Coast Guard centers in several states to find the pieces of what he knew was a great story, and a story he is, by virtue of his acumen and technical expertise, uniquely prepared to tell.

During his more than three decades with Raytheon, Varoujan amassed a formidable base of knowledge about radar and electronics systems, as well as experience in developing and overseeing their deployment. This equipped him to describe the design and operation of some pretty neat, and often quite labor-intensive devices in ways non-technical readers can appreciate. For example, study this description of how the 2000-lb Fresnel lens was set up to flash in the pattern identifying the light as the Beavertail’s:

A flashing light characteristic was chosen for Beavertail (circa 1856) to differentiate its location from the other lighthouses in view. …Records indicate that as late as 1931, the Beavertail electrified light characteristic was two (2) flashes every 15 seconds. The first 3rd order Fresnel lens installed in the 1856 tower had flash panels or “bull’s eyes” arranged around the center of the lens structure and placed at the distance calculated to the focal length of the illuminating source. Above and below the bull’s eyes were circular prisms which collected and bent the light rays out into the horizontal plane. The Fresnel lens assembly floated in a container of mercury, so that it could be set in circular motion with the touch of a finger. The actual lamp inside the lens consisted of two circular wicks burning whale oil. (p.58)

To provide precise rotational speed, the lens was turned by a clock mechanism hand-wound by the keepers and containing a suspended weight extending down through the inside of the spiral staircase to the ground. …Records state that the 4th order lens used at Beavertail was rotated by a “Clock Type D Lens Drive” and the 135-foot clock cord was 3/16-inch diameter wire rope. The leaden weights of about 65-80 lbs were cranked up on a drum to the level of the lens room (at the tower’s top) every 4 hours. (p. 56)

Varoujan’s regard for this and hundreds of other devices transmit to the reader a captivation with their ingenuity and with the reliable practices of the individuals and groups who tended them. The surprising effect of what at first glance looks like a great deal of technical information in this book is that we feel a connection with the people of other times and situations working with natural forces and new kinds of machines to make sure that important navigational aids worked effectively. Throughout Varoujan’s story, we gain an illuminating sense of what it was like to pilot a clipper ship or a steamer in dense fog, or to do the manual labor necessary to provide fuel for the engines that unfailingly ran the lights and the sound machines. He shows us the reliability and innovation that helped the nation progress in every maritime endeavor. His charting of the development, use, analysis, and improvements made in lighthouse functionality connect with the sets of tasks before us today as we begin redefining systems for living together through sustainable systems of power and productivity. In demand will be deep reserves of talent, invention, collegiality, and dedication similar to those of the men and women of the country’s lighthouse system of long ago. Our understanding of how they thought, worked, and shared their experience informs our mission to help new generations participating actually and symbolically in the ongoing success of our changing Beavertail Light Station – and of our changing world as well.

Varoujan: yours is a work skillfully done and most generously given. We hope you hear the mighty signal blast of “thank-you” in our voices, from our hearts.

Bob Dennis Display of Beavertail Lighthouse Models on Display

In late October, BLMA president, George Warner in cooperation with Charlotte Johnson, executive director of Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation arranged a display of lighthouse models at the Island Cinemas 10 in Middletown, RI. The theater generously allows local nonprofit organizations to place an exhibit in their 9 foot by 4 foot, Community Showcase in the theater lobby, for a 2 month period.

The exhibit featured 10 models made by Robert Dennis of Middletown who died in September. He created the models in the 1980's and then donated them to BLMA where he served as a docent. The backdrop for the lighthouses was a copy of a 1844 survey map of the lower bay. The exhibition was unveiled by Bob's daughter, Mary Dennis Kelly.

The opening was attended by representation of several local lighthouse organizations. Afterward, everyone attended the movie Dan in Real Life, which was filmed locally.

When our time was up at the theater, the exhibit was moved to the Gateway Center in Newport, where it was once again enjoyed by all of those who viewed it.

Rest assured, the models will all be back in their case at Beavertail by opening day of the museum.

Varoujan Karentz’s book, Beavertail Light Station is available in the Museum Gift Shop and can also be purchased through He has donated all sales proceeds to the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association.

After the Storm

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