Just 200 yards off the coast of East Providence, on a half-acre island, and atop a 42-foot tower is the Pomham Rocks Lighthouse lantern room – a literal beacon of Rhode Island’s maritime history. Along with panoramic views of the Narragansett Bay and the antique Fresnel lens, the site houses a time capsule of the early 20th century in its exhibits showcasing East Providence lighthouses in their heyday.
“Rhode Island is home to 21 lighthouses. Pomham Rocks is the only surviving of five that once protected the waters in East Providence. The lighthouse still serves as an active aid to navigation,” says Louise Paiva, board member of Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse. The other four – Bullocks Point, Sabin Point, Sassafras, and Fuller Rock – and the people who attended them are represented in rooms throughout.
Paiva explains that the site of Pomham Rocks was chosen in 1871 to help an increasing volume of shipping traffic safely travel to and from the Port of Providence. “The northernmost lighthouse in Narragansett Bay, it was designed by Vermont architect Albert Dow in a French empire mansard style, with seven rooms and a 42-foot tower,” says Paiva. “It has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 1979.”
The never-ending work of preservation is buoyed by a $10,000 grant Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse recently received from The 1772 Foundation in cooperation with Preserve Rhode Island. The funds will go toward the design, fabrication, and installation of 19 sets of historically accurate shutters, along with restoring the outer appearance to its early years. “The shutter project will help protect the lighthouse from the harmful effects of New England storms, which have increased in frequency and intensity in recent years,” explains Paiva.
“We are so grateful to be selected to receive this prestigious award,” noted Dennis Tardiff, president of Friends of Pomham Rocks, in a press release. “It will allow us to safeguard this important landmark, so it will be a lasting symbol of the crucial role our community played in maritime safety.”
Guests wanting to embark on a voyage through time learning about Pomham Rocks’ crucial role of safely guiding mariners across the Providence River can lace up their good walking shoes and board the Lady Pomham II as self-guided tours are available all summer. “Learn about the surgery performed on the kitchen table,” says Paiva, “and a lightkeeper’s cat that gained national attention by catching his dinner by jumping off the rocky island.” A trek upstairs to see the Fresnel lens – shaped like a beehive and constructed of 54 individual pieces of glass – is well worth it.
“Lighthouses have played an integral role in the history of our nation. By maintaining Pomham Rocks Lighthouse as a museum, we preserve for everyone a time in American history when maritime trade was essential to our economy,” says Paiva. “Historical sites, such as this lighthouse, cannot be replaced. Once they are gone, the cultural history they embody is destroyed forever.”
Find a schedule of tour dates and registration online at PomhamRocksLighthouse.org, and meet the Friends of Pomham Lighthouse (plus models of lighthouse pets Tommy the cat and Jennifer the dog) at the The Looff: East Providence Arts Festival on August 12.
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