Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2011-10-01.
The history of Dutch Island can be traced back to the mid-1630s when the Narragansett Indians sold "Quetenis Island" to the Dutch West India Company. They used it as a trading post for two decades, and later let English settlers use the island as a pasture for their livestock.
A six acre parcel on the southern tip of the island was sold to the United States Lighthouse Service in 1825 for the construction of a lighthouse on Dutch Island. On March 3, 1825, three thousand dollars was authorized by Congress for the construction of a lighthouse on Dutch Island. On March 14, 1826, and additional two thousand dollars was appropriated to complete the construction.
When finished, the tower stood thirty feet and had an attached keeper's dwelling. Documents show that many of the materials used in construction of the dwelling were sourced from the island. Unfortunately, like many early lighthouse towers, the construction was poor and the tower had many leaks. An inspection report of 1844 called the tower and dwelling "The state's worst example of lighthouse construction."
Plans were put forth to replace the aging tower with a new one. It would be 1856 before funds were appropriated and another year before the new tower would actually be constructed. The new tower would feature a tower with attached living quarters.
The Sailor's Magazine dated November of 1857 had this description of the new Dutch Island Lighthouse:
The base of the tower is 20 1/2 feet, and the centre of the light 56 feet above mean low water. The light will be fixed, of the natural color, and visible around the whole horizon; produced by a 4th order catadioptric illuminating apparatus of the system of Fresnel, and should be seen from the deck of a vessel 15 feet above the water, at a distance of 14 nautical miles, under ordinary states of the atmosphere.
The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board dated 1875 lists repairs to the station in the amount of $1,500. The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board dated 1878 has the following two entries showing extensive work on the station:
132 Dutch Island Narragansett Bay Rhode Island Extensive repairs have been made at this station during the year A capacious cistern has been built in the cellar and connected with the kitchen the pavement has been repaired a lightning rod put up and the lantern put in order A fog bell operated by machinery has also been established.
131 Dutch Island on south end of Dutch Island Rhode Island house was reshingled boat ways built boat house closet built kitchen repaired storm doors put up and made putting the station in thorough good order and repair.
Things were quiet over the years. However, sometime between 1908 and 1910, a 13x15 oil house was completed at the cost of $465.97.
In 1923, the lighthouse was almost lost to fire. While the keeper was away, a family member decided to burn some brush behind the lighthouse. Soon after the fire was started, the winds picked up quickly spreading the fire to the nearby fields. Men from the fort spotted the fire, and quickly sprang into action. Eventually the men were able to get the upper hand on the fire and extinguish it. The only casualty was a store house on the fort grounds.
In 1924, the fixed white light was changed over to an occulting red. Electricity came to the lighthouse in 1943. In 1947, the Coast Guard automated the lighthouse. Later that same year, the U.S. Army left the island as well. This left the lighthouse and fort to the elements.
In 1958, the U.S. Army deeded its portion of the island to the state in the name of the wildlife conservation. In 1960, the Coast Guard inspected the keeper's quarters and several outbuildings and found them to be in poor condition. They were demolished at that time. Two years later, they transferred all remaining property with the exception of the property occupied by the tower to the state of Rhode Island.
The Coast Guard tried to discontinue the light in 1972 and 1977 after finding the tower vandalized during maintenance visits. It would be 1979 before the tower was discontinued in favor of offshore buoys.
In 2000, the Coast Guard leased the tower to the American Lighthouse Foundation, which in turn founded the Dutch Island Lighthouse Society. The group had brought in contractors to assess the site who found the site to be "sound." Over the years, the group raised the money necessary to restore the site and have it re-lit as a private aid to navigation in 2007.
Directions: The lighthouse is best viewed from the water. Rhode Island Bay Cruises offers a 10 lighthouse cruise that passes by the lighthouse.
Access: Grounds and tower closed.View more Dutch Island Lighthouse pictures