Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2012-11-23.
For the mariners approaching Fall River, Massachusetts from Narragansett Bay, the path was a dangerous one. A shoal stretches nearly one thousand yards from Hog Island out into the straight, on the other side is another shoal that stretches from the shore leaving a safe passage of less than a quarter of a mile. A lighthouse would later be built at Hog Island in 1901.
Although the area was marked with a wood-framed beacon operated as a private aid to navigation as early as 1846, it was dim and unreliable. Mariners have long petitioned the Lighthouse Board for the establishment of a light at Bristol Ferry to mark the passage. One such captain, William Brown, of the Bay State wrote the following in his petition:
"Those of us who have to pass through this strait on dark and stormy nights, or else are brought to a stand in the attempt to grope our way through, realize that, as it is now, we are subjected frequently to a responsibility more weighty than to be placed on any one."
The petitions were successful, and on August 3, 1854, Congress appropriated $1,500 for the establishment of a lighthouse at Bristol Ferry. By October, a plot of land was purchased from George Pearse for $100 whom would later be appointed the first keeper. Shortly after that, construction was started.
When completed, the twenty-eight-foot tall brick tower with attached keeper's dwelling stood fifty-three feet north of where the private wood-framed beacon once stood. The tower was similar in style to other lighthouses completed during that same time frame, such as the Dutch Island and Nayatt Point Lighthouses in Rhode Island, and the Sand Point Lighthouse in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Atop the brick tower was a wooden deck and lantern room outfitted with a sixth order Fresnel lens. The whale oil lamp would display a fixed white light for the first time on the night of October 4, 1855.
Bristol Ferry Lighthouse circa 1884 (Courtesy Coast Guard)
George Pearse would only last two months as the keeper before being replaced by Henry Dimon in December of 1855. He would be succeeded by his wife Elizabeth when he passed away on August 7, 1856. Elizabeth would pass away within six months. At that point, Daniel Coggeshall would take over the keeper position.
The illuminating apparatus would be upgraded in 1902 to a more powerful fifth order Fresnel lens powered by electricity. By 1916, the wooden deck and lantern room were rotted beyond repair. Rather than rebuilding them with wood, a cast-iron deck and lantern room from the discontinued Rondout Lighthouse in New York was transported to the site. The tower would then be raised by six feet before installing the new lantern room.
Bristol Ferry Lighthouse circa 1917 (Courtesy Coast Guard)
By 1927, plans were in place to link Bristol and Portsmouth with a bridge. The logical decision was made to build the bridge at the narrowest point of the channel which was where the Bristol Ferry Lighthouse was located. At this point, the lighthouse was retired and duties were passed on to an automated acetylene-powered skeletal tower that sat out in the channel. The Mount Hope Bridge was completed in 1929. As its piers were lit, the skeletal tower was redundant and removed in the spring of 1930.
The cast-iron lantern room was removed the lighthouse in 1928 and the dwelling with attached tower was put up auction. The winning bid of $2,050 was submitted by local resident Anna Santulli. It would change hands several more times and eventually fall into neglect. Bob and Carol Lundin purchased the property in 1991, and spent several years renovating it which included building and installing a new lantern. After living there for several years, they sold the property in early 2000.
Note: The lighthouse is private property, please respect this and do not trespass.
Directions: The lighthouse is located at the base of the northern end of the Mount Hope Bridge. From Route 114, follow Old Ferry Road south to the end where the tower will be visible. Please keep in mind that the lighthouse and grounds are private property. Do not trespass.
Access: Grounds closed. Tower closed.View more Bristol Ferry Lighthouse pictures