Sandy Point Light

Block Island North Light - Sandy Point Light, New Shoreham Rhode Island
Date added: December 21, 2023 Categories: Rhode Island Lighthouse

Strategically located near the entrance of Long Island Sound and Narragansett Bay, Block Island has been the scene of perhaps a hundred recorded shipping disasters, and indeed of the supposed thousand wrecks along the southern New England coast during the last two centuries, nearly half, it has been said, have been at Block Island. This region is moreover noted for its fogs and treacherous tides, and Sandy Point itself (which continues several miles as a sand bar) was particularly dangerous; for here, quoting an account of 1884, "the swift currents that sweep both shores meet, and struggle for supremacy, the bar in terrible combat being alternatively laid bare, and swept by seas towering 50 feet above its surface". North Light was one of four major lighthouses; others were the Block Island South East Light, the Montauk Point Light, and the Point Judith Light; that marked the entrances to Long Island sound.

To mark this entrance, and to warn of the long sand bar at Sandy Point, a lighthouse was first erected here in 1827. It was 45 feet high and visible for 12 miles, but in ten years shifting sands had necessitated a new structure. This was located at a point a quarter mile further inland, at a spot known as the "blow hole". Fifty feet high and with two towers at either end, it was built of granite but survived only two decades. The third structure here was located as far out as the first had been and in ten years it too had been rendered useless by storms. While the location of the first lighthouse is now offshore, today the foundations of the next two can be seen on Sandy Point.

The present structure of 1867, a substantial granite building, was apparently better protected, for though the shifting sands of the Point still demanded attention, it stands today. Originally known as Sandy Point Light, its name was changed to North Light in 1875 upon completion of the South East Light at the other end of Block Island. Hiram D. Ball, brother of the Hon. Nicholas Ball who had been largely responsible for the promotion of Block Island as a Victorian resort, was appointed keeper of the light station on Sandy Point by President Lincoln in 1861; retaining his position for thirty years, he was thus the first keeper of the present edifice. During this time, the light, reachable by way of the Neck Road from both Old and New Harbors, was a favorite resort of visitors to the island. By 1900 three life-saving stations were also being maintained on Block Island, one each at Old Harbor and the West Side, and one here on Sandy Point.

Manned by civilians until World War II, the light station was afterward maintained by the Coast Guard until 1955, when the structure was automated. It has been abandoned since 1970. The North Light Commission has been appointed by the Town of New Shoreham to restore and preserve the structure as a multi-use facility, as an outpost for the refuge and hopefully including a maritime museum.

Site Description

The present lighthouse on Sandy Point, the northern extremity of Block Island not quite five miles from Old Harbor, was erected in 1867, and though now the oldest lighthouse on the island, it was built on the site of three previous structures that, over a thirty-eight-year period, had all been rendered useless by storms and shifting sands. Well built of stone and better protected than its predecessors, it served for over a hundred years until 1970 when it was abandoned as an active light station. A rescue station was also maintained at the Point, and the small frame building located today to the north of the lighthouse was the "Skipper's quarters" for the rescue station.

When raised in 1867, the light was located some 700 yards back from the end of Sandy Point. The two-and-one-half-story main block of the building, 30' by 33', is constructed of 18-inch granite, with handsomely proportioned heavy Italianate masonry windows and entrance treatment typical of institutional buildings of the time. A single-story kitchen ell is to the rear of the building. Dominating the northern gable over the central entrance, the fireproof tower is built of 3/4-inch iron.

The building was apparently similar to other contemporary lighthouses constructed by the Government, for one near Norwalk in Connecticut was erected the following year in a fashion essentially identical to North Light.

The light was fixed white, 61 feet above sea level, and is said to have been visible for thirteen and one-half miles. The lantern itself, of the kerosene Fresnel type, was built in Paris and was comprised of a complex set of prismatic lenses standing several feet high and shaped like an egg. More recently, during the 1940's, the light was electrified, and during the 1950's, a flasher was installed. Thus, while the French lenses remain, the original clock mechanism, turntable, and burner have been removed; their reinstallation is to be a project of the North Light Commission, to whom the responsibility of restoring the lighthouse has been given.

Located presently on a 28-acre tract of land maintained as a wildlife refuge and bird sanctuary by the United States Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife, the lighthouse is structurally sound but in need of extensive renovation. Much of the woodwork including the roof needs to be rebuilt, and new facilities are needed. The grounds, once neat and orderly, have been largely overgrown.

Block Island North Light - Sandy Point Light, New Shoreham Rhode Island View from northwest showing light tower (1974)
View from northwest showing light tower (1974)

Block Island North Light - Sandy Point Light, New Shoreham Rhode Island View from northeast toward front facade (1974)
View from northeast toward front facade (1974)

Block Island North Light - Sandy Point Light, New Shoreham Rhode Island  (1974)