Castle Hill Lighthouse, Newport Rhode Island

Date added: February 05, 2023 Categories: Rhode Island Lighthouse Richardsonian Romanesque
South side (1984)

Built in 1890, Castle Hill Light is the only lighthouse in Rhode Island, and one of perhaps only a few others in the country, to be designed in the Richardson Romanesque Style. Although the plans for the tower are unsigned, they may have been drawn by H. H. Richardson himself, as a similar unexecuted design for the light is attributed to him. Located on the entrance to Narragansett Bay's East Passage, the light serves to guide ships en route to Newport Harbor as well as those travelling further up the Bay. As early as 1869, the annual report of the Lighthouse Board cited a need for a lighthouse and fog signal at Castle Hill to guide ships through the entrance of Narragansett Bay and into Newport Harbor. However, because of the high price of a suitable piece of land in the area, construction of the light was delayed for over twenty years.

In 1887 Alexander Agassiz, the noted Harvard zoologist who owned a large summer home on Castle Hill, deeded a nearby .2-acre parcel of land from his original property to the government for one dollar, so that a lighthouse could be built on the site. Since Agassiz did not want Lighthouse Service personnel walking near his property, he initially stipulated that access to the light be by water only, and refused to grant a right-of-way in the original deed. However, when he learned that the government would take a right-of-way over his property by condemnation if none could be purchased, he agreed to include land access.

An early unexecuted design for the light, drawn by H. H. Richardson, consisted of a tower with an attached dwelling, both of rusticated stone block. However, probably because of Agassiz's desire for privacy, this plan was changed to the present design which included no living quarters. Instead, a separate six-room keeper's dwelling along with a wharf and an attached boathouse were built about 300 yards east of the light on Castle Hill Cove. It is not known who designed the light that was built, but its similarity to the earlier plan suggest it may also have been the work of Richardson.

The tower and fog bell were completed in 1890 and the original fifth order lens was first lit on May 1, 1890. Two years later the bell was discontinued and removed because of complaints by Agassiz about its noise level. In 1869 a new and more efficient bell, fitted with a screen to deflect the sound, was installed. The most significant alteration to the tower itself involved the remodeling of the doorway on the south side. The small hipped slate roof over the doorway was removed and the original iron door was replaced with one of a more recent design.

The 1938 hurricane destroyed the three structures at Castle Hill Cove, leaving the light without its keeper's quarters. Shortly thereafter, its operation was taken over by personnel at the nearby, newly constructed Castle Hill Coast Guard Station, which had been built to the east of the light on Ocean Avenue. The fog bell has been replaced with an automatic electric horn, and in 1957 the light was automated.

Lighthouse Description

Castle Hill Light is located on a .1-acre site south of Newport Harbor on Newport Neck, which marks the east side of the entrance to Narragansett Bay's East Passage. Built in 1890 in the Richardson Romanesque Style, the light station consists of a heavily rusticated granite block tower which rises from the side of a rock ledge at the water's edge. The rough-faced conical tower measures 21 feet in diameter at the base and 14 feet at the parapet, with a height of 42 feet from the water level to the lamp's focal plane. At the top of the tower is a cast-iron lantern containing the lens, surrounded by a 3-foot-wide gallery with an iron balustrade. An electric fog horn is mounted on the west side of the gallery deck. Three deep-set narrow windows pierce the tower's walls, two at the first floor level and another at the second. A small projecting doorway on the south side at the base provides the only entrance into the tower.

The bottom half of the tower is unpainted, the upper half is white and the lantern and railing are black. A stone bracket used previously to mount a signal bell, which has since been removed, projects from the west side of the tower just below the lantern railing, and a steel flag pole for hoisting storm warning signals is mounted on the gallery deck.

The tower is the only structure on the site. Still active, its equal interval fifth order red light, which flashes every six seconds, has a range of 12 miles. The fog horn gives one blast every ten seconds.

Castle Hill Lighthouse, Newport Rhode Island South side (1984)
South side (1984)

Castle Hill Lighthouse, Newport Rhode Island North side (1984)
North side (1984)