Watch Hill Lighthouse is a historic lighthouse that was established at the entrance to Fishers Island Sound in Watch Hill, Rhode Island.
In 1745, the first watchtower and beacon were constructed in Watch Hill. Interestingly though, it did not function as a standard lighthouse. The first light’s function was to alert local residents of a naval invasion, not to service ships in the Sound. During the French and Indian Wars throughout the 1750s, the watchtower was employed to monitor French pirates who were assaulting local fishermen and commerce ships. A signal was sent out to nearby seafarers when a pirate ship was detected. These signals included a smoke flare during the day and a big controlled fire at night. During a storm in 1781, this tower was damaged.
After the first tower was destroyed, mariners desired a lighthouse at the same Watch Hill peninsula. This light would help mariners navigate the Fishers Island Sound and also alert ships of a dangerous reef located southwest of Watch Hill. In 1806, President Thomas Jefferson signed an act authorizing the building of the lighthouse, which was finished in 1807. The first lighthouse was 35 feet tall. To distinguish it from the Stonington Harbor Light in Connecticut, a spinning light was placed in 1827. In 1855, erosion caused it to retire and be relocated away from the bluff edge. The next lighthouse was built in 1856 and is still standing today.
The current lighthouse, which uses a fourth-order Fresnel lens to provide a fixed white light, began operations on February 1, 1856. The granite lighthouse is 45 feet tall and stands on a strong granite foundation. In addition, a new keeper’s residence has been added. Other improvements, such as a robust seawall and a fog signal building, were made in later years.
When the Fresnel lens on Watch Hill Lighthouse was replaced by a contemporary beacon in 1986, it was automated. The whole property is now on the National Register of Historic Places and all buildings are leased to the Watch Hill Lightkeepers Association. This non-profit organization was founded in 1986 to care for the property and has set up an endowment to ensure its preservation. On August 31, 1986, a “Change of the Watch” ceremony was held at the lighthouse to commemorate the start of the association’s thirty-year lease from the Coast Guard.
The Watch Hill Lighthouse is accessible by foot via a private road and is available all year from 8 a.m. to sunset. Only handicapped and senior citizens are allowed to drive right to the lighthouse. Parking is accessible in the village of Watch Hill, which is just a short walk from Larkin Road, which leads to the Lighthouse. The public is not permitted to go inside the Lighthouse or its surrounding structures. In July and August, the museum is open from 1-3 pm on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoons, as well as the week following Labor Day. Dogs are allowed to visit Watch Hill Lighthouse on a leash.
Do you love lighthouses? Be sure to check out the 18 Best Rhode Island Lighthouses To Visit And Photograph. Also, you can find more great spots to explore in Rhode Island by visiting goxplr.com/map/rhode-island!
- Originally constructed: 1808
- Current tower constructed: 1857
- First lit: 1857 (current tower)
- Construction: Granite with brick interior
- Tower shape: Square
- Height: 61 feet (19 m)
- Focal height: 61 feet (19 m)
- Markings: Natural w/ white lantern, red roof
- Characteristic: Alternating R&W, 5s
- Range: 14 nautical miles (26 km; 16 mi)
- Status: Active
- Address: 14 Lighthouse Rd
- Town: Westerly
- State: Rhode Island
- GPS: Lat 41.30397 Lng -71.85863
- Parking notes: The Lighthouse is accessible by foot via a private road and is available all year from 8 a.m. to sunset. Only handicapped and senior citizens are allowed to drive to the lighthouse. Parking is ample in the village of Watch Hill, which is just a short walk from Larkin Road, which leads to the Lighthouse.
- Parking directions: HERE
- Location directions: HERE