North Lighthouse opens for 25th year

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 9:30am

Block Island's North Lighthouse is marking a double anniversary in 2018.

The fourth-order Fresnel lens in the iconic structure at Sandy Point was first illuminated 150 years ago, on Sept. 15, 1868; and the maritime Interpretive Center on its ground floor first opened to the public 25 years ago, in July, 1993. 

Opening day for the museum's 25th season is Sunday, July 1. The building will be open on Monday, July 2 and closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, July 3 and 4 due to the July Fourth celebrations. The summer schedule begins Thursday, July 5 and continues through Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 3. 

The volunteer members of the Town of New Shoreham North Light Commission are tentatively planning a celebration of the lighthouse's 150th year in the fall. The moment will be celebrated by the issuance of a U.S. Mint quarter adorned with an image of the North Light on its reverse side.

The summer is expected to be busy. The seasonal staff will be filling cabinets with lighthouse models donated to the collection by island residents and collectors Howie and Sandie Rice.

The museum's gift shop is celebrating by adding new items to its offerings. Pressed glass suncatchers and paperweights are the work of glass artist Chris Salmon, who sold his wares on the island in the 1980s and now lives and works in New Hampshire.

Also new are keychains incorporating proofs of the new quarter-dollar coins featuring the Block Island National Wildlife Refuge that surrounds the lighthouse, with the building in the background.

The keychains are unique designs, not available elsewhere on the island. So are the hats, T-shirts and brass Christmas ornaments. Posters, postcards and prints are also sold.

The biggest seller, every year: bottled water. There’s no charge for use of the facilities (but donations are appreciated).

The Block Island North Lighthouse, with its granite keeper’s quarters, slate roof and cast iron tower displaying a white beacon, was built in 1867 and was a manned light station until automated in 1956. The Town of New Shoreham took title to the lighthouse and the land around it in the 1980s, and has overseen two major renovations since then. The fourth-order Fresnel lens, built in France, was returned to the restored lantern room and relit in 2010. 

Today, North Light is an active aid to navigation, owned by the town and maintained by volunteers. The museum has exhibits on the history of the four lighthouses that were built at Sandy Point, as well as the former Sandy Point Life Saving Station, on loan from the Block Island Historical Society. Photographs on display highlight the native and migratory bird species in the Block Island National Wildlife Refuge.

To reach the lighthouse, walk along the beach from the Settlers’ Rock parking area at the end of Corn Neck Road (about one-half mile). Transportation for disabled persons can be arranged in advance; call 401-466-3220 for information and reservations.

The Interpretive Center's regular hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Mondays, and Thursday through Sunday, from July 5 through Labor Day. After the Labor Day Monday holiday, it will be open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sundays 12 to 4 p.m. (The building is closed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and rainy days. The grounds are open all year.) 

Admission is $3 for adults and free for children 12 years and younger when accompanied by an adult. All the exhibits are on the ground floor. For safety reasons, the public is not allowed in the tower.

Ed. note: Pat Tengwall is employed as an attendant at the North Light museum.