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New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide
Bristol Ferry Light
Bristol, Rhode Island
Bristol Ferry Light main page / History / Bibliography / Photos / Postcards

History
Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any part of this website without permission of the author.

The strait between Bristol and Portsmouth was increasingly busy in the early 1800s, with all manner of vessels passing between Narragansett Bay to the west and Mount Hope Bay to the east, including traffic to and from the textile mills of Fall River, Massachusetts. The Bay State Steamboat Company, in 1846, established a small, lighted beacon at Ferry Point in Bristol. Around that time, the company's Fall River Line starting running steamships from Fall River to New York City.

The unreliability of the early beacon led Benjamin Brayton, master of the steamer Empire State, to request a more substantial structure in November 1853. 

Circa 1870s, U.S. Coast Guard photo

William Brown, master of the 320-foot steamer Bay State, chimed in with his own forceful letter. "Those of us who have to pass through this strait on dark and stormy nights," Brown wrote, "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 ought to be placed on any one."

The Lighthouse Board heeded the pleas, and Congress appropriated $1,500 on August 3, 1854, for a combined lighthouse and dwelling. Suitable land for the station was soon bought for $100 from George Pearse. A modest one-and-one-half-story brick dwelling was constructed, with a square 28-foot lighthouse tower attached to its southern end. The wooden lantern held a sixth-order Fresnel lens showing a fixed white light, first exhibited on October 4, 1855.

George Pearse briefly served as the lighthouse's first keeper until the appointment of Henry Diman of Bristol in December 1855. Diman died only eight months later and was replaced by his widow, Elizabeth Diman. She, too, died the following February and was succeeded by Daniel W. Coggeshall, another Bristol native, who remained for four years.

old photo of lighthouse
U.S. Coast Guard photo

Turnover of keepers was frequent, somewhat surprising for a relatively cozy lighthouse on the mainland. It may have had something to do with the cramped and damp quarters.

After Coggeshall came Charles Sanford of Bristol, who stayed for almost a decade. Sanford was at the lighthouse with his family when a hurricane struck the area on September 8, 1869. The dwelling was flooded at the height of the storm, and the Sanford family was forced to leave the lighthouse until the storm passed.

 

Some nineteenth-century keepers' logs from this lighthouse are in the collection of the Bristol Historical Society. Here are some sample entries:

June 8, 1885 (Keeper Edward P. Hoxsie): Steamer passed by towing a whale 60 ft long.

March 19, 1887 (Keeper Edward Sherman): Schooner Fairdeal got ashore on the point in front of the lthouse remained 2 1/2 hours.

April 22, 1891 (Sherman): Schooner Hattie Williams carried away-her topmast in front of the lighthouse.

October 1, 1902 (Sherman): The body of unknown man found near Dumpling Rock. 2 days after the man was identified as Charles DeWitt Cleveland of Barrington.

August 2, 1903 (Sherman): Rescued two men from overturned boat 4:30 p.m.

August 14, 1911 (Sherman): Went to the rescue of two men in an overturned canoe at four p.m.

June 28, 1915 (Keeper Baldwin noting the visit of an inspector): Good conditions as to care and cleanliness, more old clothes and worthless [illegible] about the house than needed-better get them weeded out.


Edward Sherman had the longest stay as keeper, from 1886 to 1914. There was a dampness problem in the tower when Sherman arrived that sometimes caused the oil lamp's glass globe to crack. Sherman devised a metal plate above the lamp, putting a stop to the problem.

In 1902, Bristol Ferry Light was upgraded and received a fifth order lens.The original wooden lantern room was replaced by an iron one (from the Rondout Lighthouse on the Hudson River in New York) in 1916, and the tower was raised by six feet.

The Mount Hope Bridge between Bristol and Portsmouth, more than a mile long, was completed in 1929 at a cost of $5 million. The bridge was built practically over the lighthouse and rendered it irrelevant as an aid to navigation. The lantern was removed from the tower in 1928. An automatic navigational light on a nearby skeletal tower remained in operation until 1934.

old photo of yacht passing lighthouse

The property passed through various hands and was eventually rented for some years to students from Roger Williams University, located a short distance away. The building deteriorated and was in deplorable shape when it was sold to Carol and Bob Lundin in 1991. Thanks to the Lundins, the lighthouse was reborn.

The Lundins' daughter and her friend, architect Kevin Prest, set about the task of renovating the property in a way that would honor its history while still providing a modern, comfortable living space.

The interior was gutted, and new electrical and plumbing systems were installed. An upstairs bathroom that had been added previously was converted to a bedroom, and a small deck was added outside the master bedroom across the hall. The first floor of the tower was converted into a bathroom with ceramic tile and a glassed-in shower, a development that might have shocked the early keepers who relied on an outdoor privy.

Bob and Carol Lundin moved into the lighthouse after Bob's retirement in 1996. "We always thought it would be so romantic to live in a lighthouse," says Carol. "And it was!" To top off the renovations, a new lantern was fabricated and installed, and the lighthouse once again looked like a lighthouse. A light was added for show, coming on for two hours each evening on a timer.

Despite their love for the lighthouse, the Lundins decided to downscale their lifestyle; they sold the property in early 2000.

You can read much more about this lighthouse in the book The Lighthouses of Rhode Island by Jeremy D'Entremont.


Keepers: (This list is a work in progress. If you have any information on the keepers of this lighthouse, I'd love to hear from you. You can email me at nelights@gmail.com. Anyone copying this list onto another web site does so at their own risk, as the list is always subject to updates and corrections.)

George Pearse (1855); Henry Diman (1855-1856); Elizabeth Diman (1856); D. W. Coggleshall (1857-1861); C. Sanford (1861-1870); George T. Gladding (1870-1871); James W. Waldron (1871-1875); William Dunwell (1875-1882); Edward P. Hoxsie (1882-1886); Edward Sherman (1886-1914); ? Baldwin (?)

Last updated 12/22/11
Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any part of this website without permission of the author.

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