Castle Hill, at the
westernmost point of Newport, was the site of a watchtower built in
1740. It was an obvious site for a light and fog signal to aid mariners
heading to Newport Harbor and up Narragansett Bay's East Passage toward
In 1869, the Lighthouse Board's annual report made the
case for such an aid:
Applications have been made at various times in the past,
and renewed this year, for a light-house and fog signal on Castle Hill,
to guide vessels, especially in thick and foggy weather, into Newport
Harbor and Narragansett Bay. After a careful examination of the
locality, and a full consideration of the whole subject, it is
recommended that an efficient fog signal be authorized for this point.
Congress appropriated $10,000 for a fog signal at Castle
Hill on March 3, 1875. Just a short time before the appropriation, a
large summer home was built on the property that was coveted by the
Lighthouse Board. The owner was biologist and industrialist Alexander
Agassiz had made a large fortune as the president of a
mining company. Agassiz established a marine laboratory on the site
that operated until his death in 1910.
Agassiz refused to sell, and the $10,000 was allowed to
"lapse back to the Treasury." A buoy with an automatic whistle was
proposed for the area near Castle Hill, but the idea was discarded
because of the sheltered nature of the location. The proposal for a fog
signal at Castle Hill was revived in 1886, and another $10,000 was
appropriated. This time the plans were to include a lighthouse,
provided a suitable site could be obtained "without expense to the
Alexander Agassiz (1835-1910)
Agassiz relented and gave a suitable portion of his property
to the government for $1 on June 10, 1887. Contractor William T. Wilbur
of Newport was hired to build the station. Water access to the rocky
site was problematic, and Wilbur was guaranteed he would be allowed
right-of-way across Agassiz's property. Agassiz objected. He wrote on
May 22, 1888, to the Third Light House District, "What with one thing
and another I stand an excellent show of having my place ruined and
nobody to foot the bill."
In November 1888, the engineer of the Third Light House
District was directed to confer with Agassiz. In the case that Agassiz
continued to refuse to agree to more acceptable terms, the government
would take the necessary steps "to obtain title by proceedings in
condemnation." Agassiz apparently "saw the light," or realized that he
would, in the long run, lose his battle with the government. On May 20,
1889, he deeded 1.98 acres to the United States "without condition and
without expense to the Government." Meanwhile, an additional $5,000 was
appropriated, as it was realized that the 1886 funding was insufficient
to build the station.
Early plans for Castle Hill
Light by H. H. Richardson
U.S. Coast Guard Academy
Architect H. H. Richardson made an early drawing for the
proposed station. Richardson was the designer of such acclaimed
buildings as Boston's Trinity Church and the Buffalo State Hospital in
New York. His favored style became so popular that it was dubbed
"Richardson Romanesque" after its originator.
The style is characterized by rough-hewn masonry and rich details and
textures, and those elements are evident in the drawing for the
The 34-foot tall granite lighthouse was first lighted in
May 1890, with a fifth order Fresnel lens exhibiting a flashing red
light visible for 10 nautical miles.
|The keeper's house was a short walk away at Castle Hill
Cove.The first keeper was Frank Ward Parmele.
was from Guilford, Connecticut, and had served as a keeper on
Faulkner's Island near Guilford, as well as at Saybrook Breakwater
Light. He was a descendant of John Parmele, one of the original
founders of Guilford, who arrived there from England in
Parmele and his wife, Lillian (Norton), had three children.
Right: Frank W.
Parmele. Courtesy of Cinda Parmelee.
The station had a fog bell, but it had been in operation
for only 17 months when it was discontinued at Agassiz's request.
Five years later a larger, louder bell was installed and
Agassiz again complained; this time a screen was set up to soften the
The tower was originally all gray; the upper half was
painted white in 1899.
During the hurricane of September 21, 1938, which did
tremendous damage in Newport, the waters from Castle Hill Cove and the
beach nearby met, turning the point into an island.
A fog bell from the lighthouse
is on display on front of U.S. Coast Guard Station Castle Hill
Agassiz's daughter-in-law was in the cottage at the
time, and was so traumatized by the storm that she vowed to never spend
time there again.
Soon after the hurricane, operation of the lighthouse
was taken over by Coast Guard personnel from the new Station Castle
Hill, a short distance to the northeast. For some years, the keeper's
house served as the residence of the officer in charge of the station.
The Agassiz cottage was sold to J. T. O'Connell, who had
established a chandlery on Newport's Long Wharf. O'Connell eventually
transformed the property into an inn and added several smaller
O'Connell died in 1974, but the property is still
maintained as the Castle
Hill Inn and Resort.
In 1957, the light was automated and the fifth-order
lens was replaced by a modern optic. Castle Hill received wide
attention in June 1989, when the Greek tanker World Prodigy ran aground
on Brenton Reef to the south, spilling about 290,000 gallons of fuel
oil. Station Castle Hill became the command center for the Coast
On February 10, 2005, a near disaster occurred even
closer, when a 350-foot freighter was caught on the rocks near the
lighthouse. In spite of a gash in the vessel's side, there were no fuel
leaks and none of the crew was injured.
The former keeper's house in April
Left, the stairs near the bottom of the tower;
right, the ladder to the lantern room.
Inside the tower in July 2004
A short walk through the woods from the parking area at the
marina near the Castle
Hill Inn and Resort will get you to the lighthouse. The
handsome stone lighthouse and panoramic view are worth going out of
your way for.
You can read much more about this lighthouse in the book The Lighthouses of Rhode
Island by Jeremy D'Entremont.
This Rhode Island tourism sticker
incorporated Castle Hill Lighthouse.
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
firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone copying this list onto another web site does
so at their own risk, as the list is always subject to updates and
Frank W. Parmele (1890-1911), George L. Hoxsie (1911-?),
Manuel Soares Macedo (c. 1940s); Ernest H. Stacey (Coast Guard BM1, May
22, 1947- Sept. 30, 1948)