New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide
Sabin Point Light
Providence River, Rhode Island
Sabin Point Light main page / History / Bibliography / Postcards

History

The circuitous and narrow channel in the Providence River from Narragansett Bay to Providence made navigation a challenge. Beginning in the late 1860s, several light stations were established from the port of Providence to the mouth of the river in an attempt to improve matters.

On March 3, 1871, Congress appropriated $42,000 for a lighthouse at Sabin Point, at a sharp turn in the shipping channel. The chosen site was near the middle of the river, about a quarter-mile offshore from Sabin Point in the Riverside section of East Providence. It was decided that the lighthouse would be close in appearance to Pomham Rocks Lighthouse, built at about the same time a short distance to the north.


From the collection of Edward Rowe Snow, courtesy of Dorothy Bicknell

The Second Empire styling was similar to several lighthouses built in the period. The octagonal tower was built onto the front of the stone dwelling's roof.

The supporting square granite pier and lighthouse were completed in late 1872, and the light was first exhibited on November 4. A sixth-order Fresnel lens exhibited a fixed white light. The reported height of the light above water was 48 feet. At the end of the century, a fog bell with striking machinery was installed and the light was changed to fixed red.

The first keeper was Joseph Bowes. For the first few years of its existence, the lighthouse also had an assistant keeper. The two keepers had the additional duty of tending a small lighted beacon farther south on the river. That beacon was replaced by the Bullock's Point Lighthouse, with a dwelling for a resident keeper, in 1876.

A 4,215-gallon cistern collected rainwater for the use of the keeper and his family. The bedrooms and a watch room were on the second floor; the first floor consisted of a kitchen, a sitting room, a dining room, and an oil room.

John Weeden arrived in 1875 to start a remarkable 36-year tenure as keeper. In April 1877, a schooner went aground near the lighthouse, and Keeper Weeden went out and helped all aboard the vessel to safety.

An 1891 article in the Providence Journal described the lighthouse while Keeper Weeden and his wife lived there. The keeper was a talented furniture maker, and his handiwork included a bookcase and a sideboard in the dining room. The airy living room was the scene of musical activity, with an organ, violin, and guitar.

The house was described as bright, with lots of fancy needlework on display-the work of Mrs. Weeden and her mother. The keeper had collected and displayed relics from various shipwrecks, including some carvings of animals that had belonged to a passenger on the steamer Metis, wrecked off Watch Hill in 1873.

Charles E. Whitford became keeper in 1916, and he and his wife, Annie, raised three daughters -- Eleanor, Myrtle, and Lillian -- at the lighthouse. When they reached school age, the girls were rowed ashore by their father to attend school in East Providence. In a 1986 article in the Providence Journal, Myrtle recalled that she also had to be rowed ashore by her father whenever she had a date, adding, "And I always got wet."

Nevertheless, young Myrtle managed to get acquainted with George Corbishley of Riverside. They met at school and at parties, and according to a newspaper article, young George was "stricken early with her charms." The article continued, "Evenings he would sit in rapturous contemplation of the flashing beacon across the frothy water, though he found the light less dazzling than her eyes."

Soon young George began to visit the lighthouse via rowboat, as did his rivals. But George stood out from the crowd-storms and rough waters never caused him to break a date. Love blossomed, and 18-year-old Myrtle Whitford married George Corbishley at the lighthouse in August 1932.

The ceremony took place in the living room. Around 50 guests arrived in rowboats and powerboats, and a wedding breakfast and cake were served on the lighthouse pier. The fog bell was rung in celebration. "After the ceremony," according to a newspaper article, "the bridegroom rowed his bride to the mainland over the confetti-strewn waters, while steamer whistles saluted them."

Another of the Whitfords' daughters, Lillian, was also married at the lighthouse-to the son of the keeper at Warwick Light. One granddaughter was also born in the building.

old photo of lighthouse

National Archives

During the devastating hurricane of September 21, 1938, Keeper Whitford was trying to secure the station's boat when he and the vessel were carried away in the raging waters. Luckily, the crew of the Monomoy, a survey boat on its way back to port, heard Annie Whitford's cries for help.


With binoculars, they soon spotted the helpless keeper. Charles Whitford's boat was stuck in shallow water near the river's west shore. The Monomoy crew got a line to him and towed the boat to shore.

Meanwhile, at the lighthouse, the kitchen was flooded to a depth of five feet and all the furniture was lost from the first floor. The station's fog bell was also lost in the storm. Annie Whitford, attempting to secure outside equipment, was swept off the lighthouse's base three times, but survived the storm and miraculously managed to keep the light going through the night. Keeper Whitford eventually filed a damage claim for $1,725.98 for the loss of personal belongings.

The light was converted to electricity and automated in late 1956. Then, in 1968, the light was discontinued in preparation for the widening and deepening of the shipping channel. The building was subsequently destroyed by fire.

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.)

Joseph Bowes (1872-1875); John Weeden (1875-1911); ? Weeden (c. 1911-1916); Charles Whitford (1916-1943), Everett W. Quinn (c. mid-1940s),  Ernest H. Stacey (Coast Guard BM1, Sept. 30, 1948 - May 21, 1951), John F. Morris (Coast Guard, c. mid-1950s)

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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