With increasing ferry traffic
between Wickford and Newport, the Lighthouse Board's annual reports in
1878 and 1879 recommended:
Additional aids to navigation to mark the entrance to
Wickford Harbor are required. A granite pier surmounted by a small
light should be established on Old Gay Rock. . . . The light at Poplar
Point could be discontinued if one on Old Gay is established.
On June 15, 1880, Congress appropriated $45,000 for a
lighthouse on Old Gay Rock, about 200 yards offshore from the 1831
lighthouse at Poplar Point.
The lighthouse superstructure was an eight-room
wood-frame Gothic Revival house much like the one constructed a few
years later at the northern tip of Conanicut Island. A square
lighthouse tower was attached to a corner of the dwelling. A
2,500-gallon cistern in the basement collected rainwater for the use of
the keeper and his family, and a privy hung over the outside deck.
Poplar Point Light and
Wickford Harbor Light
the collection of Edward Rowe Snow, courtesy of Dorothy Bicknell
A fifth-order Fresnel lens, showing a fixed white light
52 feet above the water, was first illuminated on November 1, 1882. The
old light at Poplar Point was simultaneously discontinued. A fog bell
and striking machinery were also installed.
There were only three keepers of Wickford Light in its
48 years of service. They were Henry F. Sherman (1882-1886), Nathaniel
Dodge (1886-1893), and Edmund Andrews.
Henry Sherman had been the keeper of Poplar Point Light
The writer, identified as “A. H.,” knew Ann in later years and
helped get her into a nursing home. Ann had died by the time A. H.
wrote, “When I am down Wickford way, I often stay awake at night
watching that spurt of green from the lighthouse because it reminds me
of the story of Ann. And over and over I try to imagine how the pale,
bedridden woman I knew looked as a girl of 18 on that night she had to
A strange story has been passed down concerning one of
keepers. One version of the story is found in an undated, yellowed
newspaper clipping of unknown origin in this author’s collection. The
name attributed to the keeper in the article is Peter Phillips. There
was never a keeper here by that name, but it’s possible that the writer
thought it prudent not to use actual names.
According to the article, Keeper Phillips “would be
drunk for weeks
at a time.” His alcoholism took an unusual form. It seems that the
keeper was an “essence addict,” preferring vanilla and lemon extract to
beer or whiskey. Mrs. Sherman was described as too obese to do the
work, so Phillips’s 18-year-old daughter, Ann, performed most of the
actual keeper’s duties, with the help of her younger sister, Betty.
Young Ann soon struck up a romance with a local
“Nat Perry” in the article. Nat asked Ann to marry him, but her
hesitation to leave the lighthouse in the care of her younger sister
caused Nat to break off their relationship and marry his former
sweetheart instead. The turn of events caused Ann to faint, and she
remained unconscious for three days. In the midst of all this, an
inspector arrived to find the lighthouse in disarray, and Keeper
Phillips was fired. Ann never got out of bed for the next 40 years,
goes the story.
Keeper Edmund Andrews
Photo courtesy of Jo Ann Tarbox
An almost identical version of this story is found in the 1985 book Wickford Anthology, edited by Peter
Clarkson Crolius. The chief
difference is that in this version, the keeper is identified as “Peter
Sherman,” and his daughters as Jessie and Sarah. Whether the story is
more or less true and involved the family of Keeper Henry Sherman is
impossible to determine at this late date. In any case, in October
1885, Nathaniel Dodge succeeded Sherman as keeper.
Keeper Edmund (his name was often reported as Edward) Andrews, who came
to Wickford in 1893, was born in 1868 in Providence. He was the son of
an English carpenter and an Irishwoman. Andrews went to sea aboard the
George W. Darrison out of Block Island, and by 1891 he was working as
an assistant lighthouse keeper at Whale Rock Light. While in that
position Andrews married Lillian A. Sprague, 17, of Block Island.
Andrews eventually became the head keeper at Whale Rock. Edmund and
Lillian had one child when they moved to Wickford, and three more
children were born at the lighthouse during their years there. The
children made the most of their waterbound home. Their son, Edward,
later said that his knuckles were frequently banged up from riding his
bicycle in circles around the lighthouse, bumping into the iron
railings that surrounded it.
Keeper Andrews was recognized for the rescue of a drowning man in 1898,
and a 1905 inspection showed the station in “excellent order.” There
were to be some rough times, however.
Above, Keeper Edmund
Andrews and family on the ice outside the lighthouse.
Right, Edward Andrews with his bicycle on the lighthouse deck.
Photos courtesy of Jo Ann Tarbox.
In 1907, Andrews was accused of stealing a neighbor’s chickens (he was
later cleared), and was reprimanded for housing his brother-in-law and
a friend at the station. The keeper pointed out in his defense that he
had been ill and that his wife’s brother was there to row the family’s
children ashore to school each day. The friend who had been staying at
the lighthouse was a keeper of Block Island North Light. Andrews was
told that he would have been allowed to have another person at the
station if he was ill.
In 1909, Keeper Andrews was offered a transfer to Eatons Neck Light on
Long Island, New York. He turned down this transfer, saying, “I would
like to have a land station where there is no vapor lamp or an
assistant keeper, not too far out of Rhode Island.” His request was
never granted. Keeper Andrews spent the rest of his long lightkeeping
career at Wickford Harbor.
Keeper Andrews was reprimanded in 1918 for the subpar condition of the
station, but no action was taken as officials recognized that the
keeper’s wife had been ill. It appears that the situation had improved
by 1927, when Andrews was commended for the excellent condition of the
site. In June 1930, Andrews requested a retirement with a pension,
saying he suffered from “heart trouble and stomach trouble.” He retired
after 40 years of service in 1930 and was granted a pension of $969.66
A medical exam recorded that Andrews had been suffering from heart
disease, rheumatism, and a nervous tremor, among other ailments. He
died in Massachusetts at the Chelsea Naval Hospital in 1939, the year
the Lighthouse Service was taken over by the U.S. Coast Guard.
The lighthouse was destroyed in 1930. As a cost-saving
measure, it was replaced by a small, unmanned, automatic light. Today,
a square skeleton tower showing a flashing green light tops a pile of
rocks on the old lighthouse site.
Keeper Edmund Andrews, his wife
Lillian and son Harry Franklin Andrews. Circa
1912. Photo courtesy of Jo Ann Tarbox.
U.S. Coast Guard photo
The steel tower at the left marks the
spot where the Wickford Harbor Lighthouse once stood. Poplar Point
Light is in the background.
detailed model of Wickford Harbor Lighthouse, built by Dominic
Zachorne, is now on display at the North Kingstown Free Library in
North Kingstown, Rhode Island. Photo
courtesy of Elizabeth Donovan, North Kingstown Free Library.
Keepers: Henry F. Sherman (1882-1885),
Nathaniel Dodge (1885-1893), Edmund Andrews (1893-1930)