Photos by Billy Black
Long before the hustle and bustle of today’s networked world, lighthouse keepers had daily rigors of a different kind, maintaining a quiet but continuous vigilance over their beacons.
Perched on a small island in Narragansett Bay off Newport, R.I., Rose Island Lighthouse now is a destination for a new breed of “keepers,” who rent the restored hideaway for up to a week.
Weekly and nightly keepers are assigned various duties to help maintain the historic light station, and they raise the flag in the morning and lower it at sunset, in addition to greeting daily visitors in the first-floor museum and other chores. (The active aid to navigation is now automated.)
Dominated by slate, granite and the innumerable shells that wash ashore, the 18-acre island is a draw for those seeking something beyond a typical bed-and-breakfast inn. There’s no room service, and the quarters have been updated, of course, but they take visitors back to 1870, when the beacon was first lighted. The interior, with its wood and tile floors and braided rugs, feels well-worn — and it is. A wealth of historic photographs depict generations of keepers and their families, and small shrines of collected shells and animal bones that guests created give an authentic feel.
Nothing is more obvious than the profound quiet in the lighthouse. With no television or phone, noise is almost nonexistent. What sound there is comes from the wind and an occasional foghorn blast. When a tanker steams through Narragansett Bay, a mild propeller hum is felt. And that’s the ultimate appeal: It almost feels like being aboard an old ship.
Rose Island gets plenty of wind, which allows for green power. A wind turbine produces all of the electricity guests use. (A diesel generator serves as a backup.) Running non-potable water comes from three rain-collecting cisterns. Jugs of drinking water and a cell phone are complimentary, as is a CD player/radio.
The non-profit Rose Island Foundation owns the light and will provide launch service for guests. www.roseisland.org
This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue.