Keepers of the Light

Tue, 11/20/2018 - 7:15pm
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The solitary white beacon at the North End of the island has drawn people to it since its construction. The Rev. Livermore wrote of the fourth, and final, lighthouse to occupy that spot “In 1861 Hr. Hiram D. Ball was appointed keeper of the Sandy Point lighthouse, under President Lincoln.

“This last named house is a favorite resort for visitors, both on account of the natural scenery, and the agreeableness of the respectable family of Mr. Ball, the keeper, whose ample means could furnish him a far more pleasant home, especially in winter.”

Livermore’s history was printed in 1877, when the wave of tourism that forever changed the island was new, when any visitors would be transported to the North End by some horse drawn conveyance, and yet they went, as they do today, many for the same reasons if by different means.

We are blessed to still have two operating lighthouses on our little island, both saved from abandonment and demolition by the same spirit that kept Hiram at that outpost long when he could have moved to the prosperous farm that would eventually become his home. (His farm is shown in the photo.)

2018 has been the year of the North Light, the celebration of the 150th anniversary of its lighting; the awarding of the Antoinette Downing Award for Volunteer Service to long time “keeper” Rob Gilpin; and this week before Thanksgiving a special commemorative quarter featuring the Wildlife refuge surrounding the building was issued by the US Mint.

Two months ago, a simple ceremony marked a milestone date in nautical history, the lighting of this century and a half old lighthouse. The Town Council presented the following resolution with particular thanks to all who helped breathe new life into a shell of a building long ago deemed government surplus.

New Shoreham Town Council Resolution

On the 150th Anniversary of the Illumination of the North Light

Whereas, from 1829 onward, beacons have stood at the north end of Block Island, set to warn passing ships of the presence of a point of land from which a bar of sand reached into the sea, and

Whereas, after three light stations were built, too close to the water, too far inland, and, again, too close to the hungry sea, construction on a fourth commenced in 1867, the same year appropriation for the Government (Old) Harbor was included in the Rivers and Harbors Act of Congress, years before the grand Southeast Lighthouse on the far end of the Island was built, and decades before the New Harbor breach was cut, and

Whereas, that fourth and final light station was built of Connecticut granite, in a style later shared among several sisters along the coast, a keeper’s dwelling with a tower rising from the roof, creating the profile of a solitary church amidst the dunes, ready to aid those in peril on the sea, and

Whereas, in the lantern room of that tower was placed a precious fourth order Fresnel lens, a complexity of curved glass, designed to refract and magnify a small flame, making it visible for miles, and was, by order of the Light-house Board, illuminated “on or after” September 15, 1868, with a simple fixed white light, and

Whereas, the North Light continued to stand safe and secure against all storms, removed from the southward shifting sand and northward raging sea that had deemed obsolete its three predecessors, and was joined by a Life Saving Station in the later part of the 19th century, and a seasonal cottage on land leased by officers in charge, and

Whereas, as time passed, the Life Saving Station was decommissioned and dismantled, the cottage became vacant and, in 1956, the manned light was replaced by one run by battery, the care of it entrusted to Coast Guardsmen stationed elsewhere on the Island, and the grounds left to the elements, before the structure was entirely abandoned in favor of a beacon on a skeleton tower set on Sandy Point, and

Whereas, after years of land and building transfers from the federal government to the town, of fund-raising, from the “Old Granite-sides” initiative to memorial bricks to a multitudes of outreach efforts, town appropriations, donations and grants from many and varied sources, and, most of all, Herculean volunteer efforts, the still solid building was salvaged, roof and doors and windows replaced, interior gutted, plumbing finally brought inside, in 1989 a beacon restored to the lantern room and in 1993 an Interpretive Center opened to summer visitors, and

Whereas, on October 23, 2010, after more rounds of multi-layered achievement, the tower was restored, the lantern re-fabricated and re-set, the fourth order Fresnel lens returned to the lantern room, and the beam of the North Light, once fueled by kerosene, now by solar energy, shown bright across the settling dark of a fall evening, and those assembled rejoiced, now

Therefore Be It Resolved the Town Council of the Town of New Shoreham, on behalf of residents and visitors alike, extends its heartfelt appreciation to all who have toiled over the decades to insure the light on Sandy Point, be it a warning of peril or a beacon of welcome to those within its reach, does not go out, and

Further orders that a copy of this resolution be made part of the permanent record of the Town.

Witness our hand and seal this 13th day of September in the Year of Our Lord, two thousand and eighteen.