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Block Island North Lighthouse

Block Island North lighthouse

Block Island (New Shoreham), Rhode Island
Built in 1829


Location:

The lighthouse sits on Sandy Point, off Corn Neck Road, at the north end of Block Island.

Latitude: 41° 13' 40" N
Longitude: 71° 34' 33" W

 

Historic Stories:

Block Island is a popular vacation spot known affectionately with tourists as the "Bermuda of the North," for its beaches and recreation. However, for centuries it was also known by mariners for its hazardous reefs and frequent fog, especially a mile-long reef that extends out from Sandy Point at the tip of northern Block Island. Within roughly a 20-year stretch between 1819 and 1838, 59 vessels were wrecked on or near the island. The site is also where currents collide between Block Island Sound and Long Island Sound, and throw breaking waves over Sandy Point in all kinds of inclement weather.

Block Island North Light lighthouse was established in 1829 consisting of two lights on opposite ends of the building to warn mariners away from the dangerous Sandy Point. With dangerous erosion from the sand and rocky gravel, the first lighthouse made of brick was washed away after only a few years in service.

 

The Wreck of the Schooner Warrior by the Lighthouse

Sometimes shipwrecks still occurred even after the lighthouse was built. In a severe storm on April 9, 1831, the schooner Warrior from the Cape Cod region was carrying a load of cotton and calico, when she wrecked on a sandbar at the northern extremity of the bar on Sandy Point in a gale-force storm in 1831. She was only 150 yards from Block Island North Lighthouse. In fact, the keeper William A. Weeden could see the wreck during breaks in the storm in the distance. However, the ferocity of the winds prevented him from any rescue attempt into the crashing surf along the point, as the wreck was too far out in the churning waters. The frustrated keeper could only watch from the safety of the tower. Keepers in those days needed to be making sure the lights were burning in any storm, and usually were refrained from any rescue attempt if it involved peril to their own lives.

As the storm intensified, huge waves from the two currents meeting over the bar would constantly break over the Warrior stuck on the submerged reef, washing some sailors over the deck and drowning them. One man tried to time the undertow of the breaking surf to wade over the gravel bar to shore as the waves briefly receeded, but the distance was too far, and a huge wave came over him, knocked him over, and dragged him out to sea. 

The remaining survivors had lashed themselves onto the rigging, to hopefully ride out the storm, but the waves were too much for the Warrior, and caused her to break apart, drowning the remaing seven survivors. In all, 21 crewmembers perished in the storm, and the seven that had remained on the ship were later found and buried on Block Island.

Stone constrcution of Block Island North Light



Two other lighthouses were built of granite, the second also with two lights like the original, but too many complaints from mariners caused the third to have just one strong light, as erosion and shifting sands over the years also helped cause their demise as well. The fourth and current lighthouse was constructed also of granite in 1867 set back away fron Sandy Point, although it is still only two feet above mean high water.

 

The Larchmont Collision and Rescue of Survivors

On a stormy winter night with freezing temperatures, on February 11, 1907, the side-wheel paddle wheel steamer Larchmont was heading with a large group of passengers from Providence, Rhode Island, to New York City. She was steering into the storm and had reached about three miles from Watch Hill Lighthouse in Rhode Island around 11 P.M., when suddenly Pilot Anson noted that the coal-laden schooner Harry P. Knowlton was heading straight for the ship, and crashed into the side of the Larchmont, creating a huge gaping hole in the helpless steamer. The Harry P. Knowlton slipped away in the seas as the Larchmont started taking in rushing water, as panic ensued on deck, the Larchmont sank in less than an hour.

About half a dozen boats and a couple rafts were able to be released as they tried to reach either Watch Hill Lighthouse or near Block Island North Light, both some miles away in the darkness and churning seas, although winds were blowing towards Block Island.

Some of the passengers of the Larchmont made it near Sandy Point, following the flashing light from Block Island North Lighthouse, where Keeper Elam Littlefield and his family, awakened upon hearing their dog barking, helped to assist the frozen survivors who had come ashore. He also alerted the lifesavers of the locall station and some local fisherman nearby. The freezing survivors started to arrive by daybreak, most half dead from exposure to the freezing tempertures and winds, and could barely walk when taken off the boats.

Due mostly to the freezing winter weather, over 143 people perished, and only 19 survived, ten members of the crew, and only nine passengers. Members of the Harry P. Knowlton made it to shore safely buy most needed medical help due to exposure.

steamship Larchmont

Larchmont Paddle Wheel Steamer

Note: If you’re interested in more details regarding this famous story, select the link "Larchmont  Collision" Blog at the top of the page to be directed to my Lighthouse Stories section.

 

 

The light was automated in 1956, and was later closed in 1973, replaced with a skeleton tower nearby. The town of New Shoreham acquired the lighthouse in 1984, and after years of gathering funds and restoring needed parts of the lighthouse, the Block Island North lighthouse was relit in August of 1989.

 

 

Places to Visit Nearby:

Visitors may find most of this island seems stuck in the 19th and early 20th centuries with its Victorian hotels, inns and B&B’s. The Empire Theater, built originally in 1882 as a roller skating rink, stands as one of the very few classic movie theaters remaining in the United States. For those who want a traditional old fashioned shopping experience, you can find tiny shops, and explore artisan’s personal homes for hand crafted gifts, photography, and jewelry.

Block Island provides many activities for sporting enthusiasts and for those that just want to relax within its 17 miles of beaches.

You'll find most of this island seems stuck in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The two-mile Crescent beach provides picturesque biking trails, and is part of the Greenway network system consisting of 30 miles of trails.

If you want more seclusion, just a few minutes bike ride away are deserted beaches. With miles of open beaches you can fish from the beach, or take a charter boat leaving from New Harbor for bluefish, striped bass and flounder.

beach with cliffs at Block Island The views of the beaches with their jutting expansive cliffs are worth the hike if you’re up for the 4-mile trek along the shoreline.

You can also bike or rent motor vehicles to get there as well.

Bring plenty of water, as Block Island North lighthouse is not near any service areas. beach leading to Blaock Island North light

Enjoy the natural wonders of the 127-acre Block Island National Wildlife Refuge near the lighthouse. The shoreline area runs from Settler’s Rock to Sandy Point and out to Block Island North Light, and then on to Great Salt Pond. This is an ideal area for walking, bird watching, and breathtaking views. Setter's Rock marks the landing point of European settlers of Block Island in 1661.

 

Directions:

 

Contact Info:

Block Island North Light Association
P. O. Box 1662
Block Island, RI 02807
(401) 466-3200

Block Island Ferries and Charter Service

Block Island Ferry
(401) 783-4613
Provides traditional and fast ferries to Block Island from Point Judith and Newport, RI.

 

Block Island Express and Cross Sound Cruises
Leaves out of New London, CT, and Orient Point, NY. From these two locations provide a fast ferry to Bock Island, and has three lighthouse cruises with Cross Sound Cruises, the Classic Lighthouse Cruise, the Lights and Sights Cruise, and the Long Island Lights Cruise. Has two special bicycle tours around Block Island that it promotes.
Phone: (860) 444-4624 or (401) 466-2212 (Block Island)
Phone: (860) 444-4620 (Lighthouse Cruises)

 

Viking Ferry
In addition to providing fishing excrusions and charter services, they provide fast ferry service to Block Island from Montauk, NY
(631) 668-5700

 

Snappa Charters
Offers specific lighthouse tours around Narragansett Bay and to Block Island in addition to other adventure tours like sport fishing, whale watching, and shark tagging.

Mailing Address: 2 Congdon Dr., Wakefield, RI 02816
Boat Location: 33 State Street, Narragansett, RI 02882
Boat/Cell (401) 487-9044
Email: snappacharters@cox.net

 

 

New Book Just Published Summer 2023!

The Rise and Demise of the Largest Sailing Ships:
Stories of the Six and Seven-Masted
Coal Schooners of New England

book of the rise and demise of the largest sailing ships

Available in paperback, hard cover, and as an eBook for all devices.

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In the early 1900s, New England shipbuilders constructed the world’s largest sailing ships amid social and political reforms. These giants of sail were the ten original six-masted coal schooners and one colossal seven-masted vessel, built to carry massive quantities of coal and building supplies, and measured longer than a football field!

This book, balanced with plenty of color and vintage images, showcases the historical accounts that followed these mighty ships involving competitions, accidents, battling destructive storms, acts of heroism, and their final voyages.

Click for larger video here.

 

 

My book, Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Southern New England: Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, provides special human interest stories from each of the 92 lighthouses, like the ones described above. You'll find plenty of indoor and outdoor coastal attractions and tours you can explore, including Block Island in Rhode Island.  

Look inside!

book about lighthouses and local coastal atttractions in southern New England

 

 

 

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