to the rose island lighthouse...
“a guiding light to conservation”
offering a unique perspective on
about the lighthouse
a mile offshore, beyond the reach of newport’s utility
lines and services, the rose island lighthouse stands as
an independent, energy-efficient building that was home
to keepers and their families for over a hundred years.
after the newport bridge was built the light station was
abandoned. for the next 14 years it fell victim to scavengers,
vandals and the weather. in 1984 volunteers of the rose
island lighthouse foundation (rilf) cleaned out and restored
it to its 1912 appearance, installing environmentally sensitive,
new (but not necessarily modern) utilities for electricity,
water, sewer, and heat.
on august 7, 1993, after the funds had been raised to
pay all the restoration bills, the beacon was joyously
relit. rose island light is once again listed on today's
charts as a private aid to navigation. it is one of only
a few operating lighthouses maintained by working vacationers
who sign on for a week at a time as part of our environmental
education program. the lighthouse is also listed in the
national register of historic places.
visitors of all ages can learn about the lighthouse’s
history and can experience, first-hand, the keeper’s self-sufficient,
resourceful way of life...learning that lasts a lifetime.
about rose island - the whole island is about 18 acres
and consists of two lots. the lighthouse, which sits on
1.5 acres, is owned by the city of newport and is managed
by rilf. in 1999 rilf purchased the remainder of the island
that it manages as a historic site and wildlife refuge
according to a deeded conservation easement held by ri
the wildlife refuge is closed to the public from april
1 to august 15 when you may not even walk around the island
(not even below the high tide line, since rilf owns and
controls access to the extreme low waterline). nevertheless,
from many vantages you can see the dilapidated world war
i and ii magazines where explosives were stored during
its navy torpedo station days. many of these buildings
are in danger of falling down and it is very unsafe to
explore in or even around them, so please pay attention
to the signs!
since the torpedo station was abandoned in the mid 1950s,
mother nature has been slowly taking possession. the only
inhabitants left are three species of snakes, plus thousands
of nesting birds. there are no mammals on rose island --
therefore, no ticks! between april 1 and august 15 public
access to and around rose island is restricted. during
this period no one may walk around the island or drag their
boats up onto the beaches, except at the lighthouse landing.
we will soon be building several lookouts within ft. hamilton,
and people may paddle, row or sail around the island to
view the nesting areas, but only from a safe distance.
in the winter, from late october to early april, you can
often see harbor seals on the north end and at citing rock
on the east side of rose island, which is surrounded by
extensive underwater eelgrass beds.
“a guiding light to conservation.”
the first floor museum is furnished circa 1912 with coal
stove, pitcher pump in the pantry, kerosene lamps, and
an old-fashioned victrola with a good supply of 78 rpm
records. on the other hand, the 2nd floor weekly keeper’s
quarters have running water, electric lights, a microwave,
tv, coffee maker, toaster and vacuum cleaner. what's the
catch? before using any electrical appliances, the keeper
must first check the weather and the batteries for available
power. rule of thumb: if the wind blows, vacuum. if it
how it works --
wind supplies 90% of our electric needs from a bergey
1500 windmill. after a few calm days, the keeper runs
the 5kw diesel generator to recharge the 24-volt, lead-acid,
“solar” battery bank. the whole lighthouse, including
the beacon, runs on one 20 amp service. solar panels
will someday supplement the wind power, but because of
the lighthouse’s historic status, the panels must be
hidden. the likeliest spot is inside the 90 mm anti-aircraft
gun emplacement below the windmill tower. we conserve a
lot of electricity using compact fluorescent light bulbs
throughout the lighthouse.
water – rainwater is carefully gathered off the lighthouse
membrane roof into a cistern. when it starts to rain, the
initial, dirty flow is diverted into a rain barrel. when
the roof is washed clean, the keeper manually switches
the diverter to direct the flow into a plastic-lined room
that holds 3,000 gallons. (the cistern used to be whitewashed
chlorine bleach kills the bacteria and a series of filters
removes microscopic particles, chlorine and copper, which
leaches out of the gutters. we use cistern water for flushing
toilets, bathing, cleaning, most cooking, and washing dishes.
bottled water is provided for drinking.
chlorinated rainwater is also supplied in the public rest
rooms for washing hands, taking showers and flushing toilets.
soapy water (graywater) is discarded onto the garden rather
than down a drain. graywater from the shower stall waters
the garden as well.
on this island of sun and fun, we don’t flush for number
one! folks quickly learn to conserve water all the time
to insure having enough for everyone’s needs, as well as
the vegetable garden, throughout the dry summer months.
rule of thumb: 3ps or a poo.
hot water - in the first floor museum water for washing
dishes, bathing and cooking is heated as in the old days
in a pot or kettle, but on a propane gas burner, which
pollutes less than the original coal stove. upstairs, the
keeper’s have a paloma propane tankless water heater that
heats water only as it is needed, which also saves a lot
sewage (blackwater) goes into an underground septic system.
there is one 1000-gallon septic tank for each building,
the lighthouse and the outhouse. the septic field can handle
a whopping 800 gallons per day, however, on average it
sees less than 50 gallons per day, because water is so
carefully conserved by our keepers, overnight visitors
and our daytime guests. (we don’t use seawater because
the salt would pickle the helpful bacteria in the septic
tanks and would crystallize in the septic field causing
blockages in the distribution pipes.)
wintertime heat was once provided by portable kerosene
heaters that blackened the ceilings when they acted up.
we use a combination of passive solar, plus radiant heat
in the floor. so how do we do that? home heating oil is
brought out in 55-gallon drums aboard our lobster boat.
using an electric filter/pump, we pump the oil up from
the boat into two standard 275 gallon oil storage tanks
under the basement stairs. our efficient boiler is maintained
regularly. during the restoration the lighthouse was very
well insulated and point one storm windows were installed
in march 1995.
look inside the linen closet in the first floor library
to see the plastic hoses and orange pump that circulate
heated anti-freeze that warms the floors. in the basement
above the boiler some insulation has been pulled back so
you can see how the hoses are fastened to the underside
of the floorboards.
oil consumption averages 500-700 gallons per year with
the thermostats set at 65 degrees. the ceramic tile floor
in the keeper’s apartment holds the heat. there is also
a vermont castings wood-burning stove. keepers cut firewood
from palates donated by local businesses, and driftwood
is also gathered from the beach. the wood stove is also
used to dispose of all paper trash.
in the first floor museum, besides the central heat in
the floor, old-fashioned hot water bottles and fluffy down
comforters are provided for warmth. and don’t forget, we
can always find you some work, or you could buy a rose
island lighthouse sweatshirt to stay warm!
our mission: to preserve the historic and environmental
integrity of rose island, to maintain and operate its lighthouse
and to provide education and public access for all people.
the rose island lighthouse foundation is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt
organization supported by environmental education program
fees, fundraising events, memberships and contributions.
we invite you to become part of our effort to keep the
light shining in the hearts and minds of the next generation
of the earth’s keepers!