to the rose island lighthouse...
“a guiding light to conservation”

offering a unique perspective on environmental education.

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 dem.

map of rose islandthe 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 doesn’t, sweep!

how it works --

electricity - wind supplies 90% of our electric needs from a bewindmill on rose islandrgey 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 brick.)

toilet 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 of water.

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!

welcome to rose island

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!

rilf  |  p.o. box 1419, newport, ri 02840 |  401-847-4242  |  contact us  |  site map
rose island windmill
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