New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide
Fuller Rock Light
Near Providence, Rhode Island
Fuller Rock Light main page / History / Bibliography / Postcards

History
  Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any part of this website without permission of the author.

As Providence's commerce boomed, there was a major effort to improve the aids to navigation on the Providence River beginning with the establishment of Conimicut Light near the river's mouth in 1868.

Fuller Rock was virtually in the middle of the main shipping channel, and another obstruction was located off Sassafras Point about a mile north near the river's western shore. On July 15, 1870, Congress appropriated $20,000 for three lights at Fuller Rock, Sassafras Point, and Pomham Rocks. 

From the collection of Edward Rowe Snow
Courtesy of Dorothy Bicknell

The small lights at Fuller Rock and Sassafras Point, about a mile apart on the Providence River, would essentially be twins in appearance and purpose.

The specifications for the lights at Fuller Rock and Sassafras Point called for granite piers surmounted by identical 14-foot-tall hexagonal wooden pyramids. Both were topped with small cast-iron lanterns, painted black. The light at Fuller Rock was 28 feet above sea level; the light at Sassafras Point was 25 feet above sea level. (The official light list at the time the lights were established indicates that the tower at Fuller Rock was 17 feet tall, but later lists correctly state its height at 14 feet.) Both lights were in operation during 1872.

Both lights had sixth-order Fresnel lenses and exhibited fixed white lights. By 1879, both wooden towers were reportedly showing "considerable evidence of decay." The Lighthouse Board requested $1,000 to replace them with cast-iron towers, but the funding was not received. The 1889 Annual Report stated that some minor repairs were made at both sites, including some repointing of the piers. Seventy-five additional tons of riprap was placed around the base of Fuller Rock Light.

The keepers had to row between the lights, battling heavy shipping traffic and strong currents. The first keeper of the two lights was Lorenzo Clarke. Clarke lasted only a few months, but his replacement, Samuel Heard, kept the position for nine years. John J. "Jack" Mullen became keeper in April 1886, and he would keep the position for more than 25 years. His pay at the time he was hired was $550 yearly.

The light at Fuller Rock was converted to automatic operation around 1918 using acetylene gas, with the keeper at Pomham Rocks Light occasionally checking to make sure everything was working properly.

Late in the morning of February 5, 1923, a crew aboard the lighthouse tender Pansy arrived to install new acetylene tanks at Fuller Rock. Just as the crewmen were boarding the pier next to the light, there was a terrific explosion that could be heard a mile away. Five men were sent hurtling through the air onto the sharp rocks below. There were no fatalities, but the men's injuries ranged from facial burns to broken legs.

The lighthouse structure was completely destroyed by the fire that resulted from the blast. It appeared that an explosion of one of the acetylene tanks had instantly ignited the other five. A steel skeleton tower was soon installed on the old foundation.

In 1997, the Coast Guard hired a contractor to refurbish the granite pier at Fuller Rock, install 25 tons of riprap, and erect a new 20-foot light tower. An automatic, solar-powered light continues in operation today, with a three-second red flash alternating with three seconds of darkness.

You can read more about this lighthouse in the book The Lighthouses of Rhode Island by Jeremy D'Entremont.


Keepers: (This list is a work in progress. If you have any information on the keepers of this lighthouse, I'd love to hear from you. You can email me at nelights@gmail.com. Anyone copying this list onto another web site does so at their own risk, as the list is always subject to updates and corrections.)

Lorenzo Clarke (1872-1873); Samuel Heard (1873-1882), Edward Hoxsie (1882), William Dunwell (1882-1886); Patrick Fitzpatrick (1886), John Mullen (1886-1911)

  Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any part of this website without permission of the author.

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