New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide
Musselbed Shoals Light
(Mussel Shoals, Muscle Bed Shoals)
Near Portsmouth, Rhode Island
Musselbed Shoals Light main page / History / Bibliography / Postcards

Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any images or text from this website without permission of the author.

A little over a half-mile east northeast of Hog Island Shoals Light lies Musselbed Shoals, a dangerous obstruction in the channel from Narragansett Bay to Mount Hope Bay and the approach to Fall River, Massachusetts.

A stone daybeacon marked the spot when, in 1871, the Lighthouse Board recommended the addition of a light and fog bell. A congressional appropriation of $3,000 was obtained in March 1873, and the new light was established on August 1 of that year.

The first lighthouse consisted of a hexagonal tower attached to the keeper's house, was built in 1873. It had a sixth-order Fresnel lens and exhibited a fixed red light 31 feet above sea level. A fog bell was struck at intervals of 20 seconds when needed.

From the collection of Edward Rowe Snow, courtesy of Dorothy Bicknell

This structure didn't last long. Ice was a frequent problem; in the winter of 1874-1875 ice floes moved the entire station four feet. Repairs kept the light and fog bell running, but an appropriation of $6,000 was requested to rebuild the lighthouse and to add protective riprap around the pier. The funds were obtained in March 1877. The stone pier was enlarged and the combination lighthouse/dwelling was rebuilt. The fog bell was mounted on the roof along with the short tower and lantern.

Most keepers had fairly short stays at the isolated and claustrophobic station, but Andrew Smith (1881-91) lasted a decade, and James D. Leonard had the longest stint of 14 years (1891-1905). Keeper Edward Jansen, who stayed only a few months in 1908, went on to replace the renowned Ida Lewis as keeper of Lime Rock Light.

Old photo of lighthouse

Circa late 1800s. (National Archives)

More damage was inflicted by ice in the winter of 1919–20. Some repairs were completed, but the little station was doomed. In the summer of 1938, a large section of the ceiling caved in. The keeper was soon removed, probably a good thing as it turned out—just a short time later the lighthouse was devastated by the hurricane of September 21, 1938.

During the following year the building was dismantled, and an automatic light on a skeleton tower was installed. A light on this spot still operates today, with a red light flashing every six seconds.

The automatic light at Musselbed Shoals Light now stands near the Mount Hope Bridge.

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 Anyone copying this list onto another web site does so at their own risk, as the list is always subject to updates and corrections.)

Dennis Shea (1873-1874); William Dunnell (1874-1875); Thomas Smith (1876-1881); Andrew Smith (1881-1891); James D. Leonard (1891-1905); George Hansen (1905-?); Lucius Chadwick (?-1908); Edward Jansen (July 1 to October 1, 1908); John F. Anderson (Oct. 1, 1908 to April 1, 1909); William Tengren (1909-?); Otis Barstow (c. 1920)

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Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any images or text from this website without permission of the author.