A beacon guiding ships through the treacherous waters of Narragansett Bay has been on this spot in Rhode Island for over 300 years.
Beavertail Origin Story
Conanicut Island sits in Narragansett Bay, just a couple nautical miles from Rhody’s other famous island Aquidneck, where the city of Newport is located. Beavertail State Park is at the southern tip of Conanicut Island and got its name from its resemblance to the semiaquatic rodent.
Colonial records show that a beacon (likely a tended fire) was placed at Beavertail to aid navigation as early as 1712. A wooden tower was built in 1749, to give more height and visibility for the ships. Predictably, this tower burned down.
A stone tower was built to replace the wooden one, but when British soldiers were retreating from Newport in 1779 during the Revolutionary War, they removed the light and the tower remained dark for the rest of the war. The current tower, a handsome structure made of granite and reaching 64 feet in height was built in 1856.
It’s interesting to note that the wooden tower’s original location, just a few yards from the current stone tower, only became visible again after the massive 1938 New England Hurricane blew away the fog signal building that concealed it.
Visiting Beavertail Lighthouse
The lighthouse keeper’s house was restored and opened as a small museum in 1989. Inside are artifacts like a Fresnel lens and a lighthouse keeper’s uniform.
But, the real attraction is Beavertail State Park itself. After i sold my house in 2001, I rented a house on Conanicut Island while looking for a new one. I used to ride my bike to Beavertail early in the morning to watch the sunrise. Even during high season, I would have the park to myself.
If you prefer to drive, there’s lots of free parking, but on some summer days, they can fill up. Just recently, the outer perimeter road was closed to vehicular traffic due to erosion. But, the parking lots are still open so you can park your car and walk to the shore or lighthouse.
There’s no beach here, just a rough, rocky shore where you’ll see a couple people fishing or exploring. Some people even bring beach chairs and sit on the rocks and read a book. But, be careful, rouge waves can sneak up on you.
There’s also a foghorn by the lighthouse. And, it’s not there for show. On foggy days, the horn will blast at ear-splitting volume. After all, the sound has to reach ships that could be miles away.
Views from Beavertail
On a clear day, you can see Newport and the Castle Hill Lighthouse. You can also look south/southeast and see Point Judith Lighthouse. Spectacular views of the Block Island Sound, Buzzards Bay, and Atlantic Ocean also make Beavertail a worthy stop.