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A group of preservationists are hoping to raise an addition $60,000 to recoat and restore the Dutch Island Lighthouse, a nearly 200-year-old structure in the West Passage of Narragansett Bay between Jamestown and North Kingstown.

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Like many houses, this one needs some exterior shine. However, it’s a lighthouse and comes with a cost of nearly $80,000, which has spurred preservationists to seek some help to defray.  

The Dutch Island Lighthouse Society is undertaking after 14 years the recoating of this 1827 beacon for mariners once almost lost to the waves of change except for the commitment years ago of local lighthouse and history enthusiasts.

“It’s been a part of my entire life,” said 67-year-old Scott Chapin, whose family summer cottage faced the deteriorating building and decades ago used his windsurfing talents to actually paint one side of the building.

Now he is chairman of the Dutch Island Lighthouse Society and needs another $60,000 in donations to match with $20,000 in hand for essentially re-cementing the exterior with a special limestone concrete mix.

The lighthouse is located on 81-acre Dutch Island situated in the West Passage of Narragansett Bay and between Jamestown and Saunderstown village of North Kingstown.

While the society has a foundation with $200,000 in savings, interest rates are low and payouts from them are not enough to cover costs. Eating into the savings will whittle down the nest egg used to cover maintenance costs, which Chapin could not estimate for an annual basis.  

Lighthouses have been a part of our nation from its inception, according to the U.S. National Park Service.

In 1789, after adopting the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the First Congress of the United States created the Lighthouse Establishment (in the ninth law passed) to take over the operation of the 12 colonial lighthouses.

Included among them is Boston Harbor Lighthouse, built in 1716, the first lighthouse established in what today is the United States. The Lighthouse Establishment, according to the NPS, also oversaw the construction and operation of new lighthouses.

“By preserving light stations, we preserve for everyone a symbol of that chapter in American history when maritime traffic was the lifeblood of the nation, tying isolated coastal towns and headlands through trade to distant ports of the world,” the NPS said in its book, “Why Preserve Lighthouses?”

 

The Dutch Island Light House

In 2010, The Independent’s Arlene Flemming chronicled the history of the Dutch Island Lighthouse.

The first lighthouse went up on Dutch Island in 1827, but it was eventually demolished. The present structure, which is 42 feet tall, was built in 1857 and served through the Civil War, she wrote.

In 1977 vandals smashed windows, kicked in the door, stole equipment and poured liquid steel into a lock. Citing their inability to keep up with repairs, the Coast Guard shut down the lighthouse in 1979 and replaced it with offshore buoys.

The abandoned lighthouse stood sentinel at Dutch Island Harbor entranceway, but continued to deteriorate.

In 2007, the Coast Guard approved the Dutch Island Lighthouse

Society’s request to install a battery-powered and solar-charged light that stays lit. The original Fresnel lens was moved to Maine.

The lighthouse has undergone more than $250,000 in restoration in the last 20 years, with help through federal and state grants as well as money raised by the Dutch Island Lighthouse Society.

Narragansett’s Abcore Restoration painted the structure, removed years of guano, replaced floors and stairwells and erased graffiti just prior to the 2007 lighting.

But the island’s history pre-dates that first 1827 lighthouse. According to the Images of America book, “Dutch Island and Fort Greble” by Walter K. Schroder of Jamestown, the island was originally known as Quetenis Island.

Schroder writes that the site was sold to the Dutch West India Co. by the Narragansett Indians around 1636 and from that transaction came the name.

“They used the area as a trading post for approximately twenty years,” he wrote.

But starting with the Civil War, the island served the federal government and the state as a coastal defense in the West Passage of Narragansett Bay.

Photos in his book show beautiful houses and buildings with slate roofs, barracks the size of the large hotels, and soldiers lined up in crisp uniforms and white gloves. The terrain in those old photographs show clipped grass and thinned out trees.

 

The Grounds and Lighthouse Today

Remnants of Dutch Island’s past uses remain and remains under the supervision of the state Department of Environmental Management. It is not officially open to the public, said Chapin.

He noted, however, that the Dutch Island Lighthouse Society has legal control of the land around the lighthouse at the tip of the island. There are no tours of the lighthouse, though he or others occasionally bring interested people to the lighthouse.

It remains locked and with security to deter any vandalism, he said.

The exterior limestone concrete to be used is a slightly improved mixture, Chapin said, that he hopes will give added durability to the coating. The last one done 14 years ago was the same mixture used in 1827, he noted about trying to keep with the original design.

But changing times mean some slight changes if that helps preservation, he said, as well as the push for some extra donations to help with the costs.

“It’s a lighthouse. It is history. Do you want all the historic places to deteriorate and fall down? I don’t think so,” he said.

Write to Bill Seymour, freelance writer covering news and feature stories, at independent.southcountylife@gmail.com.

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