Beavertail remains one of Rhode Island’s best parks
Beavertail State Park lies at the southernmost end of Jamestown, named for the shape of the peninsula that it lies on.
On the point stands an iconic landmark – the Beavertail Lighthouse – built in 1856, where some form of beacon or lighthouse has been situated since at least 1705. Beavertail was the site of the third lighthouse ever built in North America, built in 1749, the stone foundation of which was uncovered by the hurricane of 1938.
Housed in the lighthouse keeper’s building, built in 1856, is a museum outlining the history of lighthouses that have stood on the site.
Next door is a small aquarium, where kids and adults can learn about the marine life of Narragansett Bay through aquariums containing species commonly found in local waters. There is also a very popular “tide pool” touch tank, where visitors can get a hands-on education, assuming they don’t mind rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands wet. Geologists also find the peninsula a very interesting place to study the shale formations, similar to some found on parts of Africa’s Atlantic Coast. There are no fees for access to the 180- acre park; you are free to explore Beavertail’s many trails, hidden coves, history, geology, and marine life.
Along with Ft. Getty, Ft. Wetherill, and the Conanicut Battery, Beavertail was a very important strategic position during World War II. Ft. Burnside, as it was known, was named after Maj. Gen. Ambrose C. Burnside, a former governor of Rhode Island, a U.S. Senator and member of the U.S. Army.
Ft. Burnside was situated overlooking both the East and West Passages of Narragansett Bay and served as the harbor entrance command post, where observers would monitor all naval shipping coming or going from the bay and keep a sharp eye seaward for any enemy threats.
Posing as an innocent farmhouse, Ft. Burnside was actually an armored observation post built over an underground command post, bristling with radio antennae and utilizing the latest radar. It served to monitor the skies, seas, and even underwaterlistening devices in order to give advanced warning to the fire-control stations and help keep Rhode Island’s coast safe from attack.
Visitors to Beavertail today find the site to have one of the best views in Rhode Island, with panoramic scenes of the ocean on three sides. Looking across the East Passage, visitors have a good view of Ft. Wetherill’s granite cliffs and Newport’s Castle Hill and Brenton Reef, often seeing the myriad of kites that are flown at the point. Across the West Passage, Narragansett stands out with views of the University of Rhode Island’s Bay Campus. It is easily identified by the big white nuclear reactor, Bonnet Shores and Anawan Cliffs, with granite cliffs plunging down to the water. Visitors can also see Narragansett Beach and beyond.
To the south, the open ocean offers mile-long views of sailboats, pleasure craft, and occasional cruise ships, container ships, and cargo vessels plying the seas. Off the main road, there is a spider web of trails, most leading along the water’s edge. On the west side of the peninsula, trails border cliff edges where there are many secluded coves hiding small sandy beaches just waiting to be explored. The fishing can also be outstanding for striped bass, bluefish, tautog, seabass, scup, fluke, and occasional schools of hard-fighting false albacore and bonito.
In 2008, the point was also where a spearfisherman shot a striped bass that topped 68 pounds and stands as the spearfishing world record.
Ample parking, well-maintained trails, inviting rocks and fields, and stunning views attract many visitors, whether to sightsee, hike, picnic, fish, or swim. With the added bonus of free admission, there is no excuse not to visit Beavertail and explore Rhode Island’s marine life, history, geology, or simply go for a relaxing getaway.