2013-08-08 / News

Beavertail Lighthouse Museum expands

By Ken Shane

It’s often said that many people who live in New York City have never visited some of its most popular attractions, like the Empire State Building. In the same way, many Jamestown residents have never visited the island’s most popular sites, like the museum and aquarium at Beavertail Lighthouse.

However, many out-of-town visitors are showing appreciation. According to the counter at the front door, about 25,000 people come through the turnstiles each year. It is estimated that 200,000 visit Beavertail State Park annually.

This year the museum is a particularly attractive option because three more rooms have been opened to the public, according to Linda Warner of the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association. In the past, only the assistant keeper’s quarters were accessible to visitors. Now, the keeper’s quarters have been opened and filled with art and historical information.

The new art exhibit features work by Don Mong, a retired East Greenwich police officer. Mong’s paintings feature colorful views of the lighthouse and the surrounding area. Elsewhere in the new rooms, there is a video screen offering a preview of the lighthouse-related DVD that was created by Jim Karpalek. It is available in the gift shop, which has been relocated as part of the renovations.

There is a new touch screen that gives visitors an interactive look at the history of the Beavertail Lighthouse. Students from Stony Lane School in North Kingstown have created models of the lighthouse that are on display as well, just above the professional model created by Varoujan Karentz. In the older part of the museum, the Fresnel lens that once lit the lighthouse is still flaunted, and visitors can also see the mounted 65-pound bass caught by A.S. Clarke in 1936.

The opening of the new rooms was funded by a grant from the van Beuren Foundation of Newport.

Construction of the original wooden lighthouse at Beavertail was completed in 1749. The original lighthouse was destroyed by fire and rebuilt four years later, only to be burned by retreating British troops in 1779. It was repaired by 1783. The current lighthouse replaced it in 1856.

The first electric light beacon was installed in the lighthouse in 1931. In 1939, the Bureau of Lighthouses ceded operational responsibility for the lighthouse to the U.S. Coast Guard, which operates it today. The beacon was automated in 1972 as part of a program that by 1989 had ended the profession of lighthouse keeper in the United States, except for the Boston Light.

The Beavertail Lighthouse Museum opened in 1989. In 2008, the base of the 1749 lighthouse – which is all that remained of the structure – was restored using money from a grant from the Champlin Foundation in Providence.

There are a few more opportunities to visit the lighthouse itself this year. It will be open on Aug. 10 and Aug. 25, two dates to be determined in September, and on Columbus Day weekend. Visitors can climb to the top of the 64-foot tall lighthouse by way of 49 steps and a ladder. Children who wish to make the climb should be at least 4 feet tall. The lighthouse will be open from noon to 3 p.m. on those dates.

The one-room Beavertail Aquarium is also humming with activity. The aquarium’s tanks are filled with local marine life including scup, sea robins, black sea bass, puffers, flounder, horseshoe crabs, mantis shrimp and dog sharks. The fish that live in the aquarium were gathered either by a state trawler or by aquarium staff in a local tide pool.

At the end of the season, the fish are returned to their habitat except for the tropical fish that were brought to local waters by the Gulf Stream. Since they would be unable to survive in the cold northern waters. they are given to Rogers High School in Newport for safe keeping during the winter.

Another aquarium attraction is the shell display. The star of the show is the antique claw of a 30-pound lobster. Visitors are welcome to handle shells from scallops, quahogs, oyster, drill and welk.

Wiley Willmann is a state Department of Environmental Management naturalist at the aquarium. He has a degree in biology and has been teaching and running the small aquarium for six years.

“The Beavertail Aquarium is an informal, family-friendly native fish aquarium,” he said. “We can give people a close-up look at our native fish, and often we can spend more time per person than is possible in a larger commercial aquarium.”

The museum and aquarium are open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. until Labor Day. Following the September holiday, the buildings will be open only on weekends from noon to 3 p.m. until Columbus Day. Admission is free.

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